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Critical election in Libya

Main migrant routes via Libya to the EU.

Main migrant routes via Libya to the EU.

The UN special envoy of Libya, Bernardino León, believes he came to an agreement on July 11 between the warring sides that featured a fourth draft of what Libyan governance should look like.

The Skhirat Process, named after the Moroccan city where talks were held, intended to bring peace to Libya by reconciling the two opposing Libyan factions: the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk, the Abdullah Al Thinni government in Beida and the Libyan National Army (LNA), including Khalifa Haftar on one side, and, on the other, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC), the government of Khalifa Ghwell it appointed and the various Libya Dawn militias, including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Significantly, the Tripoli-based government - the GNC - not only failed to sign onto the Skhirat Process but is also seeing that financial gain can be derived illegally from human suffering. Tripoli is knee-deep in the migrant exodus that is coming from Africa through Libya towards the soft underbelly of Europe because GNC allies are making millions of dollars off this illicit industry.

Why ruin a good income with a political agreement? These facts are a disgrace.

The EU is becoming increasingly alarmed not only because of the migrant flow but also the fact that Islamic State (Daesh) supporters and fighters are mixing in the humanitarian flood northwards. The stoplight on this threat to Europe is now coloured ‘red’ with sirens ringing in Brussels. Ten EU countries are contributing 15 ships, aircraft and drones for the operation, including the establishment of a intelligence collection and sharing hub in Sicily.

Tripoli is knee-deep in the migrant exodus coming from Africa through Libya towards the soft underbelly of Europe. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/ReutersTripoli is knee-deep in the migrant exodus coming from Africa through Libya towards the soft underbelly of Europe. Photo: Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

However, outside of and despite the many flaws in the Skhirat Process, Libya’s tribes and cities have pushed forward independently with their own efforts to promote peace and reconciliation.

The biggest developments are Zintan, Zuwarah and the Zawia agreements and Misurata’s Warshefana agreement.

The Zuwarah-Zintan agreement seems to preserve Zuwarah’s control of the key Ras Edir border crossing between Libya and Tunisia. And, importantly, the Zuwarah and Zawia agreements call for supporting the State to re-establish the army and the police as well as to help rebuild social services in their locales.

These deals signal the real start of putting the pieces back together in Libya under a future government. That’s called action at the local level by shifting fundamental blocks of Libyan society not included in the Skhirat Process by the UN.

Haftar is still supported by Tobruk’s HoR and a majority of the people, for security reasons. The general’s forces are being resupplied by Egypt and Russia for both ground and air operations.

Capitalising on the spread of Daesh/Islamic State, the Haftarities are aligned with a Cairo recently buffeted by an IS cell that was responsible for the bombing of the Italian consulate in Egypt’s capital city last week.

A concentrated effort on Daesh is required now given that the genie is already out of the bottle

The next key timing is October 20, when new elections are supposed to be held for the Parliament/HoR. As the mandate for the internationally-recognised, democratically-elected HoR runs out soon and new elections need to be held, the international community but, more importantly, the Libyan’s themselves, need to be preparing the ground now for these critical elections.

All sides recognise that moving towards a new national unity government is in their best interests: except those in Tripoli whose funding by Turkey and Qatar with Ukrainian weapons continues unabated.

And, so, the international community, while promoting the dialogue in Shirkat, must also pressure Turkey and Qatar, plus Kiev, to back off since their supporting the recalcitrant Islamists in Tripoli is counter-productive.

Daesh understands what is ongoingin Libya and is expanding appropriately to fill geostrategic gaps in a fashion which is both political and tactical at the same time.

Not only is grabbing more coastline but it also appears to be targeting the Libyan south on the borders of Niger and Mali. On the coastline, Daesh kidnapped four Italians working for Mellitah Oil & Gas Company in Sabratha.

IS’s strategy is to impact the decision of all oil companies to not return to Libya, which helps Daesh sell oil on the black market. So IS not only gets to send a multilayered message to the Christian Nation, that is Europe, and, specifically, Italy but also its mercantilist desire to make energy profits.

A concentrated effort on Daesh is required now given that the genie is already out of the bottle.

As Libya moves towards the October elections, the National Alliance Party’s Mahmoud Jibril deserves watching. His close relations with the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt is part of a political strategy to bring a sense of solidarity to Libya based on two issues.

One, an accommodation needs to be reached with Haftar and other prominent officers including Wanis Bukhamada who, with a small band of determined officers and men (previously trained by the British), has held the line in Benghazi against Ansar al-Sharia and proto-IS since the end of the revolution.

Secondly, there also needs to be a reconciliation with those tribes that were previously loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, which brings them into the tent and provides them with a credible and sustainable stake in the State.

Saif al-Islam, still imprisoned in Zintan, is increasingly being touted to play some secondary role - as evidenced by recent calls for his release by Tobruk residents – and potentially as part of a future government perhaps under Jibril.

Talk like this is perhaps still a little too soon, particularly as memories of the fighting during the revolution remain raw.

Following Skhirat, the next step is the appointment of a new prime minister, deputy prime ministers and cabinet. This may take some time but the international community must prepare now to back this government, help protect it, as it seeks to establish itself and restore public services, and support its efforts to contain and, ultimately, destroy Daesh.

Richard Galustian is a security analyst.

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