Saudi diplomacy strives to shape Arab strategy in Libya

Saudi Arabia is working to develop a unified Arab position towards the political solution in Libya, and to resolve the minor differences in positions between Libya’s neighbours, especially in light of the emergence of different initiatives for a solution from these countries and the desire of each one of them to promote its own initiative.

To this goal, Saudi Arabia dispatched its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, to Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, in a move that implies a desire to accelerate the shaping of an Arab understanding on the mechanisms and actions needed to confront the Turkish expansion in Libya and the Mediterranean in general.

During his visit, Tuesday, to Algeria, Prince Faisal bin Farhan emphasised to the local press, following his meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, “his country’s commitment to coordination of efforts with Algeria in order to reach a peaceful settlement of the crisis in Libya, and to enable this country to restore its security and stability.”

The Saudi minister stressed the importance of the role of the neighbouring countries in this issue. “The neighbouring countries have an important role to play in reaching a solution that will end the conflict in Libya, in order to protect this brotherly country from terrorism and external interference,” he said.

He pointed out that the Saudis are committed to coordinating with Algeria efforts related to Libya’s crisis. “We will seek through joint efforts with all neighbouring countries to reach a settlement that protects this country and restores its stability.”

The discourse used by Prince Faisal bin Farhan carried hints to common denominators between the stances of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria towards the Libyan crisis, especially regarding concerns about the likely expansion of terrorist activities and the rejection of external interference in Libya. It was a clear message to both parties that it was possible to bridge the gap that has emerged recently between Cairo and Algeria on the issue of arming the Libyan tribes.

Algeria is is in favourable of initiatives aimed at solving the Libyan crisis through a political settlement and based on dialogue between the rival parties in the conflict. It was hence irked by Egypt’s stance in favour of arming the Libyan tribes.

The Saudi minister’s visit to Algiers was the second of its kind since the departure of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In addition, bin Farhan has had several exchanges with his Algerian counterpart, Sabri Boukadoum, especially regarding the Libyan crisis and issues of common concern.

From Algeria, the Saudi minister flew to Tunisia where he met with Tunisian President Kais Saied to complete the consultations he had conducted with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, regarding the Libyan file.

In Cairo, which he visited before Algiers, the Saudi minister spoke of his country’s full support of Egypt’s stance towards the Libyan file, and for the Cairo declaration to resolve the Libyan crisis.

Both Saudi Arabia and Egypt agree that the path of political solution should be the basis for resolving the Libyan crisis. This consensus is shared by most Arab countries, especially Algeria and Tunisia which stress the need to find a peaceful political solution that guarantees Libya’s safety and unity away from any external interference.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan’s visit to Algeria coincided with the announcement of a telephone conversation between the Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Mohamed Siala, and his Algerian counterpart Sabri Boukadoum, during which both officials shared views on the latest developments in the Libyan file and the needed coordination mechanisms in order to return to the path of political dialogue in Libya.

While both ministers highlighted the importance of the political process, the GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj made shocking statements basically saying that the military track was “the cornerstone, and in light of its results, the other political and economic tracks are either moving or standing still.”

This link between the military and political tracks has imposed its own momentum on the various political moves to set the priorities in relation to the upcoming entitlements. Observers did not hesitate to say that the Saudi move at the level of Libya’s neighbours does not fall outside the circle of these developments.

For Libyan political researcher Abdel Hakim Fanoush, the Saudi move came within the framework of drumming up support for Egypt’s role in the Libyan crisis, backing the Tunisian president’s stance in his face-off with the Islamist Ennahda Movement Party and its allies, and attempting to nudge the Algerian position closer to the initiative proposed in Cairo, in order to create a common vision to confront Erdogan’s hegemonic behaviour in the region.

Speaking on the phone with The Arab Weekly from Paris, Fanoush said “The Saudi move comes in line with that of Western countries, including France, whose own moves, especially those aimed at withdrawing international legitimacy from the GNA, seem to have disturbed Turkey and confused its calculations.”

Most political interpretations are unanimous that the Saudi move, at this particular point in time, carries messages that go beyond the details of the current situation in Libya. It is seen by experts as attempting to formulate an Arab approach based on the strategy of “isolating and confronting,” in other words isolating and containing the Turkish threat in the region and countering it with decisive steps.

The article was first published in the Arab Weekly and reprinted with permission.