On the second of May, two of the most prominent Libyan political figures met in Abu-Dhabi for a meeting that lasted 2 hours long, mediated by both Arab and International actors. This was the first meeting of this type between the clashing leaders since the UN sanctioned Libyan Political agreement was signed in January 2016, which instated the Government of National Accord.
Khalifa Haftar, one of the two aforementioned leaders, has often been described by mainstream media outlets as a renegade military leader, with ambitions to institute military rule upon Libya. He has been exile in Virginia, America for nearly 20 years after his failed attempt to overthrow Colonel Gaddaffi in a military coup, gaining U.S. citizenship. Currently, he is based in the east of the country and leads the self-named Libyan National Army or what is also known as Operation Dignity. Due to his unwavering stance towards Islamic extremism and his strongman demeanor, Khalifa Haftar has ascended to the forefront of Libyan politics, he now enjoys financial and military support from the Kremlin as well as the UAE, it has been noted that General Al-Sisi is also an ally of General Haftar. But we should be under no delusion, some Libyans (many of them non-Islamist) are opposed to any rule composed of General Haftar. They do not want what they perceive to be another military dictator, after paying in blood for their freedom.
In stark contrast Fayez Al-Sarraj the leader of the Government of National Accord and the head of the presidential council, has led a particularly uneventful life before his designation to the prime ministerial role. Mr Al-Sarraj hails from Tripoli and was born to a wealthy family, he trained as an architect and his father owned vast swathes of land. Much responsibility rests on his shoulders following his appointment, he cannot afford to alienate the General Khalifa Haftar because of the large foreign support he is provided with and the growing strength of his army. Conversely, it is the general consensus that the country needs to submit to civilian authority. President Al-Sarraj has been adamant in wanting a unified Libyan army under civil control, a stipulation which Haftar is against, although the General has never truly admitted so in public.
As is always the case in high level diplomatic negotiations, it seems that there is a disconnect between these ostensible leaders and the people governed. General Haftar and Mr Al-Sarraj meeting in Abu-Dhabi was convened amidst a backdrop of a dire economic situation in Libya. Libya’s oil production output, the state’s most significant revenue generator, is a fraction of 2010 levels. Foreign capital investment has grounded to a halt, and the Libyan tourism industry has been devastated. This has all led to delayed and sometimes cancelled salary payments, substandard infrastructure even in Tripoli, virtually non-existent public services and inadequate healthcare, forcing people to travel to Tunisia and Egypt to obtain life-saving treatments. It is a sad fact that ordinary Libyan people are the ones feeling this financial squeeze the most.
Robust, unified governance and rule of law is the hallmark of all developed and civilised countries. Through forging relationships, and crossing political divides this meeting provides hope for the creation of such a government, all in the pursuit of a prosperous Libya. We wish the two leaders good luck, and remind them that they would do best by serving the populace rather than pursue policies of greed, and corruption which have bedevilled North Africa in the past.