Op-Ed: Mattia Toaldo's analysis of the Libyan Situation

Posted Sep 30, 2016 by Ken Hanly
Dr. Mattia Toaldo, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, recently released an extensive analysis of the present situation in Libya giving considerable background to help understand the present situation.
Troops loyal to ex-general Khalifa Haftar  during a demonstration in Benghazi  on August 14  2015
Troops loyal to ex-general Khalifa Haftar, during a demonstration in Benghazi, on August 14, 2015
Abdullah Doma, AFP/File
The entire article can be found here and is titled "Between Progress and Fragmentation". The good news about Libya for Toaldo is that the Islamic State is almost wiped out in its last main base in Libya, Sirte. However, he also claims that the other good news is that there is a Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) establishing the Government of National Accord (GNA).
While the defeat of the Islamic State is certainly a positive development, one could argue that the LPA, far from being a positive development, is part of the reason why there is still division in the country. The Libyan Dialogue meetings with representatives from the rival House of Representatives(HoR) government based in Tobruk and the Salvation government of the General National Congress based in Tripoli and other stakeholders considered several draft agreements promoted by former UN envoy Bernardino Leon. The meetings were meant to reach an agreement that would be approved by both parliaments. Leon was in an obvious conflict of interest since that at the same time he was in fact having conversations with officials from the UAE who favored the HoR government. He clearly tried to weaken the GNC and strengthen the HoR. He ended up taking a well-paying job as an academic in the UAE.
The new envoy, Martin Kobler, carried on trying to pass a final draft of the LPA through the two legislatures, but to no avail. What Kobler finally did was to gather together those members of the two parliaments who supported the LPA along with others and gather them together in Skhirat Morocco in December of 2014 to sign the LPA. Those from the two governments who signed were not authorised to do so by either government and neither parliament ever approved of the deal. In other words, the two parliaments were forced to accept a deal that neither had agreed to. Far from being a positive development the Skhirat agreement failed to produce the agreement the original dialogue was meant to forge. It alienated both parliaments.
The GNC resistance was solved by simply using the provisions of the LPA to reduce the GNC to virtual impotence. The LPA contained a provision that called for a State Council that would consist mainly of former members of the GNC. A member of the Presidential Council of the GNA drew up a list of members from those within the GNC who accepted the GNA. Hence, many members of the GNC left to take assured jobs within the State Council leaving the group with many fewer members. The GNA quickly took over ministries formerly run by the Salvation GNC government. The bizarre proceedings by which the State Council was formed are described in this article. State Council met as the GNC amended the constitutional declaration, accepted the LPA and then dissolved itself and then met as the High State Council. While the real GNC did not recognize the meeting, their offices were later seized by militia loyal to the GNA and then occupied by the newly minted High State Council. While the GNC governnemt has been reduced to an impotent shadow of its former self, the State Council remains problematic. It is meant to be a mainly consultative body but because the HoR has refused to vote confidence in the GNA there is not yet a legislature for the government. The State Council has declared itself the GNA's legislative body until such time as the HoR signs on to the GNA. As such it intends to appoint officials to key bodies. This is all happening because of another basic fault of the LPA, that the GNA never had but needs, the approval of the HoR in the form of a vote of confidence.
Those who framed the LPA apparently never realised that the HoR would not sign on to the LPA. The LPA gives a huge advantage to the HoR in that the HoR is the sole legislative body of the GNA. The former GNC government members dominated only the State Council which plays mostly a consultative role. Why did not the HoR members do as did most of the GNC members , jump at the chance of secure jobs? The basic reason is that to bring the GNC on board the UN had inserted two Articles 8 in the LPA one in the main body and another in the additional provisions. These provisions make the Presidential Council(PC) of the GNA, rather than Haftar, commander of the armed forces. It should have been crystal clear that Haftar would never accept this. He has been opposed to the dialogue and the LPA all along for this reason among others. Toaldo notes that this provision is blocking the approval of the agreement. Nevertheless he still sees the LPA as positive as among other things bringing forces together to fight the Islamic State. However, it is noteworthy that it did nothing to bring in Haftar to help defeat IS. He instead decided his time would be better spent seizing control of oil fields and attacking the jihadist Shura Council in Derna who were instrumental in driving out the Islamic State.
The UN has constantly violated the provisions of the LPA because otherwise it could not move forward with establishing the GNA. The most glaring violation was the avoidance of a formal vote on the LPA by the HoR. Instead, the UN went through a number of complicated gyrations designed to prove that really the GNA had been approved as described in this article. The next violation of the GNA will probably involve some way to work around Article 8 and provide Haftar a role to play in the new GNA armed forces. So far it is not clear that Haftar has the slightest interest in GNA proposals often advanced by PM Faiez Serraj.
As Toaldo notes, the country is still divided as it was before the agreement. As Toaldo puts it: Less optimistic is the fact that the country is as divided as ever, with the Tripoli-based GNA having only loose control of parts of the West and South of the country and the east being a de facto separate country under the dictatorship of renegade general Khalifa Heftar. Heftar receives support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – and increasingly from Russia. This is happening even though supporters of Haftar continue to give lip service to the primacy of the GNA and to UN resolutions on the issue.
Toaldo notes that Haftar started his Operation Dignity in the spring of 2014, with the goal "of wiping Libya clean of everything that smelled of political Islam'". He fails to mention that even earlier in February he tried to stage a coup against the government and that as part of Operation Dignity the parliament buildings were vandalized and burned as shown on the appended video. Included as targets in Operation Dignity are most militia associated with the GNA including the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous mostly brigades from Misrata leading the offensive against the Islamic State in Sirte.
As Toaldo notes, extensive negotiations are under way to agree to some role for Haftar in a unified GNA. It is not clear how such an agreement can be successful without alienating Haftar's many opponents resulting in the breakdown of the GNA. Toaldo argues that Haftar actually benefits from the blockage as he has extended his power by seizing ports of the oil crescent along with land formerly held by the Petroleum Forces Guard that extend to within about 50 kilometers of Sirte. He is increasing his power by replacing civilian authorities in cities by military officials. Haftar continues to sabotage reconciliation attempts by the GNA.
Some see the division of the country, with Cyrenaica in the east coming under control of Haftar while the GNA controls the rest, as a solution to the impasse. Toaldo points out that there would be no consensus as to where the border line should be drawn. He thinks that there would be a contest for the oil crescent region. However, this is already controlled by Haftar. Toaldo could mention that the Zintan militia, loyal to Haftar, control a considerable portion of western Libya. It is not clear how willing parts of the south would be to join the GNA.
Toaldo suggests: A national dialogue initiative could be facilitated by the UN (Special Envoy Martin Kobler is already moving in this sense) and receive the logistical and financial support of the GNA while remaining independent from government control. It should support a country-wide conversation on crucial issues such as, to make a few examples, the fate of political prisoners, the distribution of oil wealth (with the goal of restarting oil production and avoiding the economic collapse of the country) or the social and political inclusion of members of the former regime without blood on their hands. This reconciliation initiative should go hand in hand with concrete moves by the GNA in Tripoli to reach out to the east, promoting decentralisation and addressing the issue of the building of a national army. We have already seen in a recent national dialogue that splits make such a dialogue difficult.
Toaldo is certainly correct that the GNA should move on and address key concerns of Libyans such as the liquidity crisis and power cuts. However, Toaldo says nothing about countering Haftar's aggressive moves to gain more power and over more territory except to reach out to the people of the east and address concerns that led them to support Haftar. It is not clear that Haftar will allow them to do that and he has already enlisted tribal support and placed military personnel in place of local authorities. They are unlikely to show any interest in unifying with the GNA. Haftar may very well be planning to continue with Operation Dignity and eventually with the help of militia allies in the west, liberate, Tripoli, Misrata, and also Sirte from the GNA which he considers dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist gangs.
Toaldo argues that the LPA itself contains the tools for a solution to the problem of stalled and perhaps fruitless negotiations to accommodate Haftar: That agreement contains itself the tools that allow to unlock the process: for instance, article 16 and 17 say that the House of Representatives must become a truly neutral body and not Heftar’s political branch. It should sit in a neutral location and all members should be free to express their vote, unlike what’s happened in the past.
Yet the two articles say nothing about the HoR becoming a neutral body and nothing about Haftar. It does say that a meeting of the HoR should determine a location for it to meet. The deadline for article 17 to be implemented was September 17 2015, over a year ago.These articles surely come into play only in the context of article 13: Article (13) The House of Representatives, elected in June 2014, shall undertake the legislation authority for the transitional period, granting the vote of confidence or no confidence to the Government of National Accord as per the items of this Agreement, adopting the general budget, performing oversight over the executive authority and endorsing the public policy submitted by the Government. In other words, it would seem that before the tools in the two articles can be used there must first be the vote of confidence in the GNA that has yet to happen.
Toaldo himself notes that the LPA and a constitutional amendment by the HoR represent the only way to extend the Tobruk's role as GNA legislature, as the mandate of the HoR expired last October. Yet it is not clear that the HoR is willing to vote such an amendment when it will not accept the GNA. The HoR is not worried about extending its mandate. It regards its own extension of the mandate as legitimate and could care less about what the GNA and its supporters think about that.
If the HoR does not vote through a constitutional amendment Toaldo argues that the US and EU should " stop recognising simultaneously the government in Tripoli and the political branch of its rival in Tobruk." The US and EU have already supported UN resolutions that expressly forbid them to recognize both. In reality, the GNA's own National Oil Company (NOC) recognizes Haftar and the HoR as does the Central Bank by paying salaries for the HoR and the LNA I expect. Not hedging their bets by supporting Haftar and the HoR would leave the way open for the UAE, Egypt, Russia, and others to gain influence in Libya through support of Haftar at the expense of the US and some EU countries.
In my opinion, one of the main priorities of the GNA should be to build up its armed forces and try to gain support from foreign countries for repelling any further advance of Haftar, which could very well include attacks on Tripoli as he has threatened in the past.