Has Haftar killed the political process in Libya?

Has Haftar killed the political process in Libya?
Comment: Haftar's attempt to take Tripoli means he can no longer be trusted as a political partner in the UN-backed political process, writes Guma El-Gamaty.
6 min read
06 May, 2019
The battle for Libya's capital, Tripoli has seen almost 400 people killed [Anadolu]
On 4 April, when renegade General Khalifa Haftar declared his advance on Libya's capital Tripoli, it as a shock to many, surprising Libyans as well as the wider international community.

The move came not long after the latest round of peace talks between Haftar and the Government of National Accord (GNA) prime minister, Fayez Serraj, in Abu Dhabi on 27 February, facilitated by the special representative of the UN in Libya, Ghassan Salame.

The recent military escalation was triggered by Haftar's blatant desire to control Libya by force, while disregarding those he had been negotiating with, and came at a time when the UN political process was reaching a crucial stage, in which Libyans from all sides were preparing for the UN-backed national conference on 14-16 April.

But the war that has emerged since Haftar's attempt to take Tripoli has changed the dynamics considerably, derailing the UN political process and putting a stop to the much anticipated National Conference.

Haftar's winner-takes-all approach has also led to further divisions, both inside Libya and on the international stage, with some backing his move, while most others are steadfastly against it.

Just over a month since this the conflict reignited, the question of whether the UN political process in Libya is now dead, is a pertinent one. 

Ghassan Salame was slow to respond to the attack on Tripoli by Haftar's forces, and there were calls for him to take a clear position, stating who the aggressor was, and how this has marred the UN political process.

Haftar's move on the capital has caused him to lose all credibility

His reticence may have been because he didn't want to appear to take sides; still hoping to broker a ceasefire and a return to the dialogue table, and aiming to remain impartial while the conflict plays out.

But he has since claimed that Haftar's offensive on Tripoli "sounded like a coup" and has now been publicly critical of his democratic credentials, comparing him to Gaddafi and saying that he is "no Abraham Lincoln". Salame reiterated the fact that Haftar is seeking to return Libya to dictatorship and one-man rule, rather than fulfil the hopes of many Libyans of a civil and democratic state.

One thing Salame has consistently made clear is that there is no military solution in Libya, and that the only way to clear the impasse is by way of a political solution and a return to the UN process of dialogue.

The divisions and polarisation in Libya after the recent attack on Tripoli now run even deeper, with the entire country split between those in support of Haftar's military campaign, and those who reject his takeover, backing the GNA in putting a stop to the attack on the capital.

It has become increasingly evident that there are now two directions Libya could take; Either Haftar is successful and achieves his aim of establishing military rule, or he is defeated and the country can complete its political transition, leading to a constitutional, civil and democratic state.

Haftar knows he has gambled all his cards with this move, so for him it is a case of winning or losing everything

Haftar's offensive on Tripoli has actually lost him much of his public support within Libya, with many of his supporters now saying he can no longer be trusted as a political partner.

His move on the capital has caused him to lose all credibility as a participant in any future talks, as he has shown himself more than willing to further his own agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This means that it is highly unlikely a ceasefire will be brokered any time soon, as both sides are now unwilling to back down.

Haftar knows he has gambled all his cards with this move, so for him it is a case of winning or losing everything. For its part, the GNA and its military forces would certainly not accept a ceasefire with Haftar's forces remaining a threat, and consolidating the positions they gained close to the capital.

A significant development in recent days has been the role of the House of Representatives (HoR) in the conflict. Previously, a group of 46 HoR members, headed by speaker of the house, Aguila Saleh, pledged in a statement their support for Haftar's military operation on Tripoli and the west of Libya.

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Some 50 other HoR members gathered in Tripoli to hold an official meeting on 2 May, to voice their rejection of Haftar's military campaign and support the GNA's defense of the capital. However, the remaining roughly 100 HoR members, have not declared where they stand, having not attended any sessions.

The role of the HoR moving forward could be key, as more members, especially those who had been boycotting sessions in the east previously, could now decide to join their colleagues in Tripoli and wrestle back control of the House from the minority that had been dominating it in Tobruk in the past.

This would withdraw the perceived HoR political support for Haftar's campaign, possibly even removing him from his previously appointed position as General Commander of the Libyan Army.

Haftar has shown himself more than willing to further his own agenda at the expense of everyone else

If the HoR is to continue to hold sessions in Tripoli, potentially growing in the number of members that attend, they could then make some crucial decisions such as electing new heads of parliament, denouncing Haftar as a war criminal, working more closely with the High State Council (HSC) and backing a return to the UN political process without Haftar and his HoR allies once the war is ended.

If the latest escalation turns out to be a protracted one, then the sound of guns will undoubtedly remain much louder than the sound of reason, with the chances of the UN resurrecting a political process becoming almost extinct.

However, if Haftar - who has been the biggest obstacle to achieving genuine peace and national accord - is to be removed or marginalised from the military and political scene, then a new political roadmap could be possible with good chances of success, based mainly on a national reconciliation, especially between the east and west of Libya.

A revived UN political process with a new roadmap could lead the country to unity, adopting a new constitution and holding fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

In all cases, the UN political process in Libya in the form it has taken for the the last four years is now almost certainly dead, and a completely new one will need to emerge once the current conflict is over.

This must be based on a much wider framework, involving more of the main political and military stakeholders in the country, rather than basing talks on individuals, such as Serraj and Haftar, which now appears to have failed.

Guma El-Gamaty is a Libyan academic and politician who heads the Taghyeer Party in Libya and a member of the UN-backed Libyan political dialogue process.

Follow him on Twitter: @Guma_el_gamaty

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab.