Greasing the Way for Political Change in Libya

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Political Change in Libya 347b3

Oil Pact.  On September 18, 2020, Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar and Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya Ahmed Maiteeq agreed to establish a joint committee controlling the fair distribution of oil export revenues. The accord greatly benefits both sides, particularly the Libyan people living in the conflict zone. Oil is the only source of income in Libya that allows the remnants of Muammar Gaddafi’s social system to function.

As soon as the agreement’s ink was dry, Libya’s oil monopolist, the state-owned National Oil Company (NOC), lifted the emergency oil freeze at the production fields and ports.  Then, in just a week’s time, Libya’s oil production nearly doubled.  According to Bloomberg News, Libya then pumped 500,000 barrels of oil a day, up from the previous week’s 300,000 barrels a day as the International Energy Agency noted.  Most Libyan oil fields and ports had been closed since January because of military operations. Before the internal strife got out of hand,  Libya had exported about 1.2 million barrels per day.  (Domestic consumption is slightly more than 220,000 barrels a day.)

Straws in the Wind, or Real Change?  Increased oil production indicates that the country’s petroleum business doesn’t fear destabilizing, renewed hostilities. Moreover, the resumption of oil pumping and export shows some success in internal politics.  Prior to the September oil agreement, in August 2020, the parties to the Libyan conflict declared a truce. For two months now, there have been no active combat operations in Libya. But how sustainable can a truce be?

First, as noted, oil production is advancing by leaps and bounds, one sign of increased steadiness.

Although a number of Maiteeq’s fellow members in the Government of National Accord of Libya criticized the oil deal, and some (such as Khaled al-Mishri, head of Libya’s Supreme State Council) reportedly even tried to prevent the agreement from being signed, no one could stop its implementation.

Most likely, the reason for the disagreement within the GNA over the Maiteeq-Haftar deal is an internal struggle. Previously, the current GNA Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj announced his desire to resign by early November. The question then arises, who will replace him? Ahmed Maiteeq made a bid for leadership with his agreement with Haftar.

Another possible sign of change within the Government of National Accord may be the release of foreign hostages held by the GNA.

Sheikh Faraj Balq, coordinator of Libyan tribes and cities in the western region, said recently that “the mother of war in Libya is taking place today because the Government of National Accord in Tripoli continues to detain many foreign citizens in its prisons”. In particular, he mentioned two Russian sociologists, Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sweifan, arrested by the GNA forces in May 2019.  They have yet to be released.

According to the coordinator of tribes and cities of western Libya, it was the arrest of these two sociologists that led to the “Russian presence” in Libya on Khalifa Haftar’s side.

If the Russians are released, it will be a clear signal that the GNA is seeking peace, and hopes to reset relations with Moscow.  Additionally, another sign would be that Turkey, supporting the GNA, negotiates with Moscow on Libya, rather than continue the conflict.

Leadership Change?  Ahmed Maiteeq is a symbol of possible alterations in the Government of National Accord.

A successful politician, he is associated with Libyan business, having studied in the UK.  He is considered a pragmatist, not a religious fanatic. Unlike al-Mishri, he is not directly associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Unlike another aspirant for leadership within the GNA, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, he cannot be accused of torture or collaborating with militia gangs and armed Islamists.

Maiteeq has also adeptly positioned his foreign policy.  Perhaps not a chameleon, nevertheless, he is warmly welcomed in Washington, DC, European capitals, Ankara, and Moscow. This makes him a unique politician for Libya, capable of fruitful negotiations with all the countries  having an interest in Libya.

The oil deal with Haftar for Maiteeq shows he can conduct effective diplomacy and, when necessary, compromise for the sake of the country’s interests, even with the GNA’s worst enemy. The mere fact that the agreement is being implemented also speaks for Maiteeq’s ability to achieve something that others could not.

For an effective, long-lasing political settlement, Libya needs leaders such as Maiteeq – ones who are flexible, pragmatic and effective. If we see Ahmed Maiteeq ascending to key positions in the new leadership of the GNA, it means that the GNA has embarked on a reconciliation course.

Certainly, with all the disparate groups in play, reconciliation is needed.

You Can’t Tell the Players, Even With a Scorecard.  The GNA, with Islamist groups supporting it, has been battling the LNA and its government in Tobruk, supported by the Libyan parliament, the House of Representatives. Complicating matters, Libya’s eastern-based government aligned with warlord Khalifa Haftar resigned September 13 amid rising protests in a number of cities over deteriorating living conditions and corruption, the Tobruk-based parliament announced on its website.

Tripoli is supported by the Islamist regimes of Turkey and Qatar, who back the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt, which is hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, as are Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, had all taken Tobruk’s side.  As had France.

Now, negotiations between the warring parties in Libya are taking place in Morocco and Switzerland. Since August, a truce has been in effect, announced by Fayez Sarraj and Speaker of the House of Representatives Aguila Saleh.

Under peaceful conditions, various groups and political forces that had previously united against Haftar have become rivals. The main thing that united them was the presence of a strong and dangerous enemy. But, with sweeping changes, things may become different.  It is quite possible that the GNA could change more greatly than it did during the war, thanks to Maiteeq’s peace initiatives.

What Was Up Is Now Down?  Moscow’s and Ankara’s agreements may create a basis for sustainable peace in Libya, but it is clear that the US will then be pushed to the periphery of the political process, as it has been done in Syria.

On the other hand, the aggravation of the conflict has allowed the Russians and Turks to take key positions in Libya, while the peace negotiations gives other actors, including Washington, a chance to defend their interests through diplomatic means.

But what’s really important is that the long-suffering people of Libya, where the civil war has been going on for almost 10 years, are interested in peace.

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