Is the Tide Turning? Or Will Negotiations Bring Even More Divisions?
On Friday 16 January Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq announced a general ceasefire with immediate effect, promising to resort to the use of weapons only for defensive purposes if attacked by ‘other parties’. This development came at the end of a promising week where Libya’s rival sides finally gathered in Geneva for a second round of UN-backed negotiations following those held in Ghadames in September. Talks are set to resume again next week and are scheduled to host not only political representatives from the two national-level blocks, but also military ones as well as municipalities, civil society representatives and tribal and local leaders. At the end of this week’s negotiations, in a rather optimistic and positive atmosphere, it was announced that delegates had agreed to a number of confidence-building measures to be taken, including:
- Ensuring the release of those detained illegally;
- Ensuring the immediate release of those abducted and the provision of full information on the missing to their families;
- Addressing the situation of the refugees inside and outside the country, and the internally displaced, in particular those affected by the latest clashes;
- Enabling humanitarian aid to reach affected areas in coordination with international organisations and civil society institutions, including medical, educational, life-sustaining and public services, with special attention to the most affected regions and areas;
- Ensuring an end to media campaigns that provoke division. Political, religious and media messages should be directed to promote reconciliation, tolerance and national unity;
- The reopening of airports and ports in the country, of airspace especially with neighboring countries, the facilitating of aviation and shipping routes as well as land transportation throughout the country and an end to assaults on vital installations (such as oil, gas and electrical facilities);
- Ensuring the freedom of movement for Libyans throughout the county;
- The payment of salaries to all those who have a right to them without discrimination on any basis ;
- Appropriate mechanisms to ensure the import the necessary foodstuffs and supplies
After Monday’s last-minute decision by the GNC to boycott the first round of upcoming talks in Geneva, the declaration of a unilateral general ceasefire by Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq seems to suggest that the higher military echelons of the Tripoli establishment caved in to pressure and answered the call coming from several local municipalities, formally aligned with the GNC administration, which came out throughout the past week with strong statements of support for participation in the dialogue initiative. Among them, it is worth specifying, were those of Misrata and Tripoli, whose declarations prompted an ‘order’ by the al-Hassi government that local administrations do not meddle in the national and international dialogue process. The renewed threat of sanctions arising from Western institutions and international organisations is also likely to have encouraged the decision made by Libya Dawn and Operation Shuruq. It remains now to be seen, however, whether this and Abu Sahmain’s recent trip to Turkey will be enough to persuade the GNC to attend next week’s negotiations, as hoped by UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon, or if it will remain anchored to its hardline stance.
Regardless of what decision the rump GNC will take, it is and still will be too early to tell if the tide has turned in Libya. Despite some morale-boosting progress, the situation on the ground remains extremely dire and most, if not all, of the problems the country faced since the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution remain unaddressed and without a(n easy) solution. Most importantly, the tensions and divisions currently emerging in the Libya Dawn camp could very well be replicated in the Tobruk-establishment camp if federalist forces or other local stakeholders refuse the outcome of negotiations, potentially leading up to an even more fractured and unstable situation. Reports are starting to emerge that already within the Libya Dawn camp the declaration of a ceasefire has been rejected by several militias and military commanders. As a matter of fact, although in the past few months discussions around opposing blocks in Libya tended to present them in monolithic ways, we should always be aware that reality on the ground is probably closer to the contrary. Blocks continue to be characterised by a highly fractious and fluid nature that could very well manifest itself through the establishment of new alliances and broad re-alignments in light of the Geneva talks and the pressure they are exerting on the country’s leaders.