Following a request by Egyptian authorities, a video-conference meeting between the 22 members of the Arab League is due to be held this week. Allied to Libya’s Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Cairo is seeking Arab support for its peace plan.
The Arab League announced on Friday 19 June an upcoming meeting of Arab foreign ministers. Topping the agenda: the crisis in Libya, which has had no epilogue in almost ten years after the fall of its former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The video-conference “should take place [this] week,” said the deputy secretary-general of the pan-Arab organisation Hossam Zaki, without specifying a date.
The meeting will be convened at the behest of Egypt, in support of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the strong man of eastern Libya, whose forces have suffered several setbacks since the launch in April 2019 of his offensive on Tripoli.
Will the 22 members respond favourably? On the Libyan side, the Government of National Unity (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, and the only one recognised by the UN, has already “rejected Egypt’s invitation to hold an emergency meeting of the League Council.”
In a statement on Facebook, GNA Foreign Minister Mohamad al-Taher Siala regretted that Libya “was not consulted” beforehand, saying that “the procedures and rules in place for any meeting aimed at achieving results […] were not respected. “A meeting by video-conference is not appropriate to discuss thorny issues that require in-depth discussions and exchanges,” he added.
On the ground, the GNA can count on Turkey’s committed military support. In particular, Ankara has provided the GNA with military advisers and drones, enabling its troops to reverse the balance of power and to multiply the successes in recent weeks. The most striking success has been to drive Marshal Haftar’s forces out of northwest Libya.
Cairo pushed for a ceasefire after Marshal Haftar, failed to take the capital during its year-long operation. On 6 June, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi proposed a truce that would provide for the departure of “foreign mercenaries” and the dismantling and disarmament of militias.
Turkey and the GNA are sceptic about the plan, which is seen as a way to buy Marshal Haftar time. On a surprise visit to Libya on 17 June, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed that the aim remains to strengthen cooperation “in all fields” between Ankara and Tripoli.
“We also exchanged views on the issue of a lasting ceasefire and a political process,” Cavusoglu added at a press conference, once again brushing aside the Egyptian plan. The Turkish diplomat was accompanied by the Finance Minister, Berat Albayrak, and the head of the Intelligence Services, Hakan Fidan. This was the largest Turkish delegation to visit Egypt since April 2019.
Cairo seeking support
Turkey was unlikely to be thrilled by Egypt’s initiative, however the US showed a positive response. David Schenker, the US Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, thanked Egypt for its “productive” proposal.
“That said, we believe that the UN-led process and the Berlin process is really the best framework for negotiating and moving toward a cease-fire,” he said 11 June, referring to the January meeting in Berlin aimed at ending the civil war.
“Haftar is now toast in Washington,” Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher at the Dutch research institute Clingendael, told Jeune Afrique. This may explain why the United States is reluctant to support a plan that does not explicitly exclude the Benghazi marshal.
Within the Arab League – whose four former secretary-generals are all Egyptian – al-Sisi can count on the support of the United Arab Emirates, which also sided with Haftar, and at the very least on the neutrality of Saudi Arabia. Algeria and Tunisia, Libya’s neighbours, on the other hand, seem reluctant to take up the Cairo banner. Algiers had cautiously welcomed the Egyptian plan.
Ankara, for its part, is trying to reach a bilateral consensus with Moscow. On 14 June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Defence Minister Sergei Choigou were expected in Istanbul to draw up a road map. The visit was cancelled at the last minute, due to continued disagreements on the details of the ceasefire. The Russian version was considered too close to that of Egypt, of which Lavrov did not hesitate to welcome.