Libya's path to peace needs grit and determination

Libya's path to peace needs grit and determination
Comment: A UN-led plan for peace in Libya will require real determination, both regionally and internationally, if it is to succeed, writes Guma El-Gamaty.
6 min read
28 Sep, 2017
Ghassan Salamé, the UN-representative for Libya, has a new plan to bring about elections [Anadolu]
In a high-level meeting in New York on Wednesday 20 September, attended by heads of state and prime ministers of countries concerned with the Libyan conflict, the UN Special Representative to Libya, Ghassan Salamé, unveiled his new action plan.

This new 'roadmap' came with a specific timetable and consecutive steps that - it is hoped - will help Libyans end their deeply polarised political and military conflict.

The plan is based on three key components:

  1. Amending the current Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) signed in Morocco in December 2015.

  2. Approving a new constitution

  3. Holding elections

Following this will be a large Libyan national conference, gathering all the key Libyan factions, especially those who felt marginalised from the dialogue process, as well as influential commanders of military groups.

Lastly, a referendum on a final agreed draft constitution is to be held about a year from now, and this will be followed by presidential and parliamentary elections.

These new elections will be based on Libya's new constitution, and held about six months after the referendum.

It is significant that his plan builds on previous efforts by the UN dating back to September 2014 – as opposed to starting a new political process all over again. There are also two crucial factors that give impetus to this plan; the first is that new UN envoy Salamé seems to bring a fresh approach and enjoys more empathetic and positive responses from all Libyan factions.

Benghazi fighter with a Haftar poster AFP
A Libyan Special Forces fighter patrols Benghazi,
with a poster of Haftar in the background [AFP]

Secondly, all the major countries involved in Libya have recently shown more willingness to pursue the UN roadmap, instead of alternative and counterproductive initiatives.

Now, the UN is fully in charge of resolving the conflict in Libya and any efforts should be channelled through its Libya mission.

This was made clear in a high level London meeting recently chaired jointly by the UK and USA foreign secretaries and attended by foreign ministers of Italy, Egypt, UAE and a delegation from France. UK foreign Secretary said after the meeting, "Our shared goal is to break the political deadlock and rally behind the United Nations envoy, Ghassan Salamé, as he seeks to bring all sides together."

However, as shown already over the last few years, achieving tangible results from any plan in Libya is never straight forward, inevitably taking much longer than anticipated. This is a reflection of the deep divisions and fragmentation of Libyan society today. It is also a reflection of a weak political culture, following 42 years of Gaddafi's oppressive rule, which makes consensus and accord-building extremely difficult.  

The devil is in the detail here, and envoy Salamé left out many crucial points. One very contentious issue to be considered for amendment is article 8 of the Libyan Political Agreement. It stipulates that all sovereign leadership positions (civilian and military) should be appointed by the Presidential Council, which also assumes the role of commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Opponents fear that omitting article 8 will effectively give Haftar a free hand without being accountable to a civilian political leadership

Haftar and his backers, including those inside the HoR in Tobruk, have tried to protect his position as general commander of the army by consistently refusing to accept article 8.

Opponents fear that omitting article 8 will effectively give Haftar a free hand without being accountable to a civilian political leadership. Ideas to tackle article 8 have been argued over, and may include a defined role for Haftar, confining him to rebuilding a united Libyan army without any interference in the political process.

Although Haftar has attracted increasing support over recent years, both locally and internationally, there are indications that his influence has now started to decline. Once the war in Benghazi ended a few months ago, a number of key military aides defecting to join the GNA in Tripoli.

One high profile example is Faraj Egaim, the chief of Benghazi's military unit under Haftar's command. Egaim belongs to the Awaqir tribe which, until recently, provided crucial support for Haftar. This was the latest setback for Haftar, following a recent International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for Mahmoud al-Werfalli, a top commander in Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA).

War crimes

As Haftar arrived for an official visit to Italy this week, two international legal experts, one former Pentagon attorney and a former ICC official, have suggested that Haftar was complicit in war crimes. This may ultimately lead to calls for an international indictment against Haftar and some of his top commanders.

Haftar, tainted with war crimes, would be a much weaker figure and may no longer be an obstacle to a political solution to Libya's conflict.

Read more: Footage surfaces showing Libya's Haftar 'ordering war crimes'

National conference

The second step in Salamé's plan is to organise a national conference which aims to give a platform to Libyan individuals and groups who felt excluded from earlier dialogues.

This conference also aims to add legitimacy to any amendments agreed by the LPA. Salamé did not, however, explain the mechanism by which the delegates to this national conference will be chosen, or how they will ratify any amendments or new appointees to the executive posts. These are crucial factors for the success of the conference and need to be clearly addressed prior to the conference. Some groups will still feel marginalised if they have not been invited and may try to hinder the political process moving forward.

Some members or groups within the HoR are pursuing narrow political agendas which may make amendments difficult to pass

Salamé will then need to re-open the agreed draft constitution to make any final adjustments based on submissions and demands from various groups. This could prove very problematic, as those demands that are not accommodated will cause some groups to protest fiercely - and could delay or even derail the whole constitutional process.

Finally, Mr Salamé says he has a promise from the head of HoR, Mr Ageela Saleh, to make passing amendments and legislating election laws as a priority. This should not be assumed as guaranteed however, since the HoR is in a state of fragmentation. Some members or groups within the HoR are also pursuing narrow political agendas which may make these amendments difficult to pass.

In order to maximise his chances of success, Salamé must carry the strong will and commitment of the international community with him on this arduous road to peace in Libya.

The US, UK, France and Russia's desire to exert pressure on regional players such as the UAE, Egypt and others is also vital. These countries need to align themselves with UN efforts, and persuade their Libyan 'proxies' to make the necessary compromises.

Collective alignment and determination, both international and regional, may just save the day and see Libya enter a more stable era of institutional politics, development and state-building.

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