Things have become clearer regarding the situation in Libya. One party is trying to end violence for the sake of stability and unity, expelling militias, and fighting terrorism, while another is seeking to hide behind the walls of Turkey, which supports it with mercenaries and terrorists to shed more blood and give Ankara greater influence in the region.
Things became clearer as a result of the “Cairo Declaration,” which was launched from the Egyptian capital last week by Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and eastern Libyan House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh. This was the first international meeting between the military and political bodies of the project to reconstruct the Libyan state. It was a great paradigm shift that corrected one of the biggest deficiencies in the performance of the project by Haftar and his supporters.
Haftar’s problem and big mistake was his insistence on controlling the military and political files together when he is new to the political arena. Many believed that the political file should have remained untouched by the military command, whose role is limited to making progress in the field that gives positive points to the political team representing it.
The power of the Cairo Declaration lies in that it conveys a political message to the world that eastern Libya has an elected parliament and not a specific presidential council (even if it is internationally recognized), and that this parliament supports its army despite the previous disagreements between Haftar and Saleh. The declaration also conveys the message that it is backing Saleh’s initiative, in which he demanded that each of the three historical Libyan regions (Tobruk, Fezzan, and Tripoli) be represented in a new presidential council, whether by consensus between them or by way of secret selection under the UN’s auspices.
The declaration is an attempt by the Egyptian side, in coordination with several Arab and other regional parties, to give prominence to the voice of reason, put aside Libyan-Libyan differences, and not give any regional power the opportunity to get between the two local parties to the conflict. It seems, however, that the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez Al-Sarraj, is determined to implement its plan to secure protection by opening Libyan lands and waters to Turkey.
The Cairo initiative focuses mainly on the outcomes of the Berlin summit, which produced a comprehensive political solution, including clear steps for implementation (on the political, security, and economic tracks) and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. It recommends the continuation of the 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission in Geneva under the auspices of the UN and everything that would ensure the success of the other tracks. The Cairo Declaration also takes into consideration the importance of the UN and the international community obligating all parties to remove foreign mercenaries from Libya, dismantle militias, and hand over their weapons so that the LNA, in cooperation with the security services, can assume their responsibilities.
The initiative also aims to support the Libyan state in restoring its national institutions, while stepping up the appropriate national mechanism to revive the political track under the UN’s auspices and to invest in the efforts of the international community to resolve the Libyan crisis. In addition, the initiative seeks to restore state control over all security institutions and support the military (the LNA) in assuming its national responsibilities.
The restoration of control by Libya’s state institutions is extremely important to achieving stability, which Egypt has sought since the beginning of the conflict, as it has always used the slogan: “The security of neighboring countries is an extension of Egypt’s security.” Libya has an important strategic depth for Cairo, and stability there means greater stability in Egypt, especially as their shared border has been a route for smuggling weapons and terrorists into Egypt.
El-Sisi said at the press conference announcing the initiative: “The practices of some parties on the Libyan scene and external interference are a source of concern for us.” He warned against some parties’ insistence on a military solution to the Libyan crisis, adding: “Egypt, with the brothers in Libya, is following what is happening on the ground there and rejects the escalation that will have disastrous consequences throughout the region.”
The initiative consolidates one of the current pillars of the Egyptian state. This means that Egypt will not be afraid to strategically defend the integrity of its lands, which are clearly threatened by the Turkish-backed militias.
Libya is now facing two potential scenarios, the first of which is achieving the Cairo Declaration’s goals based on the outputs of the Berlin conference and under UN auspices. It must, in particular, implement the steps aimed at organizing all the Libyan state institutions, especially the main economic institutions (the central bank, National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Investment Authority). Their boards of directors must be reformed in a way that guarantees the effectiveness of the new government’s performance, provides the necessary resources to manage the transitional phase, and organizes presidential and parliamentary elections while preserving the unity of the state and the army.
The second scenario will undoubtedly lead to more conflicts and chaos, as the current situation on the ground warns of this. The GNA, assisted by external forces, seeks to advance to Sirte and elsewhere after re-establishing full control over Tripoli, as it endeavors to enter negotiations on more solid ground — this is what one of its leaders said last Friday. This endeavor will undoubtedly increase the cycle of violence in Libya.
The restoration of control by Libya’s state institutions is extremely important to achieving stability.
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
The threat of Russian-Turkish “understandings” remains one of the most serious challenges facing the Egyptian move. Despite that, Moscow officially announced its support for the Cairo Declaration and there was a phone call between El-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the threat of these understandings remains.
Another challenge that Cairo faces is its ability to achieve breakthroughs in the west of Libya among the tribes, with some members of the GNA, and among political elites to return to the negotiating table and build a new Libya away from extremist and terrorist groups.
- Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy