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Libya… A New Attempt to Mend the Rift | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A view shows damage at the scene after an airstrike by U.S. warplanes against Islamic State in Sabratha, Libya in this February 19, 2016 handout picture. REUTERS/Sabratha municipality media office/Handout via Reuters

Cairo-Libyan conflicting parties have returned to dialogue in an attempt to mend the rift that is threatening the U.N.-suggested presidential council, in a state suffering security problems that are negatively affecting the neighboring countries. Tunisia as well as Egypt hosted part of the talks during the past week.

Federalism in Libya

In 2013, some tribal and military leaders appeared, chanting the federalism slogan. Their suggestion was underestimated by other leaders in eastern Libya especially after General Commander of the Libyan Army Khalifa Haftar succeeded to unite the Libyan army in 2014.

Eastern Libya split is a central point in the political negotiations; most Libyans including the eastern residents refuse division. Yet, the topic is not ruled out, it is still under the table.

A militant said, “The war in Libya is not only between Libyans; nowadays there are foreign masterminds that take part in managing the conflict and widening the crack. Endless infighting, bloodshed and squandering of fortunes… From the wrashes of cities and oil ports, leaders pick up cards that create pressure for days before the search for news cards begins, except the irreplaceable separation card which is the strongest until now”.

The last fragile card played by rivals to gain points was that of the ‘French soldiers’; many foreign experts were seen on the Libyan lands drawing plans and contributing to military operations management in eastern Libya to back the national army led by Haftar. The issue appeared to the public when French President Francois Hollande admitted three soldiers on a mission in Benghazi were killed.

“Rivals in presidential council and Tripoli militias tried to exploit the French soldiers’ card to provoke the east leaders, but I don’t think it is a winning card. They exaggerated the importance of the topic; not to mention that many militias in the west are also benefiting from foreign experts,” said a military leader in the Libyan army headquarter, south Benghazi.

Some parliamentarians see that the major purpose of this foreign interference is to maintain a state of chaos, hence, to weaken the state and leave it on a cross road: either the presidential council government or a dark path that will end in dividing Libya.

“Federalism is back to the front amidst the complexity of the Libyan situation and the absence of security in the east and west, also”, adds the military leader. The U.N. tried, earlier, through its special representative for Libya Martin Kobler to put an end to the chaos in the state foundations: security, economy and justice.

A figure who was with the Libyan delegation that visited Cairo said that the dialogue parties discussed in Tunsia possibility of dividing the army in which Haftar takes control over the east and militias remain ruling in the west. Yet this point was not tackled in Egypt talks.

“Kobler and Cairo do not support dividing the Libyan army. In fact, Kobler sees that the Libyan crisis cannot be resolved unless there is one united army under the presidential council leadership,” the source added.

With the meetings being held in Cairo and Tunisia, political debate continues. Though the outcomes of military operations have a direct effect on any potential compromise, there are also certain political and media pressure cards that play a minor role. The pressure on the east is not restricted to discovering the presence of foreign soldiers with Haftar but extends to a threat by the presidential council to export oil from ports located in west Benghazi.

Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to say that Cairo hosting of meetings that included Speaker of Libyan Parliament Ageela Saleh and Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez Serraj for two days, falls under the Egyptian pursuits to reinforce stability in Libya and support political solutions and that “these meetings pave the way for future meetings that promise a new phase of political accord between Libyans”.

Yet, recent accusations have sparked enmity between the Libyans, basically the forces that appeared suddenly on Benghazi borders. A soldier close to Haftar said that the extremism of the west leaders is pushing many eastern leaders to defend themselves as a “housing and geographic region in danger. This brings federalism suggestion back to the fore and changes it from a playing card to a reality”.