Is Algeria's dialogue initiative for Libya still viable?

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Article Summary
Algeria had announced a dialogue initiative bringing together Libya’s rival factions to be held in October, but the month passed without a meeting being held.

TUNIS, Tunisia — The focus of some Libyans and others interested in Libyan affairs turned toward Algeria in September, when the government announced its intention to host a dialogue in late October among Libya’s warring parties. October passed, however, without the dialogue taking place. Libya’s fate became even murkier on Nov. 6 after the Supreme Constitutional Court invalidated the Council of Representatives, the Tobruk-based elected legislature recognized by the international community.

There are multiple reasons for the failed effort at a dialogue, but the result is the same: the conflicting parties in Libya must meet around the same table to discuss sparing the country more bloody conflict. In this respect, Bernardino Leon, special representative of the UN secretary-general, has sought to hold new meetings with influential figures following the court’s decision on the legislature.

A number of Libyan members of parliament (MPs) interviewed by Al-Monitor in Tunisia believe that the timing was behind the failure of the Algerian initiative, with its being announced for an unspecified date in the last days of October, which coincided with Tunisian parliamentary elections, held Oct. 26.

Fathi Mohammed al-Qabasi, a Libyan MP, said Algeria’s initiative was promising, especially given that a similar initiative for dialogue among Malian parties in Algeria had achieved some success. He also said, however, that the effort to engage Libyan Islamists in the dialogue brokered by Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi in tandem with the Tunisian elections made the mission difficult.

Qabasi also said, “The meeting of rival Libyans will become even more difficult if Algeria insists on the involvement of remnants from Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in the dialogue.” He added, “Some factions refuse to sit next to [certain] others.”

Algerian authorities refused to acknowledge the failure of the initiative to bring the Libyan parties together and accused certain parties, without naming names, of seeking to undermine their efforts. The Algerians renewed their position Nov. 6 during a visit by Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, who confirmed that Algeria and Tunisia share the same goal of finding a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis through dialogue and reconciliation. Hamdi said Tunisia solidly supports the Algerian initiative. The minister's visit took place after the announcement that the secular Nidaa Tunis party had won the Tunisian parliamentary elections, defeating Ennahda.

Another Libyan MP in Tunisia who spoke with Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity believes there is still a chance for Algeria to succeed with the Libyans. The MP referred to the parallel efforts being exerted by Egypt, noting that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry had mediated the reconciliation of a number of Libyan tribal leaders. The MP denied any desire by Egypt to undermine the Algerian initiative and said Cairo's primary concern is to secure the border with Libya. He said, “Egypt is seeking to mobilize the support of tribal leaders to prevent the infiltration of jihadists into the Egyptian Western Sahara desert from areas controlled by jihadists in Derna and the vicinity of Benghazi.”

Regardless, the sentiment in Algiers is that Egypt’s unilateral effort among Libyan tribal leaders had undermined its dialogue initiative. Moreover, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has voiced its support for the launch of a comprehensive political dialogue aimed at a political solution in Libya on the basis of the principles set out in the Libya Neighboring Countries Initiative, adopted in Cairo on Aug. 25. This initiative calls for clearing all armed militias from Libyan state and public institutions to allow Libyan authorities to carry out their duties.

According to the Libyan MPs with whom Al-Monitor spoke, the actions of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), which brought together some influential figures from across the political spectrum in Ghadames at the end of September, was also among the reasons for the absence of a dialogue.

At an Oct. 28 press conference in Tripoli, Leon said the international community supports the Ghadames process. This could serve as a prelude to a dialogue in Algeria and should be revived, particularly after Akila Saleh Issa, speaker of the Council of Representatives, visited Algeria on Nov. 1 and met with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal. At the end of the meeting, both parties said that a consensus had been reached on ways to help the Libyans hold a national dialogue, implying that the Algerian dialogue initiative is still in the cards.

Found in: tunisia, peace negotiations, nidaa tunis, libya, islamists, egypt, algeria

Omar Shabbi is an Algerian journalist based in Algiers. He has been covering Algerian political and security issues for 25 years.

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