Only five of the 22 Arab League members sent their top diplomats and even the bloc's secretary general stayed away

Middle East boycotts Foreign Ministers' Commission in Libya

photo_camera PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah, Prime Minister of Libya

The rebuff aggravates divisions among Arab states over the Tripoli government, whose legitimacy is being questioned by the rival government in the war-torn east of Libya. Regional heavyweights such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were not represented at all at the meeting, a preparatory gathering ahead of a Foreign Ministers' summit in Cairo. Four members sent junior ministers or ambassadors. The meeting was attended by Tunisian Foreign Minister Othman Grandi, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra and Somali Foreign Minister Abshir Jameh. Arab League President Ahmed Aboul Gheit was also absent. 

Libya, which holds the group's rotating presidency, "is determined to play a role in the Arab League and rejects any attempt to politicise the league's founding documents," he said. Since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been mired in a decade of violence. The resulting power grab spawned a series of local militias and prompted intervention by Arab powers, as well as Turkey, Russia and the West. Najla Al Mangoush, Foreign Minister of the Tripoli-based government, condemned what she called "an attempt by certain political parties to destroy Libya's desire for Arab unity". 

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Libya's eastern government, backed by military leader Khalifa Haftar, who has close ties to Russia and Egypt, has challenged the government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah since last March, declaring his mandate had expired. The head of the rival government thanked Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for "refusing to participate in the drama through which the late government tried to project international recognition". In a tweet, Fathi Bashagha also urged Libya's western neighbours Algeria and Tunisia, which sent their foreign ministers to the meeting, to "rethink their Libya policy and not be fooled by a defeated government". 

The Tripoli-based coalition government is the end of a UN-mediated peace process following the last major clashes in the country in 2020. Accusing Arab countries of acting as proxies in the Libyan crisis, Al Mangoush added: "The problem with the Libyan file is that it is discussed without the presence of Libyan decision-makers and it tries to break this method by making us the ones doing the talking, and we don't need any country to speak on our behalf." 

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The coalition government's Foreign Minister thanked Algeria "during its presidency of the Arab League Council and its tireless efforts to make it worthy of its glorious Arab history". The positions of several major Arab countries against the US are contradictory. Egypt has made clear that it does not recognise the Dbeibah government and has recently begun to take steps to expose the government, such as working with various Libyan forces (House of Representatives) to define a new path based on the formation of a new government as a prerequisite for elections. 

To address the crisis, a UN initiative led to the creation of a joint committee of the House of Representatives and the Supreme Council (Consultative Assembly) to agree on a constitutional basis for holding elections "as soon as possible". "On 17 January, the House of Representatives announced that it would give the Council of State 15 days to respond to the constitutional policy document. Aguila Saleh Issa, a Libyan jurist and politician added that "the constitutional declaration (written after the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in 2011) is a legitimate and authoritative basis to end the existing political debate on the holding of elections". 

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