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Acrimony follows UAE and Egypt's scuppering of new UN Libya envoy

Former Algerian foreign minister and peace mediator Ramtane Lamamra rescinded his nomination following US rejection provoked by pressure from allies
Ramtane Lamamra has served as African Union commissioner for peace and security, Algeria's foreign minister and Algeria's special representative to the UN (Odd Andersen/ AFP)

Egyptian and Emirati efforts to scupper the appointment of a new United Nations special representative to Libya have caused acrimony and left the war-torn country without a UN envoy as fighting heats up west of Tripoli.

Particularly aggravated is Algeria, whose former foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra was set to replace Ghassan Salame last week until the United States suddenly nixed his appointment at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

On Tuesday, Algerian presidential spokesperson Belaid Mohand Oussaid described the failure to appoint Lamamra as a loss for the UN “and not for Algeria, which will continue to play its role without scheming at the expense of our Libyan brothers”.

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“The fact that the UNSC thought of Mr Lamamra for this mission is already a source of pride for us. As for the reservations within the Security Council, it is the fault of regimes who have no interest in seeing Libya finding peace,” Oussaid said.

The comments come a week after Lamamra announced he would be rescinding his nomination for the post after Washington was the only member of the 15-member Security Council to oppose his nomination, despite support from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"I gave my agreement in principle but consultations carried out by Mr Guterres since then do not seem likely to result in the unanimity of the Security Council," Lamamra told Algerian press last week.

Libya has been mired in chaos since the overthrowing of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The country is divided between the Tripoli-based and UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.

Salame, who quit in early March after repeated failures to restore order, had served as the UN’s special envoy to Libya since June 2017.

A week before the Lebanese's resignation, Salame had attempted to bring GNA and LNA representatives to Geneva for peace talks, but both camps suspended their involvement.

Proxy actors and failed solutions

Since the start of the Libyan conflict, neighbour Algeria has maintained its seasoned political tradition of diplomacy and maintained that any intervention or solution to the Libya crisis must strictly remain political, not through military action or foreign intervention. 

Earlier this year, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune branded Tripoli a “red line no one should cross” after Turkey sent military units to Libya in an attempt to prop up the GNA as Haftar's forces pursued an offensive on the Libyan capital.

This handout picture taken and released on January 26, 2020 by the Turkish Presidential Press service shows Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (L) shaking hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) during his arrival for a visit to Algeria
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (L) shaking hands with Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 26 January 2020 during a visit to of the Turkish president to Algeria (AFP)

The US mission to the UN offered no explanation for its rejection of Lamamra, whose credentials include having served as African Union commissioner for peace and security from 2008 to 2013, Algeria's foreign minister from 2013 to 2017 and Algerian special representative to the UN from 1993 to 1996.

Despite US involvement in Gaddafi's overthrow, Libya has not recently featured in the Trump administration’s list of foreign affairs priorities - in 2017 the US president commented, “I do not see a role [for the United States] in Libya.”

'No other Libya meddler even comes close to the Emiratis’ ability to convince the Americans and all Europeans that Abu Dhabi’s own preferred angles should be accommodated'

- Jalel Harchaoui, analyst

However it has become a chief concern for some of its close allies in the region, particularly the UAE and Egypt, who are keen to see Haftar come out on top.

Tarek Megerisi, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Middle East Eye that Libyan issues are often caught in the political mire internationally.

“There's always a stalemate in these sessions' processes as it is the time when Libya's already messy international politics melds with all the international political divisions and machinations taking place at the UN,” he said.

“There's a combination of interests at play this time around: the Haftar-supporting states would like someone who would be sympathetic to Haftar, or probably, more importantly, the former regime's return.”

Lamamra's alleged close ties to Moscow, which has been accused of supporting Haftar with mercenaries, was also one of the reasons cited by analysts as having further incentivised the US to block his nomination, along with pressure from Egypt and the UAE on behalf of Haftar, who considered Lamamra too close to the Tripoli government. 

“Unfortunately, as an Algerian, Egypt would always work against Lamamra, as the two are trying to ensure that the other doesn't have dominating influence over Libya when the dust finally settles,” Megerisi added. 

Lamamra is seen as a loyalist of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was ousted a year ago after mass protests demanding his departure and democratic reforms. 

Following Bouteflika’s resignation, Lamamra was appointed deputy prime minister and made Moscow one of his first diplomatic stops, much to the anger of Algerians who perceived the visit as internationalising domestic issues. With little influence, he quit the position to become peace envoy for the AU.

Libya has been perceived within Algerian political circles as the means by which fresh life can be inserted into its diplomatic reputation within the international arena, greatly impeded by Bouteflika’s isolationist policies.

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“The UAE is not the only culprit. Other Washington-specific considerations and lobbying efforts from other foreign states, including of course Morocco, came into play immediately after Lamamra became Guterres’ nominee in late February,” Jalel Harchaoui, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, told MEE.

“That being said, the UAE undoubtedly wields formidable influence in all western capitals, including Washington. No other Libya meddler even comes close to the Emiratis’ ability to convince the Americans and all Europeans that Abu Dhabi’s own preferred angles should be accommodated.”

According to some Algerian analysts, Lamamra’s failure in securing the position could also have been as a result of "friendly fire" by those wary of his success and potential as a statesman, given the opportunity to return to domestic politics. 

“The UAE has its own vision as to how the international diplomacy associated with the Libya conflict ought to be managed,” Harchaoui said.

“Turkey is being increasingly assertive, militarily speaking, France is more and more an unconditional follower of the UAE, the Trump administration is more and more distracted and ambivalent in the foreign-policy sphere," he added.

"All these dynamics - added to the knee-jerk reaction of bitter rivalry on the part of Egypt and Morocco - simply killed Lamamra’s nomination almost right away."