On June 16th, Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya suggested that elections and the creation of a “Libyan congress” could move the country toward a peaceful end to the ongoing war. The proposal comes in the midst of continued conflict in Tripoli where GNA forces are defending against an offensive conducted by the Libyan National Army (LNA) and its leader Khalifa Haftar. In an interview with Reuters, Sarraj has said that he has no immediate plans to discuss a ceasefire in Tripoli with Haftar because after meeting with him several times in the past, he doesn’t believe the conversation would be politically productive. He also expressed that an unconditional ceasefire is not an adequate solution against Haftar, and that Libyans coming together during elections has the potential to foster a resolution to the power struggle.
According to Reuters, despite the current focus on elections, Sarraj stated that “Our primary military goal is to defend Tripoli. In the coming days there will be positive news… progress.” However, according to Reuters, in regards to his willingness to discuss conflict solutions with Haftar, Sarraj stated, “I will not sit down again with this person because what he has done in past years shows he won’t be a partner in the political process.” Though spokespeople for Haftar did not answer requests for comments directly following the proposal, the international community offered varying responses to Sarraj’s plan. According to Al Jazeera, a representative from the UN mission to Libya stated that the proposed plan was a “constructive proposal to advance the political process towards ending Libya’s long state of conflict.” However, according to non-resident scholar Emad Badi, who studies at the Middle East Institute, the LNA’s lack of involvement shows that the plan will likely not affect the situation. An article from Al Jazeera includes the following quote from Badi: “There needs to be some sort of a domestic buy-in from the eastern side. Haftar is the sole interlocutor in the East. Without another interlocutor, this deal is non-implementable.”
It is essential that the proposed elections are free and fair, not simply a display to further an agenda or to create the image of democracy. In order to promote a lasting resolution to the conflict, the elections should be legitimately competitive, and the people of Libya should be able to meaningfully voice their opinions. However, while free and fair elections will likely lead to a better future for Libya, talks conducted by the proposed “Libyan congress” should first focus on promoting peace in Tripoli to prevent further death or displacement on the part of civilians. After Libyans are out of immediate danger posed by the LNA’s offensive, then a more detailed solution to the conflict can be discussed and elections can be planned. In terms of coming to a solution, Haftar’s involvement in that process should be discussed. First of all, it is important to prevent dictatorial rule that fosters oppression at all costs. The fall of Gaddafi in 2011 illustrates that Libyans do not want an autocratic leader. A return to autocracy under Haftar has the potential to place Libya back into its pre-2011 situation. That being said, even though the talks in the past have not been successful, it is essential to include Haftar and the LNA in discussions in order to address their concerns as much as possible. If not, the issues that led the LNA to begin the offensive will remain unaddressed and there will be no motivation to end the conflict.
After the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many opponents fear that Haftar’s rule over Libya would be similarly autocratic. As a former military general under Gaddafi, Haftar aims to promote the reuniting of Libyans under a stable system. In April, the LNA began its offensive against Tripoli which has led to the deaths of over 650 Libyans and the displacement of over 94,000. GNA forces have since defended Tripoli against the LNA, but a ceasefire has not been negotiated. Though the leaders of the LNA and the GNA have met multiple times in the past to discuss a power-sharing deal, Serraj, whose government is recognized by the UN and the international community, expressed that Haftar won’t contribute to a political end to this conflict. Serraj’s “Libyan congress” and elections are his proposed solution to the ongoing war.
In the coming days, Haftar’s response to Sarraj’s plan will shed more light on Libya’s future and on the possibility of a ceasefire in Tripoli. It remains to be determined how the proposal will affect the standings of each leader in the eyes of Libyans, whether the proposal will affect the situation in Tripoli, and whether it will ultimately move Libyans closer to peace.