Al-Sarrāj and Haftar: a Turning Point for Libya?

General Khalīfa Belqāsim Ḥaftar                                                           Fāyez Muṣṭafā al-Sarrāj

Following the French-brokered peace talks on July 25 between the Libyan military strongman, General Khalīfa Belqāsim Ḥaftar and Fāyez Muṣṭafā al-Sarrāj, Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya, an agreement for a national reconciliation process of the North African country seems to have apparently been attained.

The settlement reached constitutes one first step towards a widely endorsed power-sharing solution involving the two biggest factions of the country. On the one hand, al-Sarrāj’s UN-backed government in Tripoli exercises strong power over most of the western part of the country – including a good share of those areas formerly under the control of anti-Gaddafi militias. On the other hand, General Haftar – who seized control of the eastern part of Libya – has been emerging as an essential actor in addressing the threats of jihadism and migration, thus demonstrating to European powers his strategic role for their domestic interests.

In spite of the enthusiasm for such a certainly positive turn of events in the country, however, a few concerns relating to some “technical aspects” of the matter should be expressed.

It is no secret that General Haftar is an ambiguous figure who teeters upon the brink between being a strong military leader and a potential future dictator. His thirst for power as well as his unorthodox approach to tackling jihadists and migration flows towards Europe might be a sufficient red flag for the international community to cast doubts on his reliability as a potential next leader of the country.

Second, the power-sharing solution negotiated at the peace talks is inherently flawed. Despite the great influence the two leaders have in Libya, the rest of the country is still strongly divided. Libya is currently split into several militia zones controlled by the most disparate military groups. Each of them would hardly be inclined to relinquish power, and thus may potentially constitute a threat to the stability of the country if not involved in the peace talks. A power-sharing settlement would be, in this sense, irrelevant if not all of the main parties and factions are involved in the process. Interestingly, statistic records from cases where a national reconciliation process was implemented through a power-sharing settlement show how greater inclusiveness in the peace process is correlated to major likelihood of success of the process itself[1].

Within this framework, while strong doubts emerge over the lasting effectiveness of the agreement that has been reached, the sole certain fact is that the current shambles in Libya is more of a brutal reflection of an underlying struggle between foreign powers for the future control of the precious Libyan resources. In this sense, supporting either al-Sarrāj or Haftar, or both, is only a question of strategy and, after all, another way of saying that peace does not really matter on the geopolitical chessboard.

[1] Hartzell, Caroline, and Matthew Hoddie. 2003. “Institutionalizing Peace: Power Sharing And Post-Civil War Conflict Management”. American Journal Of Political Science 47 (2): 318. doi:10.2307/3186141.

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