By Ferhat Polat
Today, Libya is fragmented and polarized, mired in instability and insecurity. As a result, Libya is lacking a unified, representative and legitimate government able to exercise authority throughout the country and hold a monopoly over the use of force.
The United States of America
The power vacuum which occurred as a result of the overthrow of Gaddafi enabled terrorist groups to gain a foothold in Libya. One of these groups, known as Ansar al-Sharia, carried out the 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the Ambassador to Libya.
America’s main priority in Libya has been security, and in 2017 Trump said that he did not foresee a role for the United States in Libya beyond counter-terrorism. However, the policy has shifted, and the Italian and US governments have been cooperating on several fronts.
According to a CNN report, the new policy for Libya aims to support reconciliation between rival factions.
Libya’s neighbours have suffered the most from the aftermath of Gaddafi’s overthrow. Libya’s vast desert border, populated by communities with a long history of smuggling, presents a significant challenge to Libya’s neighbours.
Moreover, the abundance of weapons and ammunition following the 2011 war, and the ability of non-state actors to move and operate freely, have increased threat levels in the region.
Algeria initially opposed the NATO intervention of 2011 and called on the African Union to push for a diplomatic solution to Libya’s conflict. Algeria’s current Libyan policy consists of working with various groups in order to help stabilise the country.
Thus, Algiers has supported UN-backed inclusive initiatives, including the GNA, as a solution to the conflict. The Algerian authorities seem to believe that Haftar is incapable of bringing stability to Libya.
Algeria is largely motivated by the need for Libya to counter internal problems, including youth radicalisation and porous borders.
To mitigate such threats, they have been willing to meet with representatives from different groups in Libya. However, Haftar’s aggressive approach has pushed Algeria to cooperate closely with the Government of National Accord.
Therefore, Algeria is concerned about the uncompromising and polarising nature of Haftar’s military approach, along with his frail coalition.
Chad and Sudan
The Libyan crisis has inflicted significant losses on Chad and Sudan, both of which have depended heavily on remittances from nationals who had worked in the Libyan oil industry.
The deteriorating circumstances in Libya have had immediate consequences for SubSaharan workers who had migrated to Libya for years in search of work in the energy sector.
In addition, Haftar has reportedly made use of Darfur militias, many of whom have joined armed groups and are reportedly building up their military strength in order to return to Sudan when conditions become more conducive.
According to a United Nations Security Council Report (2017), former commanders of Sudan’s Liberation Army stated that “Arab intermediaries and former regime operatives had assisted in and cash transfers and had facilitated the rapprochement between major Darfuri commanders and the LNA General Command.”
Repeated attacks against individuals and properties by foreign-armed groups in the south of Libya have increased communities’ sense of vulnerability and distrust in the LNA and its aligned forces.
The presence of foreign armed forces, particularly those aligned with Haftar, have posed an increasing threat to local and regional political ties.
Libya’s neighbors perhaps have suffered the most from the unrest in the region, which impacted alliances in the region. Thus, while it is believed that Sudan supports the GNC, Chad has developed ties with Haftar in alignment with France.
When the crisis began in 2011, Qatar called upon all parties in Libya to be responsible, giving priority to national interests, and to encourage all sides to work toward national reconciliation. Therefore, Qatar aligned itself with Turkey and Sudan to support the GNC.
Qatar has subsequently played a significant role in supporting the GNA, seeking to enhance stability and achieve the consensus needed to preserve Libya’s unity and sovereignty.
In September 2017, on the sidelines of a gathering of global leaders at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA), Ghassan Salame, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General to Libya, presented his action plan to end the ongoing civil war.
The first step involved the convening of political actors from Libya’s major factions, specifically the eastern-based HoR and the westernbased, internationally backed GNA, in order to discuss the terms of the LPA. The political agreement, also known as the Skhirat agreement (LPA), was signed in December 2015.
Attending the signing were representatives of a broad range of Libyan society, including members of the HoR and GNC, as well as important public figures from Libyan political parties and civil society.
The resulting political agreement led to the establishment of a single Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez alSarraj. The UNSC has thrown its support behind the agreement and reiterated its call for parties to work in a spirit of compromise, engaging in an inclusive political process.
The UNSC underscored the importance of the organisations in facilitating a Libyan-led political solution to the country’s critical challenges (UN, 2018).
The plan could culminate in the Libyans voting on a constitution via a referendum and eventually electing a president as well as parliament. However, none of the necessary steps has been implemented successfully so far.
For instance, the HoR has not recognized the GNA. Although the LPA was widely endorsed by the international community, a regional block led by the UAE and Egypt is playing an active role in preventing the adoption of the LPA.
Continued support for Haftar facilitates his attempt to control more territory in the East. Consequently, this prevents the GNA from imposing its authority across the country.
In 2016 reports emerged of a Saudi ship delivering military equipment and ammunition to Haftar’s forces. It was believed that the shipment had been sent from a Gulf country allied with Haftar, providing support which would enable him to undercut the authority of the GNA.
International and regional powers therefore have the responsibility to put pressure on Haftar to accept the LPA in order to prevent ongoing instability
International Conference on Libya
The solution to the Libyan crisis consists of disarming militants, building national unity and developing the economy. Without improvements in these areas, the crisis will only intensify.
In order to implement all three solutions, Libya needs strong international support, especially from the U.N. The crisis affects not only Libya, but the region at large.
A tangible strategy for stabilisation is therefore crucial. The foreign arming and funding of militias must cease, and an inclusive government made up of the various rival elements must be established. The agreement would need to include an arrangement for power sharing and an outline of security institutions.
Furthermore, necessary steps would need to occur: demobilisation of militias, and the provision of employment and educational opportunities for Libyan youth as an alternative to involvement with militias, including Daesh.
The international community has been divided over Libya. The UN-backed GNA, headed by Fayez alSarraj and created by the LPA, is the internationally recognized executive body. However, some countries, including France, UAE, Egypt and Russia have also engaged with Haftar and have provided significant support to him despite his opposition to the LPA.
Haftar does not seem interested in ratifying the LPA agreement or in accepting any amendments. His actions ultimately undermine international efforts to seek long-term resolution to the ongoing civil war.
Haftar, viewed as a strongman against terrorism, has proven to be an impediment against a political solution. His decisions have undermined the likelihood of a peace agreement and have contributed to a decline in security.
Consequently, a rise in guerrilla warfare and terrorism could ensue. There is therefore no alternative to a negotiated solution. Libya requires strong and determined leadership, empowered by rule of law and democratic institutions adhering to inclusive policies in order to reverse the rapid deterioration of the country.
Libya requires a government, institutions and a constitution that can provide stability in the postconflict environment, lead in the disarmament and reintegration of militias, and mediate between competing interests and power centres.
A sustainable political transition must be ensured while countering terrorism as well as the smuggling and proliferation of weapons. It is evident that the Libyan conflict cannot be solved militarily, and none of the parties are able to conclude a military settlement to their advantage.
International powers must therefore encourage a political settlement, which could persuade all Libyan parties to accept a political solution and work together toward stabilisation of the country.
It is important to note that where foreign powers are involved in the peace process, they should approach the Libyan issue from a humanitarian perspective, not solely based on political or economic interests.
The lack of political resolution creates the opportunity for increased violence. Hence, the holding of elections in 2019 is necessary to stabilise Libya. The main actors can each have an impact, either positive or negative, on the outcome of elections.
The longer Libya remains without elections the more dangerous the political vacuum will become, perpetuating the precarious economic situation and perhaps facilitating a permanent collapse of central governance.
In order to ensure a reliable election, international players must coordinate their approach in support of the U.N. efforts, engaging with Libyans across the country in a manner that strengthens the country’s unity and sovereignty.
The U.N. must also assert a decisive stance against the illegal interference of regional and Western actors in order to bring stability to the country.
The International Conference on Libya took place in Palermo, Italy, from November 11 to November 12, 2018. The conference was organized by the Italian government as an attempt to counter the Paris Summit organised by France in May 2018.
The purpose of the conference was to bring together rival groups and promote a political solution to the Libyan crisis. There was a key goal to support a new U.N.-led election timeline, beginning this year, to foster dialogue among Libyans themselves in deciding the nature of the democracy they wanted to choose.
Ghassan Salame, U.N. Special Envoy to Libya, stated that “we want to ask them clearly during the national conference what kind of elections do they want, parliamentary or presidential, more significantly, what sort of law do they need because we do not have a constitution in Libya”.
Furthermore, the Palermo conference was planned for the beginning of 2019 to prepare potential elections by June. However, no elections have taken place due to resistance from major parties backing parallel governments in Tripoli and the East.
These parties have benefited from access to oil revenues and jobs for armed groups in the absence of law enforcement authorities. Turkey was invited to this conference, and its delegation was comprised of senior officials headed by Vice President Fuat Oktay.
However, the Turkish delegation ultimately withdrew after learning that Haftar had joined a meeting on the sidelines of the conference with his U.N.-backed rival Libyan Prime Minister Fayez alSarraj and other leaders.
Turkey had not been invited to this exclusive meeting. Turkey supports open dialogue with all Libyan and regional actors, and any meeting that excludes Turkey cannot contribute to the peace process. The Palermo conference was a good idea in principle. However, the road map Salame presented cannot be put into effect due to Haftar’s impositions.
The International Conference on Libya in Palermo was intended as a venue to discuss Haftar’s policy of fait accompli in Libya and to find a solution through global accord. However, the fait accompli policy was transferred to the Palermo conference.
The meeting therefore lost meaning and further deterred a successful solution to the problem. Neither the U.N. nor other international actors adopted a clear-cut position against Haftar, who has ignored all political decisions issued by political bodies linked to the LPA.
The U.N. should therefore pressure Haftar and his regional allies to accept the terms of the LPA. If Haftar complies, progress can be made toward development of a new constitution and holding of a presidential election in Libya.
Ferhat Polat is a Deputy Researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He is a PhD researcher in North African Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter with a particular focus on Turkish Foreign Policy.