Hours after Libya’s UN-led peace process kicked off in Skhirat, Morocco on 05 March 2015, Western and UN officials were puzzled by the sudden demands from Algeria for a role in it. Conscious of the importance of a regional buy-in for the process, and having been desperate for any help with fixing what Barak Obama termed Libya’s “shit show”, it didn’t take long for the UN to give the Algerians what they wanted. Here’s why it was a bad decision.
Those familiar with the politics of the Maghreb states know that Algeria’s foreign policies have been always shaped by its rivalry with Morocco which became a distinctive hallmark of the region’s dynamics. When the former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, agreed to allow Algeria to host the political parties’ track of Libya’s dialogue process, the generals who run the country behind the facade of nominal democracy, saw it as a chance to undermine Morocco and prevent it from taking sole credit. Needless to say, the only outcome of the Algerian track was satisfying the egos of its generals.
However, it’s not just the generals who have ulterior motives when it comes to Libya’s dialogue process. The Libyan wing of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement was also pushing very hard for a bigger role for Algeria to counterweight the hostile influence of El-Sisi’s Egypt. The Brotherhood’s defacto leader, Ali Sallabi, has exerted every effort to achieve this goal during his repeated visits to Algiers. Dr Sallabi’s effort was recently reinforced by his close ally and fellow Misratan, Abdulrahman Swehli to which the generals responded positively not only because it furthers their agenda for regional supremacy, but also to appease the Qataris whom they fear could spread the Arab Spring to Algeria.
It is important to understand that Algeria is a military dictatorship ruled by ruthless generals who don’t want a successful democratic transition to replace Qadhafi’s 40-year tyrannical reign in Libya. The generals fear that such success could inspire change in their own country. It’s the survival instinct of dictators. We in Libya recognize it because we have seen it in action following the fall of Saddam when Qadhafi turned a blind eye on the influx of Libyan Jihadis to Iraq. Back then insurgents have poured into Iraq through the borders of Syria and other neighboring countries under the watchful eyes of Arab regimes who were threatened by the mere idea of the post-Saddam Iraq becoming an example of democracy in the heart of the Arab World. Entrusting Algeria with the fate of Libya’s nascent democracy is about as a brilliant idea as entrusting Qadhafi or Assad with Iraq’s.
None of the above indicates a genuine Algerian interest in restoring stability in Libya. The UN could have made a better use of time and effort by directly engaging the powerbrokers on the ground whose approval is the only route to the full implementation of the Skhirat agreement. The agreement was designed as a power-sharing arrangement between Libya’s two warring camps: ‘Libya Dawn’, which represents the Islamists and Misrata in the west, and ‘Operation Dignity’ that represents the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the east. But until now only the first group has fully backed the agreement while the latter is still demanding amendments to ensure representation in the High State Council and guarantees about the political fate of LNA’s General Commander, Khalifa Hifter.
Libya’s eastern region - historically known as Cyrenaica- was the epicenter of all major events throughout the country’s modern history: It gave Libya its independence from Italy, led the unification among the country’s three geographical regions and was the place where Qadhafi plotted and launched his military coup against King Idriss. Under Qadhafi, the region became known as the center for the opposition against his regime until February 2011, when its capital, Benghazi, was dubbed ‘the cradle of the revolution’.
Without the East’s support, the GNA is bound to end up being the sequel of ‘Libya Dawn’ enshrining the exact same political division and polarization it was expected to resolve. Waiting for the generals of Algiers to rescue democracy in Libya is like chasing mirage in the dessert. Pointless and extremely dangerous.