Talks to Pay Symbolic Visit to Ghadames as Misratan Option Fails
On Monday 9 February, news broke that Libyan stakeholders and negotiators would be gathering once again in Ghadames for yet another session of UN-backed talks. However, the fact that negotiators will be gathering there for one day only, flying into town in the morning and leaving in the evening, runs the risk of making this whole decision a purely symbolic one, aimed at getting GNC representatives back around the table before ‘real’ talks resume in Geneva over the course of the next few days.
After various rumors circulated for more than a week that efforts and unofficial ‘under the radar’ negotiations had been going on to bring talks back in Libya to Misrata, the Ghadames decision, which ultimately leaves talks in Geneva, feels like a shortcoming. On the one hand, this speaks volumes about the chronic incapacity of either ‘national government’ to grant sufficient security and stability across its controlled territory to find a suitable ‘neutral’ location that could host multiple days of talks. On the other hand, the decision not to bring talks back to Misrata shows that although progress has been made in the past few weeks, we are still far away from a complete rapprochement, let alone from a grand political bargain that could bring together all moderate forces inside the country.
Furthermore, centrifugal forces within each block are gaining in strength, increasing the size of the sword of Damocles hanging over the meaningfulness of these talks. The port of Hariga (Tobruk) was closed on Sunday 8 February as security forces protecting it started a strike. Local stakeholders and federalist forces, disgruntled by the ongoing negotiations and trying to exert pressure on the Tobruk-based political institutions participating in UN-backed talks, likely engineered this strike. As a consequence of this closure, in the coming days the country’s oil output, currently sitting at approximately 300,000bdp, is poised to decrease by 120,000 bdp. Furthermore, tensions between Operation Dignity higher echelons and members of the Thinni’s cabinet have reached new lows, with the Minister of Interior Omar al-Sinki declaring that Haftar should be isolated before he causes the isolation of the whole Tobruk block, whilst the renegade general looks with increasing interest to Derna as a new arena to use for boosting his military and leadership credentials.
Things seem to be going south for the administration based in western Libya as well. After a video, in which the GNC-appointed PM Omar al-Hassi admitted not having any direct control over militias composing the bedrock of Libya Dawn, made the rounds among Libyan users of social media websites last week, radical Islamist groups active in western Libya in general and Sirte’s countryside in particular appear to have taken an extremely assertive stance: raiding oil fields and running armed parades within villages over which they proclaimed their full control. Looking at these developments, the question that all parties and international stakeholders involved in talks should start to quickly tackle is not anymore just that of ‘who will be willing to take part in a national salvtion government’, but rather that of how this institution will actually assert its authority on the whole of the Libyan territory without being hostage to competing militias or failing under the presurre of radical groups.