In Libya, political resolution will be complicated

Smoke fills the sky over Tripoli after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a tank in the capital's main fuel depot. Photo: Sabri Elmhedwi / EPA
Smoke fills the sky over Tripoli after rockets fired by one of Libya's militias struck and ignited a tank in the capital's main fuel depot. Photo: Sabri Elmhedwi / EPA

Bernardino Leon, the head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya, has announced a new round of talks between Libya’s rival governments in an attempt to broker a political solution. It is likely that the talks, which are scheduled to take place this week, will be convened in Ghadames, near the Algerian border. Described by Unesco as “an outstanding example of a traditional settlement” the city is a fitting location for key talks that could help determine Libya’s future.

Since an earlier round of talks broke down in September, Libya has been through many changes. On the ground the forces of General Khalifa Haftar have made some gains in the fight against a coalition of Islamist militias.

Politically, the leaders in Tripoli have hardened their position since the Supreme Court declared the elected parliament in Tobruk illegal.

Both sides have expressed a willingness to talk, but only on their own terms. The elected parliament wants talks to be within a framework based on recognising it as the sole elected body representing the people. Meanwhile, Libya Dawn leaders in Tripoli want the parliament in Tobruk to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Mr Leon appears to have departed from the UN’s position of recognising the Tobruk based parliament, headed by Abdullah Al Thini.

However, Reuters quoted an unnamed Obama administration official earlier this month who said there was little hope of any good coming out of another round of talks. The official blamed regional interferences in Libya’s internal affairs.

But what are the options available to pull the country back from the brink of partition or all-out tribal war?

Unfortunately there are only two scenarios that could bring about political settlement and save the country from further bloodshed. Both have their risks.

One Scenario could involve the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) acting as the country’s parliament until fresh elections are organised.

The CDA is an independently elected body, but it prefers stay out of any political wrangling and concentrate on its core duty. Over the last few months it has been working quietly on the constitution in the eastern city of Al Bayda. 

It faces a political dilemma as to who should receive its final constitutional draft. If it hands it over to Tripoli it means recognising its own mandate expired in June. If it reports to Tobruk, which is the obvious thing to do, the CDA risks being boycotted by politicians in Tripoli. Either action could trigger a spike in violence.

In Libya’s political landscape any party not happy with election results appears to be free to use force to change the situation according to its agenda.

The Libya Dawn operation came about last summer because its leaders, including the Muslim Brotherhood, did not accept the result of last June’s parliamentary elections (which they lost), underlining the public belief that the power of the ballot box is less than that of rival military factions.

The other alternative is to set up some sort of power-sharing government based on the prevailing status quo in the country. Power might be split between the Tobruk-based elected government and its unelected Tripoli-based counterpart. Again, this is fraught with danger, as it is hard to believe such rivals would accept the legitimacy of the other or be willing to work in concert.

Undoubtedly it is harder for Mr Leon to mediate than it was even a few months ago, but that is what he must attempt to do. We must also not forget that the international intervention in Libya back in 2011 was predicated on protecting civilians and helping the country become democratic. The original ambition of the mission must not be lost amid the fog of chaos and war.

Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan analyst at IHS Global Insight, an author and a freelance journalist

Published: December 17, 2014 04:00 AM

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