By Arezki Daoud
Two Libyan leaders, UN-backed, Tripoli-based Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj and the self-promoted Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the man whose stronghold is in the east of the country, met in Paris this week under the watchful eye of new French President Emmanuel Macron.
The two rivals agreed to a conditional ceasefire, which some hope would pave the way for a return to normalcy in the collapsed state of Libya.
But the goals, as stated at the end of their meeting are simply unrealistic.
One man, Serraj, has no power and is surrounded by a plethora of groups and militias that will not accept the terms of the talk.
The other, Khalifa Haftar will never compromise, as he never did.
He represents his own interests and those of his backers in Egypt, the UAE and elsewhere.
He will never allow the potential for a diminished role in the future of Libya, and so he will continue to wage war.
As for President Emmanuel Macron, the effort to bring the two together may be commendable, but it suggests either Paris lacks full understanding on how Libya works, or Macron needs a joint statement that he could use to claim progress and leadership in international affairs.
Sadly, the outcome will not likely go beyond the optics we saw in Paris, following a meeting that was organized too hastily and without broader and more effective participation and representation.
The two men emerged from the Paris talks saying that they “commit to a ceasefire and to refrain from any use of armed force for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counter-terrorism.”
For President Macron, the move is part of a policy that seeks to unify key actors in the Libyan conflict, while providing Haftar a leading role in defense and security of the country.
After all, French special forces are known to have helped Haftar in eastern Libya.
But by focusing on these two men, and neglecting to include all other key stakeholders, including Libya’s neighbors, Paris is guaranteeing to extend the conflict, and without knowing it, it may even worsen it.
Although Haftar has no international or domestic legitimacy, he managed to impose himself by force, getting regional powers like Egypt to support him and therefore imposing himself on the global level.
He has become not only unavoidable in French circles, but he also has the attention of many others around the world, including the Russians who are trying to figure out how they should position themselves.
Given his presence and positions in the Libyan crisis, foreign and regional powers see him as being part of the solution. We are not too convinced about that yet.
This was not Serraj and Haftar’s first meeting. The two men were previously brought together by foreign leaders, starting with their first contact in Abu Dhabi in May 2017, followed by a pledge to do better during another meeting brokered by Egypt’s Sissi.
But unlike these meetings, the French event ended with a common declaration, the first ever, to pave the way for some end to the crisis, the establishment of a ceasefire, and the organization of elections.
While the joint declaration is a necessary step toward resolving some of Libya’s thorniest political problems, we remain skeptical as to the ability of the two parties to stick to their pledge.
First, the men who signed the declaration do not represent a consensus among the Libyan people, and even within their own universe of supporters.
None of them has the consensual leadership traits that would enable them to bring feuding parties together.
Worse of all, General Haftar in particular appears to put forward the interest of foreign parties first, along with his own interests. He is in no mood for compromise as he is moving westward toward Tripoli, promising to be in control of it by year end.
An impossible task, but one that hints on his inability to make deals and compromises.
What Libya needs are men that have the ability to de-escalate the crisis and unify the feuding parties. Such unifying figure does not exist in the Libyan context today.
Then the language used in the declaration remains murky.
It says that while they agreed to work on a ceasefire, they also insist that such ceasefire will not be applicable to “terrorists.”
The question then becomes who defines “terrorism” and what metrics and qualifiers will be used to define who is a terrorist and who is not?
It is clear that both will likely agree to box Islamic State (Daesh) as a common enemy. But beyond that, who is a terrorist in the current Libyan context? For Haftar, everyone is a terrorist.
The two men do not trust each other, and have been aggressively fighting one another.
In early July, the forces loyal to Serraj thwarted an attack by the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Abu Hadi, in the city of Sirte. Security sources say that the attackers in Abu Hadi were repelled, as clashes against other LNA-leaning groups in checkpoint 17 east of Sirte continued for days.
The security situation on the ground is pretty drastic and will take enormous resources and substantial skills to reduce tension.
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), a poorly trusted institution, has documented nine deaths and 17 injuries of civilians in the country last June. “9 deaths and 17 injuries occurred during the conduct of hostilities across Libya.” UNSMIL said.
Most of civilian casualties were caused by gunfire, followed in the second place by Explosive Remnants of War.
In July, the situation has not improved an inch, with the violence peaking when a video surfaced of a commander in Mr. Haftar’s military, Mahmoud Warfali reading a death sentence to 20 men who ended up being executed on video. Warfali heads up the Saiqa Special Forces, a unit of Haftar’s army.
Elsewhere, MEA Risk LLC reported that the month started with the gruesome killing of five members of the same family on July 5, after several rockets hit a beach in the area of Mitiga, in Tripoli.
It is believed that the rockets were fired from the nearby air base, and were supposed to hit the nearby airport. This incident comes after violent clashes between two the rival families Shadi and Sumbul hit the area.
At least 16 of General Haftar’s fighters were killed on July 7, in renewed clashes against Islamic insurgency groups in the northeastern city of Benghazi, despite the declaration of victory by their leader.
It appears that the Shura Council of Benghazi continues to hold a position in the Kharibish neighborhood. Six Islamist fighters were also killed, according to security sources. Three other Haftar soldiers were killed in Wadie Rabie, in Tripoli’s Janzour district.
Several civilians were also killed and others were injured as a result of indiscriminate rocket fire during fighting in Garabulli, east of Tripoli.
The fight involved mainly Misratan forces supporting Khalifa Ghwell’s national salvation government and Tripoli forces backing the UN-backed government of national accord.
In Derna, the Libyan National Army (LNA) jets launched fresh airstrikes on July 22 targeting strategic sites and members of the Mujahedeen Shura Council which controls the town.
In Benghazi, which Haftar claims has been liberated, three of his soldiers were injured when a Tunisian militant blew himself up when he was cornered.
As we look at the individuals tasked to bring peace in Libya, coupled with a realistic analysis of the situation on the ground, there is very little room for optimism.
It is perhaps noble for France, and in the past Egypt, the UAE, Morocco, Algeria and others, to seek ways to solve the Libyan crisis, but the conditions are not there yet.
This year is expected to evolve with another escalation of violence in Libya as General Haftar seeks to neutralize his opposition in the western part of the country.
His troops will likely advance westward and take several towns, but the battle for Tripoli will end up much more complex and will likely worsen the Libyan civil war well into 2018.
Arezki Daoud is MEA Risk’s Chief Executive and Lead Analyst. He is also the founder and current Editor of The North Africa Journal. He previously worked for oil company Sonatrach, then held research, forecasting and consulting positions for Harvard University, International Data Group and IDC. He has been a commentator in the international press, from Al-Jazeera TV and CTV News to CBS Radio and many newspapers.