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New initiatives, lasting rifts
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 10 - 09 - 2014

Since late August there has been a constant flow of international and regional initiatives aimed at halting the unprecedented deterioration in security that has gripped Libya since the fall of the Gaddafi regime in October 2011. Yet, given the broadening gulf between political factions, some observers say that attempts by regional and international players to intervene — even behind the scenes — may only exacerbate the worsening crisis.
An Egyptian initiative, adopted in late August at a Cairo meeting of foreign ministers of Libya's neighbouring countries, called for the phased disarmament of warring militias in Tripoli and Benghazi, to be followed by a comprehensive national dialogue. It was only the first of several regional and international attempts to staunch the bleeding and alleviate the acute polarisation.
Algeria is now planning to host talks between Libyan factions in mid-September, according to an informed source who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly. According to the source, Nouri Abu Sahmein, former speaker of the General National Congress (GNC), which officially came to an end following election of the new parliament this summer, has refused to take part in the dialogue.
Abu Sahmein had demanded, as a condition for attending the new parliament, currently meeting Tobruk, that the parliament rescind a number of controversial decisions. Foremost among these was the decision to appeal for urgent UN intervention to protect civilians and government institutions. Abu Sahmein considers the call for intervention contrary to respect for Libya's national security and sovereignty.
According to the source, who spoke to the Weekly by phone from Tripoli, a prominent security aides of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, General Ali Kanh, will be among the main participants at the talks sponsored by Algeria. Others will include Parliament Speaker Aqila Saleh Eissa Qoweidar, a representative from the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, and commanders from the rival Libya Dawn operation and Operation Dignity, led by retired General Khalifa Haftar.
The source also revealed that the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR), which includes the Ansar Al-Sharia group, Libya Shield 1, the Rafallah Al-Sahati Brigade, and the 17 February Brigade, has indicated that it will call off its military operations if General Haftar, who commands Operation Dignity, withdraws his forces and releases SCBR soldiers captured since hostilities erupted in Benghazi on 16 May. The SCBR also called for Haftar's prosecution on the grounds that he triggered the current crisis in Benghazi when he ordered his forces to march on the city in May.
Haftar, too, expressed his willingness to take part in the Algerian-brokered talks, the source said. However, the SCBR, whose forces now control large parts of Libya's second largest city, said it would not attend if Haftar is present. The source added that Algeria has now discarded the idea of inviting Haftar, given the opposition to his participation.
Observers believe that the Algerian position on the Libyan crisis will carry considerable weight among the parties, factions on both sides having indicated that Algeria is the most acceptable broker of negotiations.
As the factions gear up for talks in Algeria, British special envoy Jonathan Powell and the British ambassador in Tripoli, Michael Aron, are speaking with a number of MPs who have been boycotting parliament in the hope of persuading them to join their colleagues in Tobruk.
A delegation of British officials visited Misrata where they met with members of the municipal council and Misrata MPs who are boycotting the Tobruk parliament. The delegation also met with a number of municipal chiefs and notable from cities that took part in the Libya Dawn operation.
Ambassador Aron has said that 14 of the 24 MPs whom he met reject the parliamentary sessions being held in Tobruk, and that the leaders for these MPs are Ali Abu Zaakouk, MP for Benghazi, and Abdel Raouf Al-Manai, MP for Tripoli. In a message sent from his Twitter account Friday, the ambassador noted that only 10 of the 24 MPs from both sides of the dispute are prepared to compromise so that all members of parliament can meet beneath a single roof. These 10 are led by MP Khaled Al-Osta, two MPs from Sebha and another two from southern Libya.
Mohammed Al-Tomi, a member of the Misrata municipal council, said that the special British government envoy and the British ambassador suggested creating a committee made up of the boycotting MPs, the revolutionaries, and members of the municipal councils to engage in a dialogue with the members parliament assembled in Tobruk.
Al-Tomi added, in a statement reported by the Libyan Ajwaa li-Bilad newspaper, that they would welcome an opportunity for dialogue on the condition that the MPs in Tobruk rescind some of their resolutions, including the calling for international intervention. They also insisted that parliament had to meet without violating constitutional or legal provisions.
Al-Tomi said there was also a British-American initiative, proposed by the British delegation. Among its most important points was revision of the political isolation law, ending the blanket exclusion of anyone associated with former Gaddafi regime. The suggestion is to limit it to those who were directly connected to the Gaddafi regime. The delegation also said the Libyan parliament must remain an elected body, while a Supreme Council of Revolutionaries could be created so that militia leaders could be assimilated into government.
One of the leading boycotters of the parliament in Tobruk, Abu Zaakouk, said that during their meeting with the British special envoy Powell, they stressed the need to find a way for all sides to engage in dialogue in Libya. They urged the envoy to meet with Abu Sahmein and the prime minister appointed by the self-reconstituting GNC, Omar Al-Hassi. They also emphasised the need to agree on a national unity government for the country.
The British special envoy and the ambassador met with members of parliament in Tobruk last week as part of their efforts to find a political solution to the current crisis in Libya. At a press conference following the meeting, they agreed there should be no international military intervention and appealed to all parties to begin talks.
In a related development, the Egyptian El-Shorouk newspaper reported Friday that Cairo will soon host what it described as an extending meeting of “Libyan factions” in order to follow through on its reconciliation initiative for Libya.
While the regional and international initiatives on Libya underscore the need for Libyan parties to engage in dialogue, some are more vague than others as to how they refer to those parties. They also differ in their approaches to the crisis and the terms they use to describe it. Such differences are indicative of the diverse points of view among Libya's neighbours, other regional powers, and international powers with respect to recent events in Libya.
Also last week, the EU appointed the French diplomat Hugo Mingarelli as its new special envoy to Libya to replace Spanish diplomat Bernadino Leon. Leon, in turn, officially assumed his new responsibilities Monday as the UN envoy and head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), succeeding the Lebanese diplomat Tareq Mitri.
The Libyan news website Bawaba Al-Wasat quoted a European diplomatic source in Brussels as saying that Mingarelli will retain his current position as director of the South Mediterranean section, responsible for relations with Arab countries and Iran in the EU Foreign Affairs Department, alongside his new post as EU envoy to Libya.
By appointing a French diplomat, the EU is indicating its determination to remain closely involved with Libya. However, it appears that the appointment did not go over well in Italy, which announced via the AKI news agency that the EU is still looking for a new person to appoint as its envoy to Libya. The appointment of Leon as the new head of UNSMIL also met with criticism from Italy, which had hoped one of its diplomats would be named to the post.
On Saturday the prime minister appointed by the officially terminated GNC, Omar Al-Hassi, presented his government to the GNC and took the oath of office, which was administered by the first deputy GNC chairman, Saleh Al-Makhzoum. Al-Hassi's cabinet is made up of 19 ministers, 10 of whom absent for reasons unknown.
GNC President Abu Sahmein was also absent from the swearing-in ceremonies broadcast on Al-Naba news channel. The mysterious absences stirred considerable speculation, but few would disagree that the occasion was yet another step in the contest between Libya's main opposing camps.
Some observers believe it was a tactic to increase pressure on the new parliament to rescind what the GNC and its supporters describe as cruel decisions against former revolutionaries.
As for Abdullah Al-Thinni, reappointed as prime minister by the newly elected parliament and charged with forming a new government, he is still engaged in deliberations. He is expected to submit his cabinet team for the approval of MPs assembled in Tobruk in the coming days.


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