Engagement Underway to Bolster Political Deal
Fighting continues in Libya’s Benghazi where forces aligned with the National Army (LNA) and Operation Dignity are reportedly making considerable gains. After a first announcement was made more than a week ago, Operation Dignity forces are claiming again full control of the February 17 Martyrs Brigade camp with spokesperson Mohammed al-Hijazi going even as far as saying that 90% of Benghazi is now under control of the Army. Nonetheless, the fight is far from over with entire districts witnessing widespread armed confrontations and Operation Dignity forces asking citizens to evacuate due to the entrenchment in residential areas of forces belonging to the Benghazi’s Revolutionaries Shoura Council.
One question worth asking at this stage is if and how recent events in the Sinai Peninsula will impact Egypt’s commitment and support to Operation Dignity and the LNA’s Chief of Staff, who has been reportedly in close connection with the establishment in Cairo since its appointment last summer. Last Friday saw in fact the undertaking of a high-profile attack on an Egyptian army check-point, which led to the death of 31 soldiers and to the declaration of a state of emergency in the peninsula. The extent to which Operation Dignity forces and the LNA can keep up their recent pace of success on their own is all the more relevant now that reports indicating Derna as the next targeted destination are starting to emerge.
At the policy level, (international) engagement and dialogue seem to be the order of the day for both camps in Libyan politics. HoR appointed Abdullah Thinni has recently returned from a trip to Malta, where he met with the local government, as well as with UNSMIL’s Bernardino Leon and the US Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones. Thinni is now expected to go to Sudan on Wednesday. The Misratan and Islamist camp has been equally active, entering talks with a number of international partners in recent days. The Head of the EU Mission to Libya, Nataliya Apostolova, recently met with representatives of the MB-aligned ‘Justice and Construction’ party in Tripoli. GNC appointed PM Omar al-Hassi received its first diplomatic visit as Prime Minister by a Turkish envoy last week.
The hope at this stage is that these meetings represent a concrete first phase of indirect talks that can help establish common ground between factions and lead to direct negotiations that are more inclusive and successful than those held in Ghadames were. Encouraging signs in this sense came from last week’s interview granted by HoR-appointed Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Dairy to the Associated Press:
“We are seeking a settlement,” Dayri told The Associated Press at his family’s home in Cairo. “The political track should be enough to bring us back to Tripoli.” (…)
“Benghazi is different,” Dayri said. “The fight in Benghazi is against radical elements who have been assassinating civilians and military personnel since 2012 and who have been putting law and order in jeopardy.” “In Tripoli, there is strife relating to power and resources. There, we would not like to pursue a military solution,” he added.
Work at different levels is also underway to guarantee a re-establishment of aerial connections between the country and its neighbors. Reports indicate that besides flights from Turkey, connections to Tunis will be established from Misrata’s airport and that Mitiga airport is also undergoing works to allow Air Malta and other carriers to soon resume flights to and from Tripoli.
Lastly, today it is worth looking west and celebrate the so far smooth undertaking of legislative elections in Tunisia which mark once and for all the end of the transition phase in the country. After more than 5 million people reportedly registered to vote, turn out has hit the 60% mark and no major disruptions or irregularities were reported.