Libya fighitng
Fighters loyal to National Accord (GNA) secure the area of Abu Qurain, halfway between the capital Tripoli and Libya's second city Benghazi last month Image Credit: AFP

An oil-rich country torn apart by a Western military intervention, divided along ideological lines and coveted by foreign jackals seeking a part of the action is finally embracing a unifying path, the path to peaceful engagement … or so it seems.

Coordinated surprise announcements by the UN-backed Islamist-dominated government led by Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj and its rival parliamentary administration based in Tobruk have called for an cessation of all military operations within the country, an end to the oil blockade and the withdrawal of armed mercenaries as a precursor to UN-mediated dialogue with a view to holding elections in March next year.

The statements, indicating the madness that has reduced Libya to an economic and security basket case has been replaced by a newfound patriotism, have been welcomed by almost all interested parties, in particular by the UN, the European Union, Nato, the UAE, Turkey and Egypt.

Is it feasible to imagine that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is happy to walk away when he has injected himself into Libyan affairs purporting to be a saviour and has been rewarded with lucrative agreements for so doing?

- Linda S. Heard

Cairo has long viewed its conflict-stricken, terrorist-ridden next-door neighbour as a serious existential threat which could one day demand a military solution.

The Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has shored up his country’s military defence capabilities but with an expanding population of more than 100 million he has been loath to get directly involved in economy-sapping conflicts while stressing he would do so if the threat became too close for comfort.

Cairo had supported the efforts of the Libyan National Army’s commander Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar to control the nation but Turkey’s military intervention at the request of Al Sarraj was a game changer.

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Haftar’s forces were obliged to retreat from the capital’s environs and he later called for a ceasefire. However, at the time of writing his voice on the new arrangement is yet to be heard.

Just weeks ago the Egyptian Parliament authorised the deployment of troops to the eastern part of the country, a decision that was fully supported by the Libyan Parliament as well as most Libyan tribes.

The spectre of escalation sparking war between Egypt and Nato-member state Turkey loomed over the region; a dangerous course that now looks to have been averted.

If all goes well the Libyan people can look forward to an era of peace and prosperity which they enjoyed during the tenure of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi who despite his eccentricities made sure his people didn’t want for anything.

Arab Spring bug

It’s good to be optimistic. Libyans have suffered immeasurable hardships since 2011 when like several other regional states caught the damaging ‘Arab Spring’ bug. But here’s the rub.

Just days before the joint announcements Al Sarraj met with the defence ministers of Turkey and Qatar to agree a defence agreement allowing Qatar to establish bases and station military ‘advisers’ in country.

Is this agreement now off the table and if so, what was it that changed the Prime Minister’s mind? Could the Turkish presence in northern Iraq, which the Iraqi government views as an infringement of its sovereignty together with unsanctioned drone attacks on Iraqi nationals, have given Al Sarraj pause for thought?

Moreover, this newly discovered willingness to kiss and make up that is suspiciously being championed by Ankara could be a trick to permit the entrenchment of Turkish and/or Qatari forces amid a backdrop of talks or perhaps Al Sarraj believes the accord paves the way for the demilitarisation of Sirte and Al Jufra currently under Libyan National Army control.

Is it feasible to imagine that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is happy to walk away when he has injected himself into Libyan affairs purporting to be a saviour and has been rewarded with lucrative agreements for so doing?

That said now that his nation has discovered substantial Black Sea gas reserves set to bolster Turkey’s failing economy he has less incentive to withstand the weight of foreign pressure on his role in Libya setting him at odds with President Putin and to a lesser extent President Trump.

Libyans are experiencing a sense of relief and hope for a better tomorrow but much will depend on the sincerity of the partners in peace and also whether Haftar will be offered a meaningful place at the table.

— Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.