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Middle East and Africa

Libya, the Virtues of an Imperfect Agreement

The deal reached in December is an important step that allows to understand who is working for and who is against a political resolution

Reactions to the agreement signed between the Libyan factions after lengthy negotiations in Skhirat, Morocco, just before Christmas, range from the darkest pessimism to hope that Libya has finally embarked on the no doubt tortuous path leading it away from the precipice of self-destruction. In the light of the disasters of the past few years, the gradual disintegration of any statutory authority, the creation of two parliaments and the two governments fighting between each other - without having real powers over Libyian territory - the rapid growth of jihadist movements that refer to al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, and the depletion of the financial wealth left by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, it is all too easy to be pessimistic.



This agreement is the result of a laborious compromise between the Libyan factions. It is an agreement that has practically been imposed by the international community, and has been shaped by continuing negotiations led by the Spanish UN mediator Bernardino Leon, who wanted to achieve success before leaving or, as his critics claim, a semblance of success, with a botched agreement last autumn. He left his successor, the German Martin Kobler, the daunting task of translating it into practice and establishing the longed-for national unity government.



An inefficient and contradictory tool



For weeks, this seemed to be an impossible task, given the negative reactions that came from inside and outside Libya. It was even said that the agreement had only resulted in "one more signed piece of paper." Those excluded from the new national unity government have incited protests and more fractures within the various opposing blocks, which refer to the parliament of Tobruk (the one recognised by the international community), dominated by secular groups, and that of Tripoli (the old National General Council that reconvened itself after its fall and is dominated by Islamist groups). These two "blocks" only appear to be such, however, and in fact they are internally fragmented by an anthology of distinctions, personal ambitions and rivalries, instances of localism, etc. In short, there is a risk that the new government may appear to be a purely virtual entity, and it may forced to settle in remote locations (there was talk of Ghaddames, an oasis in the Northwest, or Jufra, a region in the centre of the country; for the moment, the first government meeting took place in Tunis). Certainly, given its mammoth structure - an aspect needed to satisfy the appetites of the multitude of claimants and to balance the many movements, militias and souls of Libya - it will be an inefficient and contradictory tool. As such, it will provide further rhetorical ammunition to those who boycott all forms of reconciliation.



However, resigning ourselves to pessimism and to the long list of problems, which are well known, is of little use. It is all too easy an exercise in foresight. The truth is that the agreement still represents an important step, allowing us to understand who is working for it and who is against it. It is therefore essential that the international system outlines policies that take account of this "political divide". In other words, we must work to progressively increase the consensus and to accommodate the ambitions of those who have been left out of the game, while at the same time being ready with increasing sanctions against individuals and movements who persist in poisoning the wells of internal political dialogue.



This is not an easy task, and it also sees Italy engaged at the forefront. After a long period of caution - too long, according to some - in December, Rome decided to guide the action towards the stabilisation of Libya by convening an international conference on 13 December, which was attended by dozens of delegations from regional and international countries. Washington gave its support with the arrival of US Secretary of State, John Kerry. Moreover, no country knows Libya and Libyans better than the Italians. And no European country has a historical tradition of differences closer to ours: they have traditional rivalries between tribes and between their three regions (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan), while we overcame historic hostility between the many Italian cities and we are very familiar with navigating governments created through a compromise between different political forces.



The need for an Italian role



Without wishing to be unrealistic or pursue improbable unilateral initiatives, it is clear that there is need for a strong Italian action to encourage the creation of this national unity government, whose prime minister, the disputed Fayez el-Serraj, was received by our prime minister Matteo Renzi in December. There is no magic recipe, but it is essential to take more serious approach than that adopted in the past to launch post conflict and institution building assistance plans in terms of security, politics and administration. Libya's armed forces are very weak and perceived as just one of the many militia. We must work to increase its effectiveness and reputation, seeking to integrate the militias that can be integrated and eliminating those which are too radical, compromised or linked to jihadist groups. At the political level, we must help create a central and local administration almost from scratch, since the old regime destroyed all forms of organised administration (and since then things have only become worse), in the knowledge that the assistance and capacity building projects will be very long term. And in the best case scenario, their outcomes will be uncertain.



The alternative to this difficult task presented to us together with the Libyans and also with our Western "allies" (who for now seem to looking with curiosity at what the "Italians" can do) is the definitive collapse of Libya as a statehood, an event which would encourage the creation of even more terrorist hot spots on our doorstep, threatening our security.