A decade after the ouster of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is preparing to hold elections in December to form a unified government. As the date approaches, the country’s neighbors from the Maghreb – Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco – are showing intense interest in the ongoing peace process.
Algerian decision makers resume And Libyan flights opened a maritime route between Algeria and Tripoli, and recently appointed Ramtan Al-Amamra – who was heavily involved in the Libya file – as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Tunisia remains highly interested in controlling security risks and restoring economic ties Occurred Agreements with Libya during the summer to enhance mutual trade, investment and passenger traffic. Morocco, the birthplace of the 2015 Skhirat Agreement (which recognized the Government of National Unity as the sole legitimate authority in Libya), is group Meetings between rival Libyan actors and bilateral talks with officials on potential cooperation in the areas of enhancing security, trade and renewable energy.
Despite the problematic lack of coordination on the Libya file among these countries, all presumably agree that elections are the best way forward for the conflict-stricken country. Moreover, they all have consistently supported the inter-Libyan dialogue promoting Libyan voices. However, their growing interest in recent months raises questions. Why is their investment in Libya increasing, and what will they benefit from its stability?
The main reason for Maghreb interest in Libya’s stability is the security threat posed by the ongoing chaos. With the outbreak of political instability in Libya after 2011, this has led to an increase in terrorism, organized crime, arms proliferation and drug smuggling. This presents a particular problem for Algeria and Tunisia, which share a porous land border with Libya. The Tunisian government has significantly increased security spending Since the collapse of the Libyan security sector, while the Algerian regime has increased the number of forces along its common border. Even Morocco, which is not a direct neighbour, has been affected by the instability in Libya, especially with regard to the threat of terrorism. Moroccan fighters also joined Islamic State branch In Libya – where the terrorist organization planned attacks on Europe – their imminent return created risks to the security of the kingdom.
Moreover, due to the power vacuum in Tripoli, the possibility of terrorist organizations and rebel groups launching their attacks from Libya was a real threat to the entire North African region, as evidenced by Chadian political military rebel group He launched a battle that resulted in the death of President Idriss Deby Itno. The collapse of the Libyan security sector also made this possible Arms smuggling, drug smuggling and other criminal activities at an intense level. While before 2011 Libya experienced little smuggling of drugs other than cannabis, now it has become solid road For cocaine, heroin and amphetamines.
This may explain why some Maghreb countries have indicated the possibility of a military partnership with the Libyan Government of National Unity. President of Algeria Historically isolated country, claimed He is ready to “impose red lines” against Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Moreover, 2020 Reshape The country’s constitution allowed the Algerian army to deploy abroad, a change from the decades-old laissez-faire military policy. Meanwhile, Morocco and Libya are advancing talks On strengthening cooperation in the field of terrorism and immigration and seeking to enter into a military partnership. It is true that the Algerian constitutional reform mentioned above is also likely due to the increasing instability in the the coast And that the Morocco talks may be another way for the Kingdom to maintain its participation in the Libya file and to advance its interests. However, these developments indicate that the two countries are taking steps to ensure that they can protect themselves from a security threat emanating from Libya or intervene to de-escalate such a situation.
Perhaps Tunisia will be the Maghreb country that will benefit most from restoring strong economic ties with Libya. Since 2011, its economy has been affected by the migration of Libyans to Tunisia and the return of Tunisian workers from the country. The security threat has also contributed to a reduction in tourism and investment and an increase in security spending. World Bank estimated That the Libyan crisis, between 2011 and 2015, reduced growth in Tunisia by 24%.
Stability in Libya will gradually reverse these effects and open the door to bilateral economic cooperation. Increased tourism and trade will boost Tunisia’s fragile economy, which has been affected by the coronavirus. Recently open borders have already allowed Tunisians merchants In poor areas to travel to Libya and sell their goods. The two sides aim to enhance cooperation in trade, investment and tourism down the line as seen during a Libyan Tunisian Economic Forum It was held in Libya last May.
Morocco, which did not have strong economic ties with Libya under the Gaddafi regime, could also benefit from the new trade and energy deals. Moroccan decision makers are working for this. Kingdom’s Foreign Minister announce In June organizing the second bilateral economic forum. In the same month, the Libyan Minister of Oil and Gas discussion Ongoing talks on cooperation in the field of renewable energy with Morocco.
And to a lesser extent, Algerian officials They have also recently shown that they are open to improving trade with Libya and reopening land borders that could turn into a major economic zone. Like Tunisia and Morocco, Algeria also organized Economic Forum With Libya and signed an agreement an agreement In trade and industry forums. Algeria also presented economic assistance to communities in southwest Libya, including food aid in 2014 during the tribal conflict between the Tebu and Tuareg tribes.
The potential benefit of peace in Libya can be enhanced at the regional level Intra-economic integration in the Maghreb. Trade among the Maghreb countries reached 2.8% in 2019 compared to 10.7% among the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Reasons include the crisis in Libya as well as logistical constraints and tensions between Algeria and Morocco. Peace in Libya could present little potential for improvement and could enable these countries to enhance economic integration and initiate initiatives for cross-border security cooperation.
Besides their internal interests, some Maghreb countries are investing in the Libyan peace process per se to strengthen their position at the regional and international levels. Since it hosted the meetings that resulted in the signing of the Skhirat Agreement, Morocco has organized multiple talks on the issue of key institutional positions, until recently. this summer. Moroccan decision makers attach great importance to the Kingdom’s role in the Libyan peace process, which Rabat sees as a way to enhance its international reputation as a reliable broker. This could explain why Moroccan officials underestimated them exclusion From the Berlin 2018 conference (to which Algeria and Tunisia were eventually invited) and why the kingdom was later relatively absent from the Libya file between 2018 and 2020.
By ramping up its involvement in Libya, Morocco is also seeking to curb the influence of its rival Algeria in the region. With Algeria recently reaching agreements with Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey over the crisis in Tripoli – indicating an intense interest in Algeria over the file – Morocco may fear that its influence over Libya and the region is waning. This, in turn, will exacerbate its tensions with Algeria and push it to become more involved in Libya.
Expectations: after Peace?
The peace process in Libya will remain complex. Even if elections are held this December, voting proceeds smoothly, and results in a unified government that is not contested by Haftar, the road ahead will still be long. It may take years for Libya’s neighbors to reap the economic and security benefits.
However, in this scenario, the regional security threat will diminish in the near future which may ease pressure across the board. The Tunisian government could cut security spending, while Algeria and Morocco could refocus their security efforts on the Sahel. Also, foreign investment in the Maghreb will eventually recover in the medium to long term, as can tourism (depending on the epidemiological situation).
Meanwhile, the Maghreb countries will continue to pursue their individual interests through their relations with Libya. The Tunisian government is likely to seek to sign more agreements related to trade and tourism while keeping an eye on potential energy deals in the future. Algeria will remain more concerned about the potential security threat that could come from Libya should the peace process fail, although it is unlikely to intervene militarily other than securing their shared border. Morocco will seek to assert its role as a mediator while preserving Skhirat’s institutions. To this end, it is likely to carry more BouznikaStyle meetings between rival actors. However, a united Maghreb response to the Libyan crisis is highly unlikely as long as ideological tensions and differences persist.