International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses developments in the Middle East, Balkans and around the world. Faiza Koubi is a PhD candidate in international relations at the University Mohamed V, Agdal Rabat, Morocco. In her text entitled “Morocco’s relentless diplomacy in the Libyan crisis” she is analysing Morocco’s role as a facilitator of UN mediation in light of its behaviour throughout the Libyan crisis.
The outbreak of the Libyan crisis in 2011 prompted earlier attempts of Morocco to help lull this storm, as Morocco, a country of the Maghreb that shares common interests with Tripoli. Indeed, Morocco advanced steps towards settling the conflict was sided by its positive neutral stance in contrast with its neighbours which were in the situation of wait and see. Presumably, Morocco seems the right track as unlike the numerous meeting to solve the dispute, it may boast it edge-cutting achievements with Skhirat agreement and later on.
Although Morocco is not a country bordering Libya, it shares with the latter elements of different affiliations that have been consecrated by the conception of the Greater Maghreb, this space which geographical, cultural, religious, and ethnic components are common. The relations between these two countries have never been at their best, the relations between Rabat and Tripoli have been conditioned by the “the zeitgeist” and circumstances that the North African region has experienced. Between pragmatic rapprochement, cautious distance and sometimes “diplomatic rupture”, the two countries have succeeded in creating alternative areas of cooperation. They have invested in a win-win policy by neutralizing mutual problems and stemming the threat of Algeria, their middle neighbour. Thus, after the end of the ephemeral Arab-African Union concluded by the Treaty of Oujda in 1984, it was not until the 2000s that a new instrument of expanded cooperation was established through the creation of the Cen-Sad. Morocco played an important role alongside Libya in highlighting their African policy, a boost from Moroccan diplomacy to counter Algerian political advances in this sub-regional Sahelo-Saharan area.
Post-Gaddafi Libya opens a promising new era of Moroccan-Libyan relations. However, foreign interference in Libya has aggravated the fragmentation of Libya's political and security landscape, jeopardizing the region's future. In these troubled geopolitics, Morocco undertakes a Libyan policy that works to consecrate Libya's place within the Maghreb and mediate with good intentions to support the UN efforts to end the crisis with a political solution. In order to better understand Morocco's policy towards post-Gaddafi Libya, it is important to retrace all the actions undertaken by Morocco during the first Libyan post-Arab Spring transition, the period which spans from the recognition of the Libyan National Council to the formation of the first Libyan government following the June 2012 elections. Second, it would be useful to analyse the role played by Morocco from the first civil war, which began after the July 2014 elections, to the conclusion of the Skhirat Agreement in December 2015. Finally, one should consider Morocco's position on the Libyan conflict considering its internationalization through foreign involvement. It could be said that Morocco's role in the Libyan issue has evolved through the three periods by adapting to the reality of the Libyan political and security landscape.
The geopolitical interconnection between Libya and Morocco makes destabilization an imminent risk to regional stability and security. This reality was taken into consideration in Morocco's policy towards Libya during the Arab Spring. It is noted that Morocco had adopted a position that defends the protection of the Libyan people who were eminently threatened by the violence perpetrated in Libya since February 2017. Morocco joined the member states of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference in adopting the decision to suspend Libya from the pan-Arab institution, protesting against the regime's abuses against civilian populations. This mobilization of the Arab League was at the origin of the referral to the UN Security Council to use its coercive power and protect the Libyans through the adoption of the 1973 resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This resolution aimed among other coercive measures, the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya and an arms embargo with the freezing of the assets of Gaddafi and his entourage. It is the second Security Council resolution on Libya adopted after the determination of the Libyan authorities to continue to disregard the measures imposed by the Security Council in the Resolution 1970. It is important to point out that Morocco remains one of the few countries in the region that has complied strictly with the provisions of the Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, by submitting to the Sanctions Committee a national report on the measures taken by the Kingdom in the implementation of the sanctions regime, including the arms embargo, the prohibition of access to Moroccan territory .
At the time of the overthrow of Gaddafi's regime by the popular uprising of 2011, the formation of the National Transitional Council occurred during a special regional political “timing” . As a member of the Contact Group on Libya, Morocco expressed its recognition of the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the sole representative of the Libyan people. Tunisia and Egypt did the same. However, among the members of this group that proposed peace plans in 2011 are also Qatar, the Emirates and Turkey.
The fall of the Libyan regime came as a strategic surprise in African power circles. It was the announcement of an unpredictable situation that caused an embarrassment in taking a stand. Neighbouring countries such as Algeria, Chad and Niger chose to remain silent.
The African states have joined Algeria in its passive stance. African states' relations with Gaddafi and Libyan financial flows and the scale of investment within the African Union explain this indifferent behaviour toward the CNT.
Morocco's diplomacy was one of the most responsive during the Libyan uprising. While showing itself, like its neighbours, quite worried about the future of the entire Arab Maghreb, Rabat took a pragmatic approach to the changes in its surrounding area. The proliferation of weapons and the dislocation of the Libyan security apparatus represented a definite threat to the stability of the states in the region. The domino effect in geopolitics was illustrated in the shift of the revolutionary fibre from Tunis to Egypt and Algeria.
Except for the other North African countries, the Moroccan state had adopted an avant-garde behaviour. Morocco had taken positions in favour of regional democratic transitions in the Maghreb and Egypt. This orientation was not shared by all states in the region. In the case of Libya, while its immediate neighbours were the first countries affected by the events, only Tunisia and Egypt, despite internal turmoil, joined Morocco in officially recognizing the CNT on August 21, 2011.
In contrast, Algeria, Mauritania, Chad, and Niger reacted slowly to the change in the Libyan regime, preferring to observe the evolution of the course of events. African states, except for Senegal and the Gambia, joined Algeria in its posture of negative neutrality, opting to distance themselves from events in Libya. An attitude that could be explained by the nature of the relations that African states have with Gaddafi, the financial flows through which the former Libyan head used to monetize African governments with the oil windfall, not to mention the countless investment projects financed by Libya, giving him an influential position within the African Union. If, on the African side, the apprehension of the African behaviour seems obvious, it remains nevertheless ambiguous on the Algerian side, with the nonchalant attitude within the African Union towards the CNT.
During the period of the first transition, 2011-2012, Morocco has played a role of attendant for the transition. This support had a triple dimension: humanitarian, security and economic. The outbreak of hostilities in Libya has raised Morocco's concern, not only because of the humanitarian crisis caused by armed confrontations between rebels and the regime, but also of the risk to civilian population including significant number of Moroccan nationals who remained stranded on Libyan territory following the decision of air exclusion and the closure of land borders by neighbours. Morocco has therefore implemented a three-dimensional diplomacy, a humanitarian dimension, economic cooperation, and security cooperation.
The Moroccan humanitarian diplomacy giving Morocco an accompanying role in the transition has manifested itself in sending urgent aid to the Tunisian-Libyan border for the benefit of refugees from Libya, including the installation of a multidisciplinary field hospital near Ras Jdir in Tunisia. For humanitarian reasons, Morocco had provided care to nearly 200 wounded Libyans attached to the CNT, mostly from the town of Misrata as it was reported in Moroccan media. Similarly, Morocco had organized repatriation operations for Moroccans fleeing the violence in Libya, operated by sea because of the enforcement of the no-fly zone, for the benefit of 1,715 Moroccan nationals fleeing the violence in Libya. Morocco continued to provide relief to its nationals throughout the Libyan crisis, particularly between 2017 and 2018 with the rise of xenophobic attacks and violence afflicting migrants in Libya, allowing the return of 435 Moroccans detained in Zouara, in the northwest of Libya.
The behaviour of the Moroccan state in the face of the Libyan transition 2011-2012, took into account the changing regional context, particularly with the arrival of the opponents of the former regime in power, a significant element favourable to the Moroccan regional position. Morocco embarks on a projection towards Libya that is built on a basis of cooperation and good neighbourly relations displayed by Moroccan decision makers to accompany the new Libya in its reconstruction. This is how Morocco's accompanying role in the framework of cooperation is appreciated during the transition period. Morocco, like any rational state, expected the return to stability in Libya and the completion of the transition by organizing legislative elections for the first time since those at the end of the reign of the Senousie monarchy.
The day after the formation of the post-revolution government, led by Abderrahim El Kib, Tripoli and Rabat found themselves in a position of rapprochement towards each other. The motive in this situation was economic rather than political. The need to rebuild the country calls on the states of the region to contribute to this beneficial perspective for Libya as well as other countries. Morocco has distinguished itself at this stage from states such as Tunisia and Egypt, which are the traditional investors in Libya, living in a fragile security and political context, showing less enthusiasm. This is an opportunity in Rabat to lay the foundations for a fruitful cooperation with the new Libya. The orientation of the new Libyan authorities towards Morocco, will reconstitute a new period in Libya's regional policy, long turned towards Africa and offers an opportunity to establish a new revival for Moroccan-Libyan relations that break with the conflicts of the former regime. Freshly formed, the Libyan government of El Kib led the first official visit to Rabat in August 2012, accompanied by a multisectoral ministerial delegation that also included the then Head of Government.
Tripoli and Rabat henceforth share reciprocal interests, under the terms of the negotiations that have taken place. Morocco will offer technical assistance to Libya in sectors where it has capitalized on performance, notably the administrative reform and the professionalization of the army. In return, Libya will resume its investments in Morocco. The prospects of this economic cooperation strongly encouraged by the two powers favour Morocco, after the Egyptians and Tunisians have taken a step back in this direction.
It should be noted that the investment climate in Libya changed radically after the revolution. The former Libyan privatization and investment authority, which regulates foreign investments has come under the control of the Ministry of Finance, devoid of its presumed autonomy, and it is expected that this body will align itself with the government. This situation thus confirmed the assertion of former French President Sarkozy that the CNT had declared that investment contracts will primarily benefit the countries that supported it. Libya, after 2011, has undergone a major reform of the regulation of foreign market participation, however, the legislation governing hydrocarbon sectors such as oil and gas has not changed.
The regional context had also seen the beginning of the agitation of armed movements at the Libyan border in the south, precipitating the conflagration of the Sahelian zone, particularly in the north of Mali. The threatened security environment, being an observation shared by Libya and Morocco, especially on the Maghreb-Sahelian borders, pushes these two countries to define the issue of border security as a priority area for cooperation. A significant strengthening of the control is focused on the country's eastern borders. It is in this logic that Morocco has deployed nearly 100,000 troops of the Royal Armed Forces along the Algerian border. This strategic necessity for the region, the security area in which Morocco has invested extensively, will strengthen its status as a committed partner in cross-border security cooperation in the Sahel-Saharan area. By organizing the second conference on border security in November 2012, Morocco has added an operational dimension to the outputs of the previous conference held in Tripoli in March 2012, with the adoption of the Rabat declaration announcing a collective action plan of the states of the region.
During the 2014-2016 civil war, Morocco shifted from a strictly accompanying role to a role of facilitator, hosting the round of negotiations between Libyan factions. On the one hand, it is the members of the Tobruk parliament in the East, recognized by the international community, and on the other hand, the members of the Libyan General Council in Tripoli. Although the mediation was devised as a UN undertaking led by Bernardino Léon, the neutrality of the Moroccan position earned it the quality of a co-mediator, as it contributed through its good intentions to provide an appropriate framework for building trust between the parties in conflict and bringing them to the negotiation table.
The Moroccan support to the UN approach helped bring the belligerents closer together and gave the negotiation process a chance to come to a successful conclusion for the first time. This political process was first initiated in Ghadames, Libya in October 2014, under the patronage of the UN, bringing together the members of the House of Representatives of Tobruk and those of Tripoli. These negotiations were not at first accepted by members of both sides which rejected each other's legitimacy. Some members of Western Libya boycotted the talks, considering that negotiating with those responsible for foreign intervention was a betrayal, while members of the Tobruk parliament rejected negotiations with those they called outlaws. This initial failure prompted reflection on the organization of a round of negotiations outside the Libyan territory to relieve the pressure on the participants. Thus, about forty international meetings were held from Ghadames via Geneva to Skhirat. Several analyses justify the choice of Morocco between all Arab and Western countries that have proposed to host negotiations, for objective reasons. The offer of Qatar and the Emirates was declined because of their intervention in the Libyan soil and that of Egypt because of its position as a neighbouring country, just like that of Niger or Chad.
Another objective explanation can be put forward, which can be deduced from the nature of the international initiatives undertaken by other countries during the months of May and June 2015, i.e. at the heart of the unequivocal escalation of violence in Libya. In setting out the theme and objectives of these meetings, it could be understood that the Moroccan initiative was the closest to a political solution. Egypt had organized a first step in the direction of a political solution, in the framework of the Second Forum of Libyan Tribal Leaders, held in Cairo from 25 to 28 May 2015. This forum had intended to bring roughly 300 tribes, but only about a hundred had responded to the invitation with a boycott of the western tribes . This initiative had relied on the tribal element trying to bring political solution in which tribes are not necessarily the main actors, especially as those in the west are under the control of armed groups. The Egyptian approach, although it seeks to unify the Libyan tribal political landscape, is less cohesive and would have been assimilated to resorting to the game of instrumentalization of tribes practiced by the former regime.
The second initiative, focusing on the countries bordering Libya, was organized on June 5, 2015 in N'Djamena. This Chadian vision places the neighbouring countries at the heart of the political solution, ignoring the involvement of extra-regional actors and their weight in the conflict, an approach which has demonstrated its limits just like the Egyptian initiative; it is even out of phase with the Libyan security landscape.
Two international meetings followed, focusing exclusively on the Inter-Libyan Political Dialogue, were held on June 8 and 9, 2015 in Rabat, and the following day in Berlin.
One could deduce that, among all the attempts made to bring the Libyan belligerents closer together, meetings in Rabat and Berlin were those that dealt with the issue of the Libyan National Dialogue. These meetings brought together exclusively Libyan parties in conflict, although the UN Security Council recognized on June 17, 2015, the contribution made by all the above-mentioned initiatives .
However, one of the plausible explanations for the continuation of the negotiations in Morocco can be added to the objective element that focuses on the topic under discussion in the talks, the environmental element, or the context. Some theorists of negotiations for conflict resolution, such as Bercovitch or Houston, talk about the variables that affect mediation, or the parameters that influence the negotiation process and can potentially have an impact on its outcome. These variables affect the quality of the negotiator and the negotiation environment. Jacob Bercovitch analyses the composition of the context within three variables: first, variables related to the nature of the conflict, which in the Libyan case is political disintegration on a polarized social background; second, variables related to the mediator and his background in the matter, here Morocco has an experience of national reconciliation, and third, variables related to conditions related to the process it defines in the mediation strategy or the environment in which it takes place .
In academic literature on negotiation management, among factors that directly affect the course and success, are location and space, to which the intercultural factor is added. On the first element, the nature of the conflict, Berlin and Rabat met the condition. On the environmental parameter, Skhirat had a cultural advantage over Berlin. Cross-culturally is very present in the identification of success factors in the talks because the negotiators feel they are in an environment that is culturally close enough without pressure to adapt or acclimatize. The choice of Skhirat to continue the meetings and launch a round of negotiations rather explains the cultural dimension represented by Morocco, which contributed to the rapprochement of the parties by hosting the July 10 meeting in Skhirat where the Tobruk government initialled the “peace and reconciliation” agreement proposed by the UN. This result is an input into a new, more inclusive process that is open to all recalcitrant parties represented by the Tripoli Parliament to participate in subsequent meetings.
Although the proposal of Bernardino Léon, the UN envoy, on October 9, 2015 in Skhirat, was rejected by the two competing parliaments, both parties decided to continue negotiations in Morocco. This confirms the relevance of the environmental parameter in the likelihood of reaching an outcome or at least common ground between the belligerents. The culture of participants is one of the most powerful and influential factors that could be an incentive or obstacle to the process and outcome of the negotiations. This hypothesis of Skhirat's cultural contribution to the Libyan dialogue was confirmed on December 6, 2015, when delegates from both parliaments signed an agreement stipulating the formation of a unity government within 25 days and the formation of two joint commissions to appoint from among the head and deputy heads of government, respectively, and to amend the constitution of the Kingdom of Libya to restore it.
Concretely, it is a result obtained by weighing the royalist and federalist paths, which has not received the support of either regionalists or republicans, and even less that of Martin Kobler, the new UN mediator. Indeed, disagreements remain over the form of government, republic or monarchy, and the degree of autonomy of Cyrenaica. Negotiations continue on Moroccan soil, giving them the time necessary to reach a broadly concerted agreement. This is the Skhirat Political Agreement, signed on December 16, 2015. It provides for the formation of a new government and the establishment of a High Council of State and a Presidential Council. On December 23, 2015, the UN Security Council supported the agreement by adopting Resolution 2259(2015).
Since the conclusion of the Skhirat Agreement and its adoption by the international community, Morocco has continued to work to support the implementation of this agreement and respect for international legitimacy, which has been repeatedly compromised by regional actors. The latter, driven by alternative projects to the Skhirat compromise, deploy all forms of interventionism to hinder “the construction of a peaceful, secure and prosperous Libya”. Morocco has preserved the quality of neutral mediator in the eyes of the two Libyan authorities. The recourse to Morocco to moderate the divergences continued after the Skhirat agreement came into effect, particularly after the Security Council's decision to recognize the agreement as the only legal framework for ending the Libyan institutional crisis. The divergences have persisted, particularly with the nearing expiration of the institutional architecture provided by the terms of the agreement, set at two years since its entry into effect. International meetings have multiplied under the aegis of the UN to find a way out of this institutional diarchy that is insurmountable under the effect of interference. There have been seven conferences on Libya since Skhirat, bringing together Libyans and foreigners, between Paris, Palermo, Moscow and Berlin. In each meeting, the host countries show themselves in a competitive spirit, instead of capitalizing on the previous meetings.
The exclusion of Morocco and Tunisia from the Berlin conference confirms a false appreciation of the repercussions of the Libyan crisis on the Maghreb and Sahelian environment and consequently on the southern flank of Europe. Despite this absence, Morocco has nevertheless managed to maintain a prominent place on the Libyan scene; it is the country that has managed to preserve the quality of credible interlocutor of the two factions according to the former special envoy Ghassan Salama. The Skhirat agreement being the reference of all Security Council resolutions on the Libyan crisis confers a privilege to Morocco. Thus, the unilateral rejection of the Skhirat agreement by General Khalifa Haftar in May 2020, was rejected by the international community including his allies, as well as the Cairo declaration of June 6, 2020, seems to be ignored by Morocco, which reiterates that the proliferation of attempts diverge and squander the efforts of Libyans and partners, and are merely reproductions of dead-end meetings that cannot ignore the results of Skhirat.
The very frequent meetings of the heads of the two legislative bodies of Libya in Morocco, are the proof of a real willingness of the Libyans to deal with a partner able to give them unconditional and disinterested support. Moroccan diplomacy has been distinguished by its dual commitment to the peaceful Libyan-Libyan solution through the mobilization of the official channel and the channel of parliamentary diplomacy that have contributed to strengthening Morocco's policy of positive and active neutrality towards Libya.
The pace of visits of Libyan stakeholders to Morocco has been sustained since the summer of 2020. This diplomatic zeal heralds the predisposition of both Libyan parties to return to the negotiating table, after weariness felt by the persistence of the confrontation. Indeed, this explains the two simultaneous ceasefire declarations by the GNU and the Tobruk parliament. In such a scenario of renegotiations for a new political solution, the review of the Skhirat agreement is the most plausible, since it is the source of institutional legitimacy for the parties who are once again calling for dialogue. Morocco could resume its role as a facilitator of UN mediation in light of its behaviour throughout the Libyan crisis. This Moroccan posture qualified as positive neutrality has been distinguished from the Maghreb neighbours who initially focused on political lines rather passive than neutral towards the Libyan file.
About the author:
Faiza Koubi is a PhD candidate in international relations at the University Mohamed V Agdal Rabat-Morocco.
Ljubljana/Rabat, 17 September 2020