Talks have secured a joint declaration on the country’s future. Now the hard work begins
The long road to peace and reconciliation in Libya
“The cause of peace has made a great deal of progress today”, French president Emanuel Macron declared on Tuesday, referring to the outcome of the deliberations between Libya’s prime minister and its most powerful general. Mr Macron had brought together Fayez Al Sarraj, head of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, and Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar under one roof to negotiate an end to Libya’s years-long conflict. The agreement that emerged from their talks, building on their last meeting in Abu Dhabi on May 3, merits the solemn praise lavished on it by Mr Macron.
The joint declaration signed by Field Marshal Haftar and Mr Al Sarraj is both comprehensive and visionary. Both sides agree that only a political solution accompanied by a national reconciliation process can rescue Libya from the ongoing crisis. To achieve this, both men have committed themselves to a ceasefire; arms will not be used for any purpose that does not strictly constitute counterterrorism. The two sides have agreed to work in earnest on drafting a new constitution, building democratic institutions, and instituting the rule of law. They have pledged to begin work on unifying Libya, and to make efforts to integrate freelance fighters into regular forces or disarm and help them rejoin civilian life. Parliamentary and presidential elections will be held as soon as possible, and further talks will be pursuant to the deal brokered by Mr Macron.
After three years of conflict, this agreement represents the opening of a pathway for peace. But the magnitude of this moment must not blind us to the enormity of the challenges that lie ahead. Field Marshal Haftar and Mr Al Sarraj have not just committed to ending the bitter war raging in Libya. They have embarked on a nation-building project. Libya’s history makes it inimical to such ambitions.
Muammar Qaddafi diligently hollowed out the country’s institutions during his long decades of misrule. Libya’s new leaders have no native inheritance to build upon. They must start from scratch. The Libyan’s state’s loss of legitimacy under Mr Gaddafi will only add to the difficulty of convincing Libyans to place renewed trust in the state. Will the militiamen who run the myriad warring outfits that have sprung up across Libya give up their arms to unify behind a single source of power? Will ordinary Libyans, who were brutally betrayed by the ancien regime, feel secure enough to engage freely and openly in a reconciliation process set in motion by a new government?
Field Marshal Haftar and Mr Al Sarraj have shown great courage in burying their differences for the good of Libya. Each needs the other, and their joint efforts, if sustained and supported by the world, can yield genuinely positive results for Libya. But the road to peace is a long one. As they put their plan into action, it might be prudent to temper our expectations.