Since President Abdelmajid Tebboune came to power in Algeria in December 2019, he has shown his keenness to put forward a project for a consensual political solution in Libya. In recent days, the features of that project began to come out amidst a broad regional and international situation that puts pressure for a political solution at a time when the path of the military conflict is still open.

In an interview with local media outlets on 12 June 2020, President Tebboune announced that his country has offered to mediate between the belligerents of the Libyan crisis in order to find a solution to the crisis and reach a ceasefire. He underlined that the role of mediator proposed by his country “is not opposed by Mr. Fayez al-Sarraj (head of the Government of National Accord, GNA), Mr. Khalifa Haftar (commander of the Libyan National Army, LNA), or the Libyan tribes”. One day after the remarks by the Algerian President, the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh paid a sudden visit to Algeria. On 20 June 2020, the head of the GNA Fayez al-Sarraj also visited the Algerian capital and met President Tebboune, which proves the seriousness of the Algerian mobility towards the mediation.

This paper sheds light on the background and major approaches of the Algerian project in Libya and attempts to explore its potential prospects for the future of the Libyan political crisis.

Background of the Algerian project

Since the outbreak of the acute political crisis in Libya in 2014, the Algerian position has held to three basic constants that continue to constitute the framework that determines the Algerian policy in the Libyan arena despite the change in the political regime’s face:

First, assigning the Algerian military establishment the main role in running the Libyan file as opposed to the diplomatic and political bodies. This position corresponds with the traditional Algerian approach in conceiving the strategic depth of the Algerian State from the perspective of the consequent security risks for the east, west and south border spaces, and mandating the army to regulate and manage those vital security interests in exclusive collaboration with the Office of the President. The same approach applies to running the two most important issues for the Algerian strategic services, namely the Sahara issue in terms of its relationship with the borders with Morocco and Mauritania, and the issue of terrorism and insurgency movements in the African Sahel (coastal) region in terms of its relationship with the two African neighbours Mali and Niger.

Second, viewing Libya as a an extension of the Algerian strategic depth in its two main spaces, namely the eastern and the coastal, hence the expectation of a twofold Libyan role, both as a separating barrier with Egypt that is viewed as a competing party in North Africa, and as a guard of the eastern coastal gate which is the epicentre of the main security risk that threatens Algeria in its long desert borders with their areas of rising trouble in the form of terrorism, civil wars and ethnic insurgency movements.

Third, the rejection of any foreign military role in the Libyan issue, which explains Algeria’s position that is opposed to the intervention of NATO in the revolution against Gaddafi in 2011 in agreement with the fixed Algerian perception of striving to keep international military and security axes at a distance from the Algerian vital security space.

The above three constants explain the nature of the strong relationship that continued to exist between Algeria and Libya throughout the long rule of Colonel Gaddafi who had been himself aware of the importance of the alliance with Algeria in regional issues (in North Africa and the Sahel) in order to protect his regime against the dangers of Egyptian hegemony (especially during the period of his long disagreement with the regimes of Sadat and Mubarak), and the confrontation with France in western and central Africa. That is why, the downfall of the Gaddafi regime was considered by the Algerian strategic circles as the cause of shaking the Algerian vital security with the emergence of unprecedented serious challenges, such as the outbreak of a wave of terrorism in the Sahel, the spread of violent radical groups in the Sahara to the extent of doubling Algerian military spending along the Algerian-Libyan border which extends for a thousand kilometres (500 million dollars per year), and the permanent mobilization of thousands of armed operatives.

Dimensions and content of the Algerian initiative

Immediately after he came to power, President Abdelmajid Tebboune demonstrated his readiness to mediate between the Libyan belligerents. A few days after he assumed power, President Tebboune took part in the Berlin Conference on the settlement of the Libyan dispute which was held on 19 January 2020. In several newspaper interviews that he gave in February 2020, he announced his country’s readiness to contribute to a quick solution to the Libyan crisis in case an official mandate is given by the Security Council. In early May 2020, he renewed the same position in an interview with local newspapers without the emergence of clear features of the proposed Algerian project for Libyan reconciliation.

However, the recent data, particularly the military gains achieved by the Turkish-supported GNA army have led to the activation of the Algerian mediation project. The main background of the new Algerian initiative includes the following:

  • The existence of a new military balance between the belligerent Libyan powers in the aftermath of the LNA withdrawal from most of the western regions and the stalemate in the engagement line at the Gulf of Sirte which is the line separating the two main Libyan regions, amounting to the end of the military resolution option for both sides.
  • Increased international polarization in the Libyan arena between the Turkish axis with its US and NATO connections and the Russian axis rooted in eastern Libya, with the challenges and difficulties created by this polarization in the political positioning of regional powers, particularly Egypt and Algeria.
  • The emergence of the Egyptian initiative for a consensual solution in Libya (the Cairo Declaration of 6 June 2020) in coordination with the military and political leaders in eastern Libya (Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh). While Algeria took note of the Egyptian initiative, it is clear that Algeria did not accept it, finding it both unbalanced and unviable.

Hence, the alternative Algerian mediation project is based on the following determinants:

1- Positive neutrality in the Libyan internal conflict by standing at an equal distance from all sides and maintaining strong relations with the different factions and leading figures, including militia leaders, commanders of the Libyan army in the Gaddafi era and symbols of the Gaddafi regime, particularly his son Saif al-Islam.

2- Giving up Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, commander of the LNA, who is not regarded by the Algerian military and security circles as a reliable partner. Indeed, the military intelligence close to the President completely oppose him and have made efforts to convince France to give him up. While he can be given a secondary role in the mediation project, the Algerian authorities prefer the traditional military commanders (from Colonel Gaddafi’s army) and figures of the former regime that maintain strong relations with those authorities. They also view the Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives Aguila Saleh as an acceptable partner in the desired solution.

3- involving countries of the Arab Maghreb in the solution and perhaps resorting to the African umbrella to make up for the impracticable international patronage as a result of the escalating US-Russian disagreement with regard to the Libyan issue. In this context, Algeria coordinates closely with Tunisia that holds strong cards in the Libyan issue and maintains close ties with the elites of western Libya. While Algeria does not oppose giving Mauritania and countries of the African Sahel a limited role, it opposes the Moroccan role which has been decisive in the UN path that gave birth to the Skhirat Agreement (December 2015).

With regard to the project’s content, while it is still at the phase of conception and preparation, it rests on the following outlines:

a- Implementing a ceasefire along the current contact lines.

b- Holding a comprehensive and inclusive dialogue in Algeria among the various components of the Libyan political arena in order to reach a binding consensual solution.

c- Forming a consensual transitional authority to run the transitional stage and generate a government that represents the various Libyan belligerents.

d- Agreeing on a new constitutional document that lays the foundations for a new political system that corresponds to the Libyan reality, to be presented to the people in a referendum.

e- Organizing free and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections under international supervision to see the country through the transitional situation.

Prospects of the Algerian mediation project

Although Algeria holds really strong cards in the Libyan arena, mainly the relations maintained with the main political parties and military leaders, the success of the Algerian reconciliation project in Libya is contingent on three factors, namely:

1- The existence of a minimum level of international consensus over the requirements and determinants of reconciliation, which means that the Libyan issue would enter into a broad regional path of settlements put forward between the US and Russia (the Syrian issue, the Iranian nuclear issue, etc).

2- Preserving the interests of regional powers present in the Libyan arena, particularly Egypt.

3- The capability to ensure a comprehensive and feasible representation of the Libyan political and tribal powers and armed groups, which would constitute a major dilemma that requires making an exhausting and exceptional effort.

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