Does Jordan have what it takes to reconcile Libya’s rival parties?

After coinciding visits by Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the military commander Khalifa Hifter to Amman, Jordan’s possible role in sponsoring Libyan reconciliation talks has come under the spotlight.

al-monitor Jordanian King Abdullah II meets with Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj at the Royal Palace in Amman, Dec. 2, 2018.  Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.
Mohammad Ersan

Mohammad Ersan


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Libya conflict

Dec 18, 2018

AMMAN — Libyan Presidential Council Chairman Fayez al-Sarraj arrived in Amman on Dec. 1 on an official visit that coincided with an unannounced visit by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter, commander of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army. The Jordanian government did not disclose the reason for Hifter's trip. The simultaneous visits by the two opposing officials whet the appetite of commentators about a possible Jordanian role as a mediator between them. 

Libya has been plagued by political and military divisions since the fall of the regime of long-time leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. In its wake, two governments have been vying to establish their authority over the country, with competing armed tribal groups adding to the chaos. Hifter, who is allied with the so-called Interim Government based in the east, in al-Bayda and Benghazi, does not accept Sarraj’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which was formed as a result of the Libyan Political Agreement, signed in December 2015 in Sukhirat, Morocco, under UN auspices.

Article 8 of the LPA designates the head of the GNA as supreme commander of the Libyan army, but Hifter has refused to concede on the matter. In 2016, Hifter’s forces seized control of the main oil ports in eastern Libya.

According to a Jordanian security official who spoke to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity, Amman's involvement in attempts to reconcile the Libyan parties is not a spur of the moment initiative. Over the past three years, Jordan has been working in coordination with France and Italy to urge the two sides to disarm militias, launch a national reconciliation effort, share power, unify the military establishment under the new government and start rebuilding the economy.

In a Dec. 3 interview with Jordan's al-Mamlaka network, Sarraj said unifying the military is one of the main factors in securing a political process in Libya and that some progress had been made in this regard. In October, Egypt submitted a draft to Hifter and Sarraj on the unification of the military. The plan outlined an organizational structure for the armed forces, defined the relationship between the military and the civil authority, and delineated the powers of military officers.

Sarraj said in the Mamlaka interview that there are some issues that the two parties still need to agree on, including the powers of the commander in chief of the army, which according to the LPA, rest with the Presidential Council. Once this issue is resolved, the military can then be unified under a semi-civilian political leadership, Sarraj contended. He further asserted, “Reconstituting the Presidential Council should be done in accordance with certain mechanisms and criteria based on the LPA.”

Also in the interview, Sarraj said he did not meet with Hifter during their visits to Amman. Sarraj said his most recent one-on-one meeting with him had been in November in Palermo, at the two-day international conference called to advance a political settlement of the Libyan crisis and pave the way for elections, among other issues.

While the Jordanian government continues to maintain its silence on what brought Hifter to Amman, about Sarraj's visit, government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat told Al-Monitor, “The reconciliation file was not raised during the recent visit. The main focus was on issues of common concern, where Jordan reiterated its position asserting the necessity of supporting a political resolution in Libya.”

Sarraj met with King Abdullah II to discuss ways to settle the Libyan crisis. Abdullah stressed Jordan’s support for efforts aimed at finding a political solution. Sarraj also met with Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz and discussed, among other things, Libya's outstanding debt for medical care received in Jordan by Libyan victims of that country's civil war.

Jordan has been demanding that the Libyan government settle debts owed to private and public Jordanian medical facilities for treatment provided as per a 2011 memorandum of understanding between the two countries. The Libyans currently owe close to $300 million.

The two officials also discussed forming committees to promote Libyan investment in Jordan, student exchange programs, security coordination, and the exchange of expertise in the security sector.

Amer Sabaileh, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (MEMPSI), believes that Jordan is seeking to help reconcile the warring Libyan parties with the hope that it will ultimately lead to Jordanian participation in Libya's reconstruction. He told Al-Monitor that the Jordanians' involvement is not new, noting that the kingdom has had good relations with both Hifter and Sarraj, which gives it some advantage in guiding reconciliation efforts.

Sabaileh added, however, “The problem for Jordan is the multiple parties engaged in the Libyan issue,” by which he meant France and Italy, which have competing interests when it comes to the Libyan dossier. France supports Hifter, while Italy backs the GNA. In addition, Italy had opposed the French idea that Libya holds parliamentary and presidential elections by the end of this year, arguing that it would only lead to more chaos in the country.

Mohammed al-Sallak, spokesman for the Libyan Presidential Council, told Al-Monitor that Sarraj's visit to Jordan is part of a joint effort to enhance cooperation between the two countries on several levels and in different areas, including education, health, security, and trade and investment, and to outline mechanisms for joint action on them that serves the interests of both nations.

“We appreciate the Jordanian king's support for the GNA and asserting his country's keenness to maintain the democratic process in Libya based on the LPA,” Sallak said. “We welcome any role the kingdom and its leadership could play, given its wisdom and openness to all parties for advancing the political process, reaching reconciliation and fostering stability.”

In a Dec. 2 interview with the Al-Ghad network, Monzer Hawrat, an independent political analyst, remarked, “Jordan has begun to play a political role in the region, and this role is accepted by all the Arab parties.” He believes that Jordan's good relations with the two Libyan parties offer it a chance at helping craft a political solution, allowing it to launch initiatives aimed at plugging the gap between them or at least finding some common ground.

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