Aguila Saleh’s visit to Algeria raises questions about his agenda and that of hosts

ALGIERS–The Speaker of the Libyan Parliament, Aguila Saleh, arrived in the Algerian capital on Saturday for an unscheduled visit, at a time when Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune renewed his country’s desire to play a mediating role between the opposed factions in the Libyan crisis.

The Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives was received by his Algerian counterpart,  Slimane Chenine, speaker of the National People’s Assembly (the second chamber of Parliament), accompanied by Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, who recently opened diplomatic communication channels with a number of his counterparts in the region in a bid to launch a negotiated political process involving the parties to the conflict in Libya.

Aguila Saleh’s visit to Algeria comes a few days after attending talks in Cairo with the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. At the end of the talks Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced an initiative, known as the “Cairo Declaration”, to resolve the Libyan crisis.

Libyan circles wondered if during his meetings with Algerian officials, Aguila Saleh would be promoting the Cairo Declaration as a common basis between him and Haftar.  especially that the declaration has garnered the support of key countries in the conflict, such as Russia and France, or if he instead would be seeking to promote his own initiative, which has politically expired after reconciliation meetings between him and Haftar in Cairo, and the announcement by both him and Haftar of their endorsement of  the Egyptian initiative.

These same circles underplay the results of Aguila Sameh’s visit to Algeria. They note that Algiers itself, which is seeking  to “market” an initiative of its own to mediate between the two warring factions in Libya, hopes  to receive the support of Egypt and Tunisia, and to present itself as playing an active role in the Libyan file. It is hence seen as unlikely that Algeria would accept Egypt’s initiative as a basis for its mediation.

During the last three years, Libya’s neighbouring countries have been proposing individual initiatives, and each country has adhered to its own set of ideas. This  eventually opened the door to external interventions and led to the squandering of  opportunities for a regional solution to the conflict.

Moreover, the Algerian position on Libya is ambiguous, as Algiers appears to be closer to the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) than to its rivals. This is what President Tabbboune  alluded to when he indicated that his country had previously considered “Tripoli a red line”, referring to Field Marshal Haftar’s campaign to liberate the capital from armed militias. Overall, this makes Algeria’s sponsorship of any mediation doubtful.

In addition, Algeria has received Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan without giving any indication of its opposition to the Turkish military intervention in Libya, despite the risks stemming from this intervention for Algeria’s security and interests.

The Algerian President, in an interview with local media broadcast on Friday night, had announced that his country’s offer to sponsor a Libyan-Libyan dialogue remains on the table. In his answers, he hinted that the interference of unnamed parties in the crisis had aborted Algeria’s previous initiatives as such interference conflicted with his country’s endeavours.

He revealed that a peace agreement was about to be signed in Algeria between the parties in the conflict and from tribal leaders, and that Haftar and Sarraj did not object to the Algerian initiative and that tribal leaders welcomed the endeavour. But, he said, the interference of other parties aborted the opportunity to resolve the crisis.

He justified his country’s rejection of what he called the attack on Tripoli which he described as as “red line”, by Algeria’s wariness over the risk that it could mean the end of the Libyan state and the start of a civil war near the Algerian border, pushing the entire region into a situation of utter insecurity and military chaos.

The Algerian President warned against the replay of the Syrian scenario in Libya, since the same parties to the Syria conflict are involved in the current crisis in Libya, in reference to Turkey and Russia.

He criticised what he described as “the double talk” of some countries that agreed at the Berlin conference to prevent the flow of mercenaries and weapons to Libya, but a “particular country has brought in 3,400 tons of weapons to this country,” without naming the country in question.

As Algeria tries to play a special role that competes with Egyptian efforts, and in the absence of any consequential Arab role, Turkey and Russia continue to search for “consensus” between them to accommodate their interests in Libya in the same way they did in Syria, through a forthcoming high-level ministerial meeting.

CNN Turk reported Saturday that Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu, respectively the Russian foreign affairs and defence ministers, will visit Istanbul Sunday to hold talks with their Turkish counterparts on the situation in Libya.