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The Arab League’s resolution on Libya: Too much ado about nothing

June 25, 2020 at 9:00 am

People protest against President of Egypt Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi following his intervention threat at Martyrs Square in Tripoli, Libya on 21 June 2020. [Hazem Turkia – Anadolu Agency]

The League of Arab States (LAS) finally produced its last resolution on Libya, Resolution 8523, after its council met via video conference. On 19 June, Egypt called for the extraordinary meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation in Libya. However, the meeting, as is usually the case with the LAS gatherings, failed to bring about consensus on the open proxy war ravaging the country.

The LAS, headquartered in Cairo, has over the years become a talking club with little substance, and whatever it decides is not worth the paper it’s written on. Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) called on the organisation to meet last year while General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) was pounding the capital, but the LAS did not. Now that the LNA forces have been pushed away, no one is taking the LAS seriously.

The LAS’s decision did not add anything new to the pile of initiatives claiming to propose a solution to the Libyan conflict raging since 2011. The LAS, though, is credited with playing a leading role in the destruction of its member state, Libya, from the start. After its meeting on 12 March, 2011, the league called on the United Nations (UN) Security Council, to impose a no-fly zone over the country. That, effectively, handed over the crisis from the very beginning to international and regional powers providing Arab and moral pretext for France and others to intervene, militarily. NATO led the military charge, with the help of the LAS members, against the government of the late Muammar Gaddafi — and the result is a chaotic and ungovernable Libya.

READ: How Haftar squandered his near secure victory, and why 

The problem this time started on 6 June, when Egyptian President Abel Fattah Al-Sisi announced what is known as the “Cairo Declaration”, to end the tragic war in Libya. While the initiative did not bring anything new, it is seen by many as an attempt to shore up the LNA after its recent loses. On 19 June, Cairo called for the LAS to meet because of the declining situation within its neighbouring country. Aguila Saleh Issa, speaker of the eastern Libya-based parliament, and Haftar just met President Al-Sisi in Cairo, where they worked out the Cairo Declaration — a shallow peace plan for Libya, immediately rejected by the GNA.

The GNA expressed serious reservations about the LAS meeting, interpreting it as an attempt by Cairo and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both supporting the LNA, to cover their meddling in Libya. As a result, the GNA’s foreign minister boycotted the discussions and rejected much of the outcome, before the gathering had even started.

Cairo wanted Resolution 8523 to shield Haftar from any condemnation, while singling out Turkey’s support for the GNA — but failed to do so. While the resolution noted the Cairo Declaration, it also reemphasised the role played by Libya’s neighbours in ending the conflict. Ironically, it also called for all foreign powers and mercenaries to leave the country, without naming specifics. Cairo and Abu Dhabi have been supporting Haftar for years, while Turkey supports the GNA. Without actually mentioning Turkey by name, the Cairo-sponsored resolution wanted to condemn its rival. However, the Egyptian diplomacy failed to obtain enough consensus on the issue, and instead settled for the loosely worded resolution.

While Cairo is, legitimately, worried about the situation within its western neighbour, its position in the conflict is far from balanced, clearly favouring Haftar and his supporters — including the Libyan parliament. On 19 June, flanked by Haftar and Issa, Al-Sisi hailed the Cairo Decertation as a “Libyan-Libyan” peace initiative to bring about peace in Libya. The GNA saw the seven-point plan as a none starter, and no more than an attempt by Egypt to help its proxy, the LNA, in the conflict.

Khalifa Haftar: The former exile who wants to rule Libya 

Indeed, the LAS’s Resolution 8523 contains good points, however, it failed to achieve agreement among member states. Qatar, for example, expressed reservations about much of the 14-point resolution. Doha is an important Ankara ally in the war in Libya, and would of course not accept its ally being openly blamed.

Resolution 8523 also contradicts Egypt’s public position of unbiased mediation in the Libyan conflict. On 20 June, three days before the meeting, Al-Sisi publicly threatened to send his army to Libya. In a televised speech, before troops stationed close to the Libya border, Al-Sisi called on Libyan tribes “to prepare their young men” to be trained and armed by Egypt. This will happen, Al-Sisi announced, if the GNA forces pass what he called a “redline”, which he drew around Sirte, on the coast and Jufra, further south. GNA forces, with strong Turkish backing, are preparing to cross that line. Any Egyptian military intervention in the war cannot be sustained and is unlikely to help Libya. While Turkey has so far sustained military action in Libya, Egypt lacks the means and capabilities to enter long-term military commitment there. The maximum Egypt could sustain, if it sends troops into Libya, is to carve out a security zone inside Libya to protect its borders.

The LAS’s latest resolution, while calling for non-intervention, seems to provide cover for future Egyptian intervention. As a matter of principle, all foreign meddling in Libya is counter-productive and contravenes all UN resolutions on Libya, including arms embargos imposed by Resolutions 1970 and 1973.

What is certain, is that this latest LAS resolution will not see the light of day, similar to dozens of other resolutions prior. The LAS, in fact, lost the initiative to play any effective role in Libya from the very start. The league members failed to see the catastrophic consequences of calling for intervention in Libya nine years earlier, only to be grappling with it now. It is too late. The initiative in Libya is now resting with other players, like Moscow and Ankara, to decide not only when the war ends, but also on who should participate in any negotiations on the country’s future.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.