The ides of June offered a rare glimmer of hope to Libyans looking for an end to the civil war that has shaken their country. An initiative from Egypt sought to establish a ceasefire and restart negotiations between the two warring sides, the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army.
As we approach the end of the month, however, those prospects are fading. The GNA has refused to accept any such agreement, and shunned negotiations for a potential power-sharing deal with the LNA, based in Tobruk. The GNA has also indicated that it will boycott the Arab League’s Libya talks, due to be held next week.
The view in Tripoli is that negotiations can only begin once the GNA takes Sirte, a coastal city situated halfway between the capital and Benghazi, by force. But this plan disregards the lives of tens of thousands of innocent civilians, as Sirte becomes the next frontline in the country’s nine-year war.
The GNA's intransigence has further degraded its position with Libya's neighbours.
“If some people think that they can cross the Sirte-Jufra frontline, this is a red line for us,” Abdel Fatah El Sisi, Egypt’s President, warned. Cairo has stated that such an escalation could justify military intervention in the interest of Egyptian national security, and that it would have the support of the LNA.
In another development, a French warship participating in a Nato mission in the Mediterranean was harassed by a Turkish vessel. Turkey is the key military backer of the GNA, and its involvement in the Libyan war for the sake of securing economic power in the Mediterranean Sea has alarmed many. Turkish support for the GNA includes not only its own soldiers on the ground, but Syrian mercenaries, too. The additional firepower has only served to make the GNA less willing to come to the negotiating table.
Aside from its goal to secure hegemony in the Mediterranean Sea, Ankara also seeks to extend the influence of militant groups in the Arab world. And as Turkey pursues these goals, Libya pays the price. Civilian lives in Sirte and elsewhere are at stake while the country's relations with its neighbours have gone south.
Conflict and division have allowed extremists to take over in Tripoli, and terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda to fester in the country, before being stripped of their territorial footholds in 2017. As instability and disunity still rages in Libya, extremism is unlikely to remain within its borders. Yesterday, in the UK, a Libyan national has been detained after a stabbing incident that the police has said is an act of terrorism. While details about this incident have yet to emerge, previous incidents of terror such the 2017 Manchester bombing highlight this threat.
Military solutions alone cannot end Libya’s civil war. They will, instead, only delay the prospect of peace. As the GNA persists in its avoidance of peaceful negotiation, the international community and the UN have a moral duty to exert pressure on Tripoli to sit down at the negotiating table and discuss long-term solutions. This civil war has taken on an increasingly international dimension, and as more regional and global powers become drawn in, potential for more dramatic geopolitical standoffs rises. And so the rest of the world continues to ignore Libya at its peril.