Suggestions for a way forward in Libya

Mattia Toaldo a Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations has a recent article in the Middle East Eye recommending a way forward in Libya for the United States and the EU.

This article critically analyzes some aspects of Toaldo's position. Toaldo notes that it is important not to just look at what the US and others are doing militarily in Libya, but what their policies are and should be. Toaldo says that both the EU and Americans have been active in the process of setting up the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). He claims that the joint US and EU actions led Russia and powers such as Egypt and the UAE to "sign up for extended support for the GNA" even though their "hearts wallets, and arms stockpiles" were on the side of the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government. However, this appears to be mainly lip service rather than actual support. Russia, Egypt, and the UAE continue to support Haftar and the HoR government in actuality.
Toaldo says that the US and several EU countries are conducting negotiations with various countries in the region to try to get Haftar to serve under the leadership of the GNA and thus have a unified command for LIbya. But these negotiations appear to have gone nowhere. There has been no further meetings for the HoR to sign on to the GNA and there is no indication that Haftar has agreed to serve under a unified PC command. This would involve giving up the position that he is commander in chief of the Libyan National Army and will remain such in any new unity government. He has refused even to talk to Martin Kobler Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) even though Kobler requested talks several times.
While Toaldo is right that the UK and the EU tried to keep crucial institutions such as the National Oil Company and Central Bank independent, they were hardly successful in doing so as the east set up its own NOC and tried to export oil without approval from the NOC. The GNA in effect recognized the parallel NOC by negotiating a merged NOC. The merger is likely still not consummated as the HoR made further demands that wil have to be met before it will agree to it The HoR is still demanding that to export oil, tankers must have a permit from the eastern NOC. There was also an agreement with the eastern Central Bank of Libya (CBL) which in effect gives recognition to it. Separate banknotes were printed for the eastern CBL. The eastern NOC does not support the GNA. Toaldo notes: "Perhaps most critically, the US has been at the forefront of efforts to make sure that only Libya’s central government could sell oil, effectively discouraging any attempts to split the country. " The HoR is using the threat of military action against tankers if they do not have permits from the eastern NOC. Haftar and southern tribes who control oil fields feeding into the Oil Crescent ports are demanding that they and the HoR agree to any export plan before they will allow oil to be pumped to the ports
Toaldo claims rightly that the new US military attacks in Sirte are part of a coordinated campaign and approved by the GNA as contrasted with earlier raids. US special forces have been at work for some time both supporting the Sirte offensive and efforts in Benghazi. Compared to the French involvement on the side of Haftar and the HoR, the US air strikes have led to less negative reactions. Toaldo suggests that the objections of the HoR and Hafter are rather hypocritical in that they accept support and arms from regional powers in violation of the arms embargo. Perhaps the EU and western powers are also hypocritical in having special forces who support Haftar and the HoR. Toaldo suggests that if the US strikes end up killing many civilians there could be stronger negative reactions. The Islamic State (IS) appears to be using civilians as shields. So far there are no reports of civilian casualties.
Toaldo suggests three main priorities in Libya for the EU and US. First is to strengthen the GNA. Unlike Kobler who stresses the urgent need of a unified government and a unified command, Toaldo considers this outcome unlikely. Toaldo says: Despite all diplomatic efforts, Haftar, who effectively controls the government in Tobruk and Beyda, is unlikely to willingly serve under an effective civilian government. His regional sponsors in Egypt and the UAE are unlikely to accept a unity government that includes anything that seems “Islamist” in any way. This means that there wouldn’t be a unity government, and most likely not one working from Tripoli.While Kobler at least until recently has emphasized achieving a unity government, Toaldo thinks this unlikely.
Instead, Toaldo suggests a priority that Kobler also shares, strengthening the GNA. The legitimacy of the GNA, Toaldo argues, should not be held hostage to the HoR or Haftar who are unlikely to grant power to the GNA by voting in confidence of the institution, as required by the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA.) Significantly, Toaldo does not really discuss the Skhirat agreement or even mention it by name. His proposals are in effect a recipe that could bypass the requirements of the LPA. Kobler is adept at using means to avoid dealing with conditions which he is unable to meet. He did this in the Skhirat agreement itself which avoided having either parliament approve an agreement that was supposed to be between them. He did it again by considering a signed letter and a meeting of the dialogue members as a green light to activate the GNA since he could not get a formal vote from the HoR. Now he needs a way to avoid having the HoR vote confidence in the GNA.
Instead of worrying about a vote of confidence from the HoR and thus having the HoR become the legislature of the GNA, Toaldo suggests a representative body but not a legislature:
The GNA is supposed to be an interim government tasked with bringing the country to new elections. But in the meantime, Libyans deserve to have an interim representative body and, if the HoR is not working, a temporary solution could be to ask municipalities to designate their representatives for a national body that, together with the Political Dialogue (the delegations that signed the UN-backed agreement), would hold the GNA accountable. These representatives could include current HoR members, mayors, tribal and social leaders.
Toaldo thinks that empowering these groups would achieve stability and would also facilitate coordination between local and central authorities. However, many local authorities are dependent upon militias for security. The local authorities may not be able to coordinate with central authorities unless this furthers the interests of those who provide security for the area. The Political Dialogue is not a dialogue at all. As it is now, it is a meeting of a select few whom Kobler thinks will support whatever new plan he has up his sleeve.
Toaldo reserves the role of Libyan legislature for the HoR alone, although with no unity government it cannot play such a role. In effect Toaldo is suggesting that the GNA can continue on indefinitely without a legislature. Toaldo thinks that these local representatives could hold the GNA responsible. But there is no formal mechanism by which they could do so. They cannot pass a vote of non-confidence in the GNA. The orders and plans to "restart public services and solve the economic crises" come from above although Toaldo does suggest that the project should be agreed to by the Libyan municipalities and the GNA. However, municipalities in areas loyal to the HoR and Haftar are not likely to participate in such a project so the division would remain.
The second priority for Toaldo is De-escalation. The "West" he claims should make sure that conflict in other parts of LIbya do not escalate. He thinks Benghazi is key. However, in Benghazi, Haftar and his Operation Dignity are hard at work clearing out what is left of the Shura Council of Benghazi fighters. There has never been any sign that the West has been able to stop Haftar and Operation Dignity, and supporters of Haftar, such as Egypt, also support the Operation. Toaldo does not mention Derna or Operation Volcano at all.
Finally, Toaldo recognizes that once the Islamic State is defeated in Sirte that local authorities need to take control rather than having those who liberated the city govern it. This is certainly a worthy aim but the Misrata brigades and others who paid a heavy price for driving the IS out of Sirte also need incentives for them to turn over authority to locals. This final priority appears to have the most likelihood of being realized. The other other two priorities appear to me quite problematic.


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