Libya's rival factions agree in Cairo to work towards 'constitutional base' for settlement

Egypt-sponsored talks produce positive statements but no timeline for action

From left, Speaker of Libya's House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, UN Special Adviser on Libya Stephanie Williams and President of the High State Council of State Khaled Al Mishri meet in Geneva in June last year. AFP
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Libya's rival administrations said on Thursday that they have agreed to quickly reach a “constitutional base” for a political settlement in the troubled North African state, according to a joint statement from the two sides.

The statement was issued in Cairo following the latest bid by Egypt to end divisions and strife in Libya, with which it shares a porous desert border.

Thursday's meeting brought together Khaled Al Mishri, chairman of the High Council of State — an advisory body to the Tripoli-based government — and Aguila Saleh, speaker of the parliament based in eastern Libya. The talks were hosted by Egyptian Parliament Speaker Hanafy El Gibaly.

The joint communique issued after the talks said Mr Saleh and Mr Al Mishri had agreed “to chart a clear and well-defined road map, to be later announced, to complete all the necessary steps to carry out the election process in regard to the basis and laws as well as the executive steps and unifications of institutions”.

Egypt has long been trying to heal the breach between Libya's rival factions but with little tangible progress. Libya has been torn by divisions and violence since a 2011 uprising killed long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi and left the country to be carved up by powerful armed groups that wield influence over politicians.

Egypt's interest in Libya is chiefly rooted in concern that the presence of militant groups and foreign military personnel in the country pose a threat to its own security.

Libyan-based militants have in recent years launched deadly cross-border attacks against Egyptian security forces and minority Christians travelling on remote desert roads near the border.

The outcome of Thursday's talks did not appear to take Egypt's mediation much further, given the absence of a timeline for reaching the constitutional base or setting a date for elections.

Significantly, the talks were not hosted by Egypt's powerful General Intelligence Directorate, which has traditionally been in charge of sensitive foreign policy files such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Libya and Sudan, Egypt's neighbour to the south.

The talks came a few days after Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, head of one of Libya's two rival governments, said his Tripoli-based administration was ready to hold elections this year, vowing that 2023 will be one of “elections and the unity of institutions”.

The other government is based in eastern Libya and led by Fathi Bashagha, a former interior minister.

“There are still those with despicable attempts to drown us in the quagmire of political conflict. We will spare no effort in preserving Libyan blood, unity and sovereignty of Libya, whatever the cost to us,” Mr Dbeibeh said in a national address on Monday.

Mr Dbeibeh's government was appointed under a UN process in early 2021 to oversee national elections in December that year. The vote was never held following disagreements among rival factions and prominent candidates over the laws governing the vote.

Libya's eastern-based parliament, the House of Representatives, called on Mr Dbeibeh to step down after the failure to hold the election, saying his mandate had expired.

Updated: January 05, 2023, 3:02 PM