The Libyan negotiating parties at the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), represented by the 5+5 Joint Military Committee (JMC), reached an agreement on a permanent ceasefire throughout Libya on 23 October 2020, at the end of a months-long negotiation process that led to establishing rules for a political consensus to manage a transitional phase leading to a new constitution for the country and the organisation of legislative and presidential elections to end the severe internal crisis that erupted six years ago.

This paper reviews the background of the new agreement and discusses its impact on the future of the Libyan internal situation.

Backgrounds of the Geneva deal

An agreement was concluded in Berlin on 19 January 2020 between the Libyan factions, with an expanded international presence that included the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), representatives of African, Arab and international organisations, and some geographically neighbouring countries interested in the Libyan situation. In its Resolution 2510, the UNSC approved the outcomes of the Berlin Conference which focused on a ceasefire between the Libyan belligerents, and the initiation of political negotiations to conduct the next transitional phase and prepare for a permanent political solution in Libya. After starting in Berlin, the negotiation track faltered and was not vigorously renewed except as a result of the new military equation generated by the control by the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli over most of western Libya (May 2020).

Thus, three distinct negotiating tracks emerged, as follows:

  1. The Bouznika Track in Morocco, which brought together representatives of the Libyan House of Representatives (LHR) and the High Council of State (HCS) at the beginning of September 2020 to discuss the fifteenth article of the Skhirat Agreement (2015), related to the sovereign, legal and oversight functions in Libya. In its second session, held from 2 to 6 October 2020, the meeting resulted in an agreement on the criteria for appointing officials at the head of the basic institutions (the Central Bank of Libya (CBL), the Supreme Court of Libya (SCL), the Public Prosecution, the High National Election Commission (HNEC), the Libyan Audit Bureau (LAB), the Administrative Control Authority (ACA), and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC)) within the framework of sharing those responsibilities between the three major regions in Libya.
  2. The Hurghada track in Egypt which focused on the military and security aspects, and brought together army and security officers from the governments of Tripoli and Tobruk. The meeting, which was held at the end of September 2020, came out with a number of recommendations, mainly the cessation of the media campaigns and hate rhetoric, expediting the opening of borders between the Libyan regions, the resumption of oil exports, and the coordination of the security and military measures to maintain peace and stability in Libya.
  3. The Geneva track that came out of the Berlin Accords (the 5+5 JMC), which led, on 23 October 2020 to an agreement between the representatives of the Tripoli government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) stipulating a permanent ceasefire, the evacuation of foreign forces from Libyan territory within three months, the resumption of oil exports, the opening of the land and air borders between the country’s regions, and the resumption of the political and economic tracks approved by the Berlin meeting. It also provided for convening the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which would be entrusted with running the upcoming transitional phase.

Thus, for the first time since the Skhirat Agreement (2015), a glimmer of hope appeared for the political settlement of the internal Libyan conflict. This explains the warm reception of the results of the agreement signed in Geneva by the regional and international parties concerned with the Libyan issue, except for the Turkish side which questioned the firmness of the agreement and the credibility of withdrawing the mercenaries from the country.

Prospects for the Libyan political scene

The current Libyan political equation can be summarised in the following four observations:

  1. The disruption of the military path due to the balance of power that came about after the control by the GNA's army over most regions of western Libya, even as the Egyptian-Russian intervention prevented Tripoli’s forces from advancing towards the Sirte-Jufra line. Thus, it can be said that the option of a military solution to the Libyan internal conflict has drastically decreased, generating strong international pressures to prevent overstepping the current demarcation lines.
  2. The emergence of a regional and international consensus on rebuilding the ruling political structure in Libya, which means amending the rules of the game that emerged from the Skhirat Agreement, and removing the leading faces in the conflict, mainly Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who had announced his exit from the political arena (before he recently retracted), with the decline in the role of the LNA commander Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in favour of political and tribal leaders in eastern Libya, mainly the LHR Speaker Aguila Saleh.
  3. The emergence of strong international pressures (US in particular) to resume Libyan oil exports through mechanisms of collective management of oil wells and ports, which practically led to an end to the closures of the fields and export ports, as the National Oil Corporation (NOC) announced the lifting of the status of force majeure from the Al-Fil (Elephant) field and the ports of Sidra and Ras Lanuf. Strong indications have emerged that the US is keen to prevent Turkey and Russia from controlling the Libyan oil economy, after recording joint negotiations between them on sharing the Libyan oil resources.
  4. The return of the symbols of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime to the Libyan political scene, especially in the Sirte region where the Qadhadfa tribe is located. A strong movement has emerged in Sirte, Bani Walid and Zliten to nominate Saif al-Islam Gaddafi for the presidency. There has also been widespread activity by supporters of the former regime who present themselves as an alternative to the two conflicting governments in the east and west.

These facts will have an impact on the future of the Libyan political dialogue that began virtually under the auspices of the UN in Tunisia (via video conferencing) on 26 October 2020, provided that the first face-to-face meeting between the Libyan parties would be held on 9 November 2020. The Libyan political dialogue is expected to take place in the Tunisian city of Djerba, with the participation of 13 representatives of the two main Libyan parties (the LHR and the HCS), in addition to more than 70 Libyan personalities chosen by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), provided that the participants will not subsequently assume any leadership political responsibilities in the transitional phase. The Djerba meetings are required to agree on the Chairperson of the Presidential Council (PC) and two deputies thereof (provided that the Chairpersons’s job would be separate from the premiership), appointing a Prime Minister and two deputies thereof, and naming the officials responsible for the major sovereign functions, provided that the transitional government would take over the management of the next phase, including writing a new constitution for the country, and organising free and fair presidential and legislative elections that would restore Libya to the normal constitutional status.

However, this consensual framework suffers from many gaps, and faces various practical difficulties, the most prominent of which are the following:

  1. The weak state of the national consensus, and the persistence of the traditional differences between the main actors, especially the belligerent leaders for more than six years of violent armed conflict.
  2. The negative impact of the external parties interfering in the Libyan conflict, especially Turkey which was not enthusiastic about the Geneva Agreement, considered it fragile, and continued its military mobilisation to support Tripoli's forces and militias.
  3. The difficulty of reaching regional understandings about sharing the centres of power and its sovereign, regulatory and economic institutions, due to the exacerbating tensions between the three Libyan regions.

Despite those difficulties, the regional and international pressures seem likely to ensure a minimum level of agreement between the Libyan factions in the following directions:

  • Appointing a new Chairperson of the PC who may probably be the Speaker of the LHR Aguila Saleh, with two deputies from the west and south.
  • Appointing a head of government from among the consensual technocratic personalities, provided that the chosen person be from western Libya and acceptable to the influential political groups in Misurata, Tripoli and Zintan.
  • Sharing the sovereign jobs on the basis of regional balances.
  • Transforming Sirte into a new administrative capital for the country under the UN auspices and within the framework of consensual security mechanisms that ensure a minimum level of political stability and the re-export of oil resources under the international umbrella.
  • Embarking on a path of constitutional negotiation and organising the presidential and legislative elections, which may take a long time and face many difficulties.

This likely scenario may suffer a severe setback in two cases:

The first is the inability of the transitional authorities and the international powers sponsoring the negotiation process to solve the dilemma of disarming the Libyan militias and foreign military groups (mercenaries), which could take the country back to the cycle of violence and armed conflict.

The second is the disruption of the political dialogue process, leading to the paralysis of the transitional institutions, such as those emanating from the Skhirat Agreement, which could lead to the collapse of the fragile political consensus process.

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