Libya has seen dramatic changes in the course of its years-long civil war in the past few days. Most importantly, there appears to be the glimmer of a political solution that could steer the country into a new direction.
Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, based in eastern Libya, launched an offensive last April to retake Tripoli and unite the country. After intense fighting, Mr Haftar withdrew his forces from Tripoli, in a move that the Government of National Accord, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj, and its foreign backers, primarily Turkey, took as a sign of victory. However, it is just another chapter in this bloody war that will not end without a political resolution. Field Marshal Haftar still has the strength to defend the west, which means more bloodshed.
In an attempt to pave the way for a political solution, neighbouring Egypt, which has backed Mr Haftar, drafted a truce deal on Saturday to move forward after years of bloody stalemate. Russia, the UK, France and the UAE have supported the deal, with Mr Haftar agreeing to a unilateral ceasefire. The Cairo Declaration calls for leaders on all sides to convene and share power in the oil-rich country while a new constitution is drafted. It also stipulates that a ceasefire begin on June 15, militias are disarmed and all foreign mercenaries withdraw from Libya. It is of paramount importance to heed the call of Egypt - and the UN - for a ceasefire.
If anything, the past 14 months have proven that no military solution can end Libya’s troubles. In the words of Anwar Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the international community cannot accept continued fighting. “The only solution,” he tweeted “is a political deal that includes all warring sides”.
Instead of recognising that reality, the GNA is gearing up for further clashes. Mr Al Sarraj vowed to “eliminate the enemy” as he visited Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara last week. Turkey remains convinced that a military approach can help strengthen its position and increase its leverage in Libya and beyond. Backed by Turkish firepower and Turkish-paid Syrian mercenaries, the GNA is now moving eastwards towards the coastal city of Sirte, a major metropolitan area.
Sirte is a symbolic and strategic stronghold. The hometown of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi is located halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi. Once the heart of his loyalist base, it is also the place where he was eventually tortured and killed.
Sirte suffered intense bombardment by Nato forces in support of a popular revolt in 2011, and was later occupied by ISIS, in May 2015. The city was seized by the GNA in late 2016, before being retaken by the LNA earlier this year. The GNA refuses to hold talks or begin a ceasefire before it can reassert control over Sirte.
Like many in Libya, the people of Sirte have been displaced, killed and brutalised for years, only to be used as a bargaining chip by foreign-backed Islamists. Over 60,000 civilian lives are at stake.
It is now clear that, for the GNA, Turkey’s agenda in Libya is more important than stability and peace. Ankara’s support of the GNA falls within its plan to further the reach of Islamists in the region and to profit from the damage and instability they cause. Last November, Mr Al Sarraj and Mr Erdogan signed a military pact offering Turkish armed support to the GNA while a maritime agreement gave Ankara control of gas-rich areas in the Mediterranean disputed by Cyprus, Egypt and Greece.
This barter led to a flood of Turkish mercenaries into Libya to fight alongside the GNA. Among the foreign fighters are disenfranchised youth recruited in Syria. In response, foreign fighters have joined the fray on the side of Mr Haftar.
Libya’s struggle for freedom and opportunity, which began with the 2011 uprising, is no longer centred on the aspirations of Libyans. Rather, it has been hijacked into a struggle for power with geopolitical implications and little regard for civilian lives.
Several ceasefire attempts have failed in the past, and with every failure the country descends into more violence and finds itself further away from a political solution. If it is truly a “national accord” that the GNA desires, then it is high time that it puts Libyan lives above its own agenda and that of its foreign backers, who are holding peace hostage.