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Egypt presses for political solution in Libya

Egypt recently hosted the head of the Libyan Tobruk-based parliament, Aguila Saleh, and eastern military strongman Khalifa Hifter as part of efforts to unify Libyan ranks and reach a political solution to the crisis in the country.
Egyptian parliament members attend a general session in the capital Cairo on July 20, 2020. - Egypt's parliament greenlighted behind a closed-doors session later today, the possible deployment of troops in Libya to support Cairo's ally Khalifa Haftar, if rival Turkish-backed forces recapture the city of Sirte, the house said. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

Egypt hosted Sept. 23 head of the Libyan Tobruk-based parliament Aguila Saleh and Khalifa Hifter, commander of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA). 

The meeting at Al-Ittihadiya Palace was held in the presence of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel. 

It came as part of Egypt’s efforts to achieve security and stability in Libya and protect the border with Libya. During the meeting, Sisi reiterated Egypt’s support for a political solution to the Libyan crisis away from foreign interference. He also welcomed any positive steps that could lead to calm, peace, construction and development in Libya.

Libya has been witnessing war and chaos since the fall of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in 2011, as two ruling powers have been in conflict, namely the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj that is based in Tripoli in the west of the country, and a parallel government supported by Hifter in the east.

Hifter does not recognize the legitimacy of Sarraj’s government, which was formed as part of the 2015 Skhirat Agreement in Morocco under the supervision of the United Nations.

While Turkey supports the GNA, Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates support Hifter.

Given the ongoing conflict in Libya, the UN Security Council announced Sept. 16 the extension of the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) for a period of one year. It also mandated the UN secretary-general to assess the steps required to achieve a permanent cease-fire in Libya and gauge the potential role of UNSMIL in providing extendable cease-fire support.

During the Sept. 23 meeting, Sisi praised Saleh’s efforts to support the political track and unify the executive and legislative institutions in Libya. He also applauded Hifter’s LNA in its efforts to fight terrorism and remain committed to the cease-fire.

Sisi called on all parties to positively engage with the conclusions of the Berlin Summit held in January under the auspices of the UN, be they “political, economic, military and security.” He also called for committing to the Cairo Declaration and presidential and parliamentary elections that will allow the Libyan people to achieve stability, prosperity and development.

On Sept. 18, Hifter announced that the pumping and export of oil would resume on condition that the revenues are fairly distributed among the three Libyan regions and not used with the aim of funding militias or in operations marred by corruption. In this context, an agreement was concluded with the GNA to form a committee tasked with overseeing the distribution of oil revenues and their proper use until the end of the current year, as well as to unify the exchange rate, open lines of credits in banks and carry out bank clearing operations away from any kind of discrimination. 

Some GNA ministers and head of the Supreme Council of State Khalid al-Mishri expressed their opposition to this agreement, claiming that they do not accept Hifter’s participation in its conclusion.

Asked about the Libyan developments, Rakha Ahmed Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor over the phone, “The developments taking place to reach a political solution to the Libyan crisis in a way that somehow satisfies all parties — even if without fulfilling all their demands — are the only practical and possible solution. However, the outcome [of such meetings] could be built upon in the second Berlin conference on the Libyan crisis and could pave the way for a serious and constructive dialogue between the Libyan parties to end an entrenched crisis or at least defuse the possibility of a regional proxy war on Libyan soil.”

Sheikh Adel al-Faidi, head of the Libyan-Egyptian Communication Committee, told Al-Monitor that there are consultative meetings to garner consensus on holding a meeting for Libyan tribes from all regions in Cairo. He stressed “the importance of the Cairo meeting and said it will contribute to solve some of the unresolved issues in the Libyan crisis while contributing to uniting ranks, ideas and paths.”

Faidi pointed out that no date has been set or a mechanism set up for a meeting with the Libyan tribes. He also explained that work is underway to obtain the approval of all parties for the meeting to be comprehensive and present a Libyan-Libyan proposal instead of the Western proposals that carry agendas contrary to what the Libyan people aspire to.

Faidi added, “The Libyan tribes are an effective figure in the Libyan arena, and this is not a spur of the moment thing but a natural extension of the boundaries and nature of the tribe’s role in the Libyan arena throughout history. Tribes played an important role in all developments that followed the fall of Gadhafi’s regime, especially in supporting the Libyan state and its institutions. Despite the presence of a number of tribes that support the Turkish-backed GNA, the fact remains that many of these have repeatedly announced their support for the LNA, as evidenced by several moves.”

In July, Sisi met with the sheikhs and elders of Libyan tribes in Cairo to shed light on the distinct tribal map in Libya, and he made it clear that his country would not allow the Sirte-al-Jufra line to be crossed. He stressed the need to keep Libya away from the control of militias and terrorism.

Sheikh Saleh al-Fandi, head of the Supreme Council of Libyan Sheikhs, explained during the July meeting that the tribes asked Sisi for the intervention of the Egyptian army in the event of an attack on the coastal city of Sirte.

Despite Egypt’s threat of military intervention should the pro-government forces cross the Sirte front line, Cairo also announced its adherence to a political solution. In June, Egypt proposed an initiative to solve the crisis in Libya following the internationally recognized government’s achievement of important victories in its confrontation with Hifter’s forces.

While the GNA rushed to reject the Egyptian president’s initiative, Hifter’s forces agreed to it.

The initiative, labeled the Cairo Declaration, included a proposal for a cease-fire and called on the conflicting parties to abide by the arms embargo imposed on Libya and to work toward a political settlement.

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