Print
Topic:
Region: Middle East
Rate this article
(votes: 1, rating: 5)
 (1 vote)
Share this article
Grigory Lukyanov

Deputy Head of Department of World and Russian History, Higher School of Economics

On July 25, 2017, negotiations were held between Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj and Head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, under the aegis of the President of France Emmanuel Macron. The two iconic figures of modern Libyan politics both appeared at the joint press conference that was held following the meeting and even shook hands, although they were reserved and kept apart from each other.

The La Celle-Saint-Cloud negotiations now crown the triad of attempts in 2017 of the conditional alliance of France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to settle the differences between Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar. After the negotiations in Cairo this past February were limited to technical consultations between the representatives of the parties (having arrived in the Egyptian capital, Haftar did not hold a personal meeting with the GNA Chairman), the results of the Abu Dhabi Summit in May were like an exploding bomb!

On the whole, the ten-point declaration drawn up following the negotiations in La Celle-Saint-Cloud document and confirm the agreements reached between Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar in Abu Dhabi in May 2017. The document does not contain any fundamentally new provisions and essentially returns the situation to where it was two-and-a-half months ago, when extremists carried out an attack on the LNA’s Brak Al Shati airbase, leading to a resumption of large-scale hostilities across the country.

On July 25, 2017, negotiations were held between Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj and Head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in La Celle-Saint-Cloud, France, under the aegis of the President of France Emmanuel Macron. The two iconic figures of modern Libyan politics both appeared at the joint press conference that was held following the meeting and even shook hands, although they were reserved and kept apart from each other. It was the French President, debuting in his new role as the moderator of a political settlement in perhaps one of the most unpredictable conflicts in North Africa, who appeared the most optimistic. Apparently the joint declaration, which had been drafted earlier and thus delivered not by the Libyan representatives themselves but rather by French diplomats, was greeted with optimism by the French public. However, the reaction in Libya, as well as in a number of countries involved in the process of finding a way to restore peace and order to the North African nation, was one of scepticism.

Where did the French initiative come from? What was behind the meeting in La Celle-Saint-Cloud and what significance does it have for the various participants in the political process in Libya? What could this unilateral implementation of French foreign policy lead to?

What Was Going On Behind the Scenes at the Negotiations in Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Paris?

The La Celle-Saint-Cloud negotiations now crown the triad of attempts in 2017 of the conditional alliance of France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to settle the differences between Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar. After the negotiations in Cairo this past February were limited to technical consultations between the representatives of the parties (having arrived in the Egyptian capital, Haftar did not hold a personal meeting with the GNA Chairman), the results of the Abu Dhabi Summit in May were like an exploding bomb! Not only did the two leaders meet in person, but they both also verified that certain agreements had been reached on the resolution of key differences between the sides. It is true that no official declarations were signed at the summit, and most of the “agreements” presented to the public were abstract, perhaps even idealistic, in nature.        

At the same time, Haftar’s supporters immediately started to celebrate the victory in the negotiations, organizing a large-scale military parade in Benghazi, officially in honour of the third anniversary of the commencement of the anti-Islamist Operation Dignity. Politicians sympathetic to the Field Marshal in the east and west of the country were quick to announce a number of fundamental decisions reached at the Abu Dhabi talks which, in their opinion, confirmed Haftar’s services to the Fatherland and ensured his political future as an indispensable member of the Presidential Council. The widely reported news that the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, had agreed to dissolve all the irregular forces and subsequently either incorporate the combatants into the regular army and police units or demobilize and disarm them completely was just as significant. To be sure, this was a triumph for Haftar, who had been demanding the monopolization of military resources by the army and the dissolution of groups that are not part of it since 2014. Through Haftar’s public statements, his supporters provoked a response from the soon-to-be defunct independent forces, which resulted in the resumption of hostilities across the country in May–July of this year.  

Armed groups in Benghazi demonstrated that they had been wiped off the slate prematurely and initiated a series of terrorist attacks and subversive activities against LNA soldiers both inside the city and on the outskirts. Libyan National Guard (LNG) militias led by former Prime Minister of the National Salvation Government of Libya (NSG) Khalifa al-Ghawil entered into a confrontation with GNA forces and those in support of the dialogue with Haftar in Tripoli. The fighting that had eased off around Sabha in the south of the country broke out again with renewed vigour.

Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to sponsor yet another proxy war with Qatar in Libya, but his “correct” political rhetoric once again earned him the support of these leading regional players.

The clashes lasted more than two months before subsiding almost as suddenly as they had begun. As has been the case on several occasions, the ceasefire was the result of a combination of several factors.

First, the clashes in Tripoli altered the balance of powers in the configuration on inter-tribal relations – not only in the west, but in the country as a whole. Despite its military victories, the LNA lost the support of a number of tribes and was forced to tone down its ambitions to establish total control over the southern territories. What is more, the protracted military clashes in the south exposed considerable tensions within the ranks of Haftar’s army. Over the course of the year, the Field Marshal aggressively pushed the careers of his sons, which did not so much bother his opponents in the east and south of the country as it did his own supporters in the east, including a number of LNA commanders and representatives of the local elites. Neither is prepared to support the ascension of the Haftar family to the summit of Libyan politics.   

Second, even with the maximum concentration of resources available to him, Haftar did not have the strength to fight a war on two fronts (the south and the west) as well as maintain order to the rear (in the east). While the LNA continues to be the most visible military force in Libya, its resources are clearly limited. The number of units that are ready to carry out large-scale offensives – even those that are unfailingly loyal to Haftar – is actually quite low. A significant portion of these brigades is made up of mercenaries, meaning that every step they take must be paid for. What is more, Haftar’s army does not have its own production base and is thus heavily dependent on military supplies from abroad. All this requires fairly hefty financial injections from the LNA’s foreign allies.

Grigory Lukyanov, Ruslan Mamedov:
Playing Pick-Up-Sticks in Libya

Third, Haftar’s foreign partners and sponsors have no interest in a further escalation of the conflict and they refuse to support the LNA forces in its struggle with militias loyal to the GNA, as doing so would do nothing to help resolve what they consider to be the main issue of bringing the population back together and restoring statehood in Libya. Haftar made a desperate attempt in early June to attract a new stream of resources into the country in order to continue the war effort during the so-called 2017 Qatar diplomatic crisis. The Field Marshal was one of the first to declare solidarity with the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and accused Qatar of supporting Islamists in Syria. He went on to call the city of Misrata in the west of the country, which has been the centre of “anti-Haftar” opposition for several years now, a stronghold of the Qatari presence in Libya and asked for help in the fight against Doha’s satellites in North Africa. But he was unable to convince Cairo, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh to sponsor yet another proxy war with Qatar in Libya, but his “correct” political rhetoric once again earned him the support of these leading regional players.

Finding themselves in the latest of several stalemates on the frontlines of a military confrontation, Haftar’s retinue pretended that they were ready to come to a compromise with their partners and return to the tactics of negotiation and diplomacy.

Against this background, Haftar’s rivals are no more interested in a continuation of the hostilities on the frontlines than he is. They too want a respite, and have done so for some time. The forces of those who support Fayez al-Sarraj’s government are divided and weakened by internal disagreements and mutual distrust. As the Russian expert in Arab studies Andrey Chuprygin rightly points out, we should not forget that the northwest of Libya is several times larger than the south and southwest regions combined in terms of the number of people and population density, which explains why it is much more difficult to achieve unity there. The bulk of the fighting against the LNA in the south of the country and along the coastal strip in the north was carried out by the Misrata militia. Apart from the fact that they have significant, albeit limited, capabilities, the Misrata forces became split in 2017 as the result of an internal conflict between the city’s Civil and Military councils. It is against this background that the NSG officially led by Khalifa al-Ghawil and the local armed units in Tripoli and the surrounding regions find themselves in conflict with each other far more often than they are as one in a united front against the universally despised Khalifa Haftar. Against the backdrop of the political blockade of Qatar, several actors in northwest Libya who have connections with Doha in the form of common interests and a number of mutual obligations have been cut off from the significant material and diplomatic assistance that they had been receiving since 2011. All this created favourable conditions for the northwest of the country to be ready for negotiations by midsummer.

The time was ripe for French diplomats to step in and organize a fresh meeting between al-Sarraj and Haftar. It would be folly to claim that Paris played a key role in making this confluence of circumstances possible. But there is no doubt that the French side succeeded in taking advantage of the situation and strengthening the image of its new president. The Libyan diaspora in Europe arguably played the leading role in promoting France as the venue for the latest round of negotiations. As the researcher Andrey Bystrov rightly points out, we are talking here about the part of Libyan business whose interests have for several years been tied France’s business community and state structures (including those responsible for national security).   

There is no doubt that the French side succeeded in taking advantage of the situation and strengthening the image of its new president.

The Paris Declaration and Its Initial Results

On the whole, the ten-point declaration drawn up following the negotiations in La Celle-Saint-Cloud document and confirm the agreements reached between Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar in Abu Dhabi in May 2017. The document does not contain any fundamentally new provisions and essentially returns the situation to where it was two-and-a-half months ago, when extremists carried out an attack on the LNA’s Brak Al Shati airbase, leading to a resumption of large-scale hostilities across the country.

The discrete nature of the provisions contained in the document allow various political forces to interpret them as they see fit. The softer language used (compared to that of the Abu Dhabi declaration) and the lack of specifics weaken the political significance of the resolution, although the document as a whole does restore hope that the political dialogue will continue.   

Rate this article
(votes: 1, rating: 5)
 (1 vote)
Share this article

Current poll

Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
 
For business
For researchers
For students