Only two weeks ago, Libya seemed doomed to enter a renewed phase of violence, prolonging its civil war.
Earlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the controversial move of sending troops to support the embattled Government of National Accord, headed by Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj and based in Tripoli. Mr Al Sarraj's government relies on a plethora of militias to stay in power. Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who leads the Libyan National Army, has been waging a battle to retake Tripoli since April, and to end militia rule there. He is backed by a multitude of countries including France, Jordan, Egypt and Russia. A multifaceted war seemed unavoidable.
But now, a glimmer of hope is on the horizon. An improbable meeting between various Libyan sides and international actors with a stake in the country is set to take place in Berlin, this Sunday, in an attempt to kickstart much-needed peace negotiations.
Three days after Mr Erdogan’s announcement, the Turkish president met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and both leaders called for a ceasefire, which was implemented last week. The agreement, however, remains fragile, with reports from both sides that the ceasefire is being breached. Attempts in Moscow last week to bring about a binding truce failed, sparking fears of renewed conflict.
The situation is critical. If the ceasefire fails to hold, Libya could witness a direct standoff between various warring sides. Egypt’s parliament speaker Ali Abu Al Aaal also warned that his country is ready for a “military intervention” to fend off Turkey.
Libya is of strategic interest to the region. It is a nexus between sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab World and Europe, its strategic location is of further interest as it holds a wealth of oil and gas. Such valuable characteristics have become both a blessing and a curse for the African nation, as its riches have invited several nations to intervene in its civil war. Last month, Mr Erdogan signed an agreement with Mr Al Sarraj giving their countries access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, to the detriment of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which have opposed the move.
Libya’s immense coastline and prevailing lawlessness have attracted vulnerable people seeking to migrate to Europe. In response, Italy struck a heinous deal with the GNA in 2017, which enables Libyan coastguards to repatriate migrants leaving for Europe. Many of those who are caught are left to languish in insalubrious detention centres, where forced labour, slavery and rape are commonplace. The deal has been renewed in 2019.
Although the government in Tripoli was backed by the UN since its inception in 2015, it is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and has become overrun by extremist militias posing a threat not only to Libyans who live under their chaotic rule, but also to the stability of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. Cairo has been fending off extremist incursions along its border with Libya since the start of the conflict.
The civil war cannot be resolved by yet another military intervention. Warring factions must come to a political solution, a prospect that the UAE supports. In the words of Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, there must be “joint efforts towards an end to the conflict in Libya” this Sunday, in Berlin. The alternative would only prolong the war at great human cost. After years of bitter divisions, which have halved the country in two, leaders must come to an understanding and draw the path to a peaceful and stable Libya. The lives of millions depend on it.