Aguila Saleh’s initiative tests international community on Libya

The political initiative launched by Libyan Parliament Speaker Aguila Saleh tests the international community's seriousness in finding a just political settlement that takes into account the balance of military forces in the country and breaks with the Skhirat agreement, which has cemented the Islamists’ takeover of the government in Tripoli following what was then known as “the Fajr Libya coup."

Fathi al-Mrimi, media advisor to Saleh, said: “We need the United Nations Mission and the international community to oversee this initiative, with the participation of the major powers, including Russia and the United States, to help the Libyan people out of their crisis.”

On Saturday, Saleh reiterated the initiative that he announced at the end of last April, coinciding with the retreat of the Libyan National Army (LNA) from several fronts due to increasing Turkish intervention on the side of the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) militias, which are allegedly taking in weapons, mercenaries and extremists from ISIS and the Nusra Front.

In a statement broadcast on Eid al-Fitr, Saleh said that “the political process has been blocked by ignoring the outcome of the Berlin conference, and in light of the risks of foreign invasion, the halt to oil production and exports, falling oil prices, high exchange rates, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on international economies and the takeover of the Libyan Central Bank, the National Oil Agency and branches of foreign banks by the illegitimate Presidential Council and other groups, militias and armed gangs, all of which serves the interests of these groups and enables them to consolidate their control of the capital and continue looting the wealth of Libyans.”

“Our success in restructuring the Presidential Council, forming a national government, and reaching a mechanism for distributing the national wealth will enable us to provide budgeted funds to cover the needs of citizens and putting them on the path for a decent living, and supports efforts to improve the military institution so that it can carry out its role in combating terrorism, protecting borders, and preserving state sovereignty,” he added.

It must be pointed out that Saleh’s initiative was rejected by the LNA, and that was reflected in Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s address to his troops on Eid in which he urged them to continue fighting. The Libyan Parliament and its speaker have been among the army’s most prominent allies since 2014.

To convince Haftar to side with his initiative, Saleh needs to secure international guarantees not to have the scenario of the Skhirat agreement repeated, because that agreement was the reason for the outbreak of the Battle of Tripoli, since the Islamists and their international allies were planning to impose a new settlement tailored to fit the wishes of the Muslim Brotherhood through the Ghedames conference, which was cancelled when the battle for Tripoli was declared.

When the LNA launched the battle for Tripoli on April 4, 2019, it was accused of undermining the political process, but political figures affiliated with the LNA said that launching the battle came in response to the coup against the understandings reached in Abu Dhabi between Haftar and GNA President Fayez al-Sarraj.

This understanding allowed the LNA to enter Tripoli and hold presidential and legislative elections. The Islamists had turned their backs on these understandings because they realised that their popularity was declining among Libyans due to their involvement with and support of terrorist groups in various regions of the country, in addition to the deterioration of living conditions and the spread of chaos and corruption.

Since the outbreak of the battle more than a year ago, the international community has been trying to resume the political process and reach a settlement that guarantees the participation of all political groups in the government, which explains why it has turned a blind eye on Turkey’s intervention despite its illegality and arms trafficking.

By freeing Turkey’s hand in Libya, the international community is seeking to indirectly strike a military balance that might force the LNA to return to the political process, especially after Haftar had refused last January to sign a Russia-Turkey sponsored cease-fire agreement that seemed to him not to take into account the LNA’s military superiority.

Countries like the United States and Britain are accused of being biased in favour of the Islamists despite the chaos caused by the latter in Libya. The Skhirat agreement is seen by many as an international “reward” for the Brotherhood for their coup against the democratic path in 2014.

While the countries that support the Islamists are betting on weakening the army’s position militarily, the Islamists and their regional allies (Qatar and Turkey) are focusing their efforts on driving a wedge in the alliance between the army and parliament on the one hand and between the army and the tribes supporting it on the other, in an effort to curtail any role for Haftar in the talks and give way to Saleh, who is perceived as less intransigent and more open to the Islamists.

On Monday, Turkish and Qatari media outlets tried to amplify the support of 11 deputies for Saleh’s initiative and highlight differences between the army and parliament.

Those media outlets and pro-GNA websites have launched a campaign targeting Haftar and belittling his victories by amplifying the army’s recent losses. But Saleh’s latest statement, stressing his side’s continued support for the LNA in its war on terrorism, came to reduce the chances of success of these campaigns

“There is no disagreement between Field Marshal Haftar and Speaker Aguila Saleh, as some would like you to believe,” said the speaker’s media advisor. “We agree to support the army and liberate all Libyan land from terrorism, but this is a political initiative and all solutions can be presented. The one proposal that will end the Libyan crisis and achieve stability and the interest of the Libyan people, everyone will support it.”

This article was originally published in the Arab Weekly and is reproduced by permission

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.