Can the African Union help break Libya's political deadlock?
The 17th of February marked the 12th anniversary of the Libyan revolution, which ousted the country's decades-long dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Despite some positive signs initially, the post-revolutionary transition has become an unceasing deadlock due to multiple political crises, foreign intervention, and a stagnant status quo.
During the process, international powers, regional countries, and neighbouring states have tried to find a solution to organise free and fair elections in Libya to complete its long-awaited democratic transition.
As part of these efforts, international conferences, meetings, and initiatives have been organised on several occasions, but with no tangible developments.
"Since the war on Tripoli by Haftar's forces in 2019, the African Union got more involved and started to make an active contribution to the mediation process"
Throughout the process, the demands of the country’s elites, the interests of foreign countries, and key ideological divisions have been laid bare.
Since last year, the African Union (AU) has been trying to organise a national reconciliation conference for Libya’s conflict.
Last month, on 19 February, it was announced by the AU Commission's chief, Moussa Faki, that the union is set to have the meeting by June, which will be chaired by the Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso.
A few days later, the UN's Libya Envoy, Abdoulaye Bathily, also announced that he had decided to launch an initiative aimed at organising presidential and legislative elections in Libya in 2023.
The proposal includes bringing all relevant stakeholders in Libya together - from politicians to NGOs and tribal leaders.
The AU's plan for a reconciliation conference could complement the UN envoy’s initiative if it becomes a reality. Furthermore, it would be the largest African-proposed strategy to solve Libya’s crisis.
But considering the failure of most previous such proposals, could it work?
Jalel Harchaoui, a Libya specialist and associate research fellow at the Royal United Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), told The New Arab that throughout the post-2011 era, the AU has consistently disappointed in Libya.
"In fact, it has never done or said anything of substance on that particular file. Given how extraordinarily vague this latest June 2023 'reconciliation' conference plan seems, one should assume this year will be no departure from the AU's tradition of irrelevance on Libya," he added.
On the other hand, according to Abdulkader Assad, a prominent Libyan journalist, the African Union has been modestly involved in solution-making processes, especially back in 2014 when Libya divided into east and west camps.
"However, since the war on Tripoli by Haftar's forces in 2019, the African Union got more involved and started to make an active contribution to the mediation process, especially with the advent of the GNU and the Menfi-led Presidential Council, which paid special attention to African countries and got them to be part of the reconciliation process, such as Chad, Niger, and Sudan, which share borders with Libya," Assad told TNA.
According to him, "an African Union solution wouldn't be the one that rallies all parties together" but would have “some effect on stability and security in the south, especially in the 5+5 Joint Military Commission's military track".
"Internationally, the five nations that matter the most inside Libya are Turkey, the UAE, the US, Russia, and Egypt. Only the latter is part of the AU"
Expressing more pessimism regarding the AU's plan, Harchaoui said that Libya is not at war but is in dire need of elections. He also argued that the concept of reconciliation begs the question; between whom?
"Reconciliation among the small club of current rulers? Or should the circle of to-be-reconciled parties be broader? How broad? How many parties, factions, and communities should be invited?" he asked.
"Furthermore, it is unclear why Bathily mentioned the AU's national reconciliation conference as part of his address before the UN Security Council. Which one is the priority: the elections or the reconciliation?" Harchaoui said.
"A proper, full-blown national reconciliation process requires lots of time. If the UN says it now has a streamlined, robust roadmap to make elections happen by the year’s end, where exactly does the reconciliation process fit? Is there enough time to implement it?"
According to Assad, the AU's efforts are more directed at national reconciliation and military stability, meaning that the efforts aim to produce some law and order in the south as an essential step for the west and east to reconcile later.
"Because the southern region is still suffering from persistent problems related to the border crossings of foreign mercenaries and illegal immigrants," Assad said.
The past few weeks have witnessed a rift between the UN envoy and the pro-Haftar House of Representatives (HoR) in the east, and there is another question mark about how the latter would react.
The HoR has also already started working with the Libyan High Council of State to complete constitutional amendments to organise elections in the country.
Commenting on the issue, Harchaoui told TNA that the HoR so far has ignored the AU's proposed reconciliation conference.
"This indifference makes sense because, based on how things are shaping up, the AU's event seems geared to serve as an innocuous and irrelevant distraction more than anything else," he said.
"Internationally, the five nations that matter the most inside Libya are Turkey, the UAE, the US, Russia, and Egypt. Only the latter is part of the AU. Therefore, the Egyptian-backed HoR is unlikely to feel threatened by the AU's initiative."
Assad, on the other hand, argued that the HoR and its speaker, Aguila Saleh, would go along with the AU's initiative as long as it was not aimed at political change.
"They would back the African Union's national reconciliation and foreign mercenaries' exit plans but would hinder any of its intervention in efforts to hold elections or end the stalemate," Assad added.
He also claimed that, if it becomes a reality, the AU plan's prominent actors could be the Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and Mohamed Bazoum, Niger's President, who has his origins in southern Libya.
"Bazoum and Nguesso recently mediated for the release of Gaddafi's henchman, Abdullah Mansour. Besides that, Chad, Algeria, and Egypt are key actors who can emerge from the African Union".
Ufuk Necat Tasci is a political analyst, journalist, and PhD Candidate in International Relations at Istanbul Medeniyet University. His research focuses on Libya, proxy wars, surrogate warfare, and new forms of conflict.
Follow him on Twitter: @UfukNecat