Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced a unilateral initiative on June 6 to end the civil war in Libya, a plan accepted by the commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar.
The announcement comes at a time when Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, France, and Russia, suffered considerable losses to the Government of National Accord’s (GNA) forces. Egypt hosting a conference aimed at achieving a political solution in Libya with the presence of only one of the two warring parties is ironic.
Egypt hosting a conference aimed at achieving a political solution in Libya with only one of the two warring parties is ironic.
It’s arguable that one aim of hosting the conference was to close what seems like a rift between Haftar and his ally Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the country’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives.
Despite Saleh’s political initiative proposed in April, Haftar’s attempt to seize Tripoli did not appear to stop. In fact, Libya’s strongman quickly declared himself the ruler of Libya and claimed he “accepted the mandate of the Libyan people” to govern the country. He also announced the end of the UN-mediated Skhirat Agreement, which led to the setup of the GNA in Tripoli.
Eleven members of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives opposed this move and said in a statement that the parliament “fully supports Saleh’s initiative as a final political solution to the Libyan crisis.” Therefore, uniting the allies can be seen as one objective of Egypt’s initiative.
“Haftar’s policy and behavior since he came on the scene in 2014 have added serious complications to the Libyan civil war.”
“Haftar’s policy and behavior since he came on the scene in 2014 have added serious complications to the Libyan civil war,” Imad Harb, Director of Research and Analysis at Arab Center Washington DC, told Inside Arabia. “His original joining of the Skhirat Agreement was only a gambit to get international recognition. But when he discovered that he wasn’t going to get what he wanted from it, he tried to undermine it many times, until in the end he declared its death last April while he anointed himself leader of the country.”
“What made Haftar’s phenomenon last this long were the machinations of his patrons in Egypt, Russia, the UAE, and France, each with its own interests and desires,” Harb added. “They knew that the UN-supported [GNA] – to which they kept offering lip service – was the legitimate representative of the Libyan people and they should not do anything to subvert Skhirat. Still, they insisted on undermining it, using him as a useful tool.”
Cairo’s initiative has also included a ceasefire that was supposed to start on June 8 and pave the way for elections in Libya. One reason that would have pushed Haftar to accept the ceasefire is that it could reduce the rapid losses his forces have been suffering.
In recent weeks, the military equation has been turning in favor of the GNA forces.
In recent weeks, the military equation has been turning in favor of the GNA forces. The GNA has regained control of most of the northwest of the country, thanks to the Turkish support, which turned the tide of the war and thereby became the dominant regional player in Libya. Such a development would have a direct impact on Egypt’s influence in Libya. Hence, one could imagine that Cairo is worried about the series of losses Haftar has suffered.
In addition, the GNA and its allies seem to be aware that Haftar’s acceptance of a ceasefire is aimed at helping him. For instance, Khaled al Meshri, head of the GNA-aligned legislative assembly, said Libyans had no need for new initiatives and rejected Haftar’s attempt to return to negotiations after his military defeat, according to Al Jazeera.
Moreover, both the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Turkey rejected the initiative.
If the situation were in favor of Haftar, it would have been unlikely for him to agree on a ceasefire.
That explains why a ceasefire didn’t take place on June 8. Arguably, if the situation were in favor of Haftar, it would have been unlikely for him to agree on a ceasefire. That is because Haftar’s actions make it clear that achieving peace is not his main priority.
Libya’s strongman launched his military offensive to seize Tripoli in April 2019, which postponed a UN-sponsored national reconciliation conference. A month later, a French presidential official said that Haftar ruled out a ceasefire and told President Emmanuel Macron he wanted to rid the capital of militias that had “infested” the UN-backed government.
In January, Haftar refused to sign a Turkish-Russian orchestrated ceasefire agreement in Moscow, believing a power-sharing deal with al-Sarraj was a defeat. In the same month, he didn’t attend a summit in Berlin aimed at pushing Libya on a path to peace. These antagonistic decisions show the extent to which he played a role in further complicating the civil war in Libya.
“What is happening today is precisely what should happen,” said Harb. “[Haftar] must be neutralized and all outside help to him must cease. The question remains as to whether those Libyans in eastern Libya keep giving him a support he doesn’t deserve. They also must decide whether they want to stay loyal to Libya or to outside actors bent on subjugating it to their will.”