The year 2017 was effectively marked by attempts by the UN to re-launch a dialogue and negotiations with Libya. Following the appointment of Ghassan Salamé as the new UN Secretary General’s Special Representative in Libya, his new Action Plan to re-launch diplomatic negotiations has taken on a new momentum. While the Action Plan focuses on four main objectives – amending the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), convening a national conference, preparing for legislative and presidential elections, and providing humanitarian assistance – particular effort was previously concentrated on negotiating amendments to the LPA.
Several rounds of dialogue and direct consultations have already taken place in the past between representatives of the House of Representatives (HoR) and the High Council of State, yet little progress has been made. As Mr. Salamé himself has admitted, efforts to reach a compromise have been pushed back by “third parties”, for whom these new circumstances may represent a change in their positions, influence or financial interests. Many people within the political establishment, state administration, state-owned companies, business community and security sector have become part of an economic system of predation that contributes to the further depletion of state resources, which only worsens the living conditions of the lower and middle class.
Armed groups have particularly taken advantage of the weakness of political authorities. They realized that the latter are almost totally dependent on their troops for their own security or to have any credibility in the eyes of the public. In Tripoli, the special relationship uniting Tripoli’s major armed groups and the Presidential Council (PC) has enabled these groups to exert considerable influence in appointments to key positions in the state administration and state-owned companies. In Tripoli and actually all across Libya, armed groups are also playing a major role in extensive networks involved in the diversion of public funds, which allows them to finance their activities.
The more time passes, the clearer we can see the links between the leaders of armed groups and certain politicians, technocrats and businessmen. This may be accompanied by a further blurring of the line between Libya’s formal and criminal economies. Moreover, power networks and constituencies with objectives that have little, if anything, to do with the conflicts central to the current negotiations to amend the LPA will gain a firm foothold, and with minimal interest in finding a compromise.
Negotiators and mediators in the Libya crisis need to acknowledge this reality and take it into account when they set priorities at this crucial time. The fact is that the relevance of focusing on revising the LPA is becoming increasingly problematic, as the Libyans insist on their desire to see the transition phase come to an end. What they should really do now is to shift away from negotiations that have tended to over-emphasize the importance of a small political elite whose interests have drifted far away from the interests of the general public. The aim of such a change in the focus of the political negotiations would be to reach agreement on a permanent political framework allowing for elections to be held, with clear rules and fair play.
‘Libya: Moving Beyond the Transitional Mood’ – Research Paper by Virginie Collombier – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs / CIDOB.