Libyan tribal elders called for a UN arms embargo on the country to be lifted on Monday at a meeting of tribesmen in Cairo to find a solution to a year-long civil war.
As many as 400 tribal elders – including from the southern Tebu and Tuareg communities – are attending the four-day conference hosted by the Egyptian authorities, who hope to enlist their help with a rising insurgency that has gripped its war-torn neighbor.
In the opening speech, Adel al-Faidi, head of the organizing committee, appealed to the participants — whom he referred to as “people of wisdom and tradition” — to create unity between Libyans and help “save the nation”.
Tribesman Sheikh Masoud Amr called for help convincing the international community to cancel the weapons sales ban that has been in place since the 2011 revolt which toppled Muammar Gaddafi.
“I ask the Egyptian government to make use of its connections and influence, regional or international to [help] lift the embargo and to supply the Libyan army with modern weapons it needs to liberate the country,” Amr said.
“We ask this government to support Libyan legitimacy embodied in the House of Representatives,” he added referring to the country’s internationally-recognized parliament, which is based in Tobruk, over 1500km east of the capital Tripoli.
But the initiative was marred by criticisms it was one-sided in favour of the Tobruk authorities that are backed by Egypt, which is already secretly supplying ammunition and weapons to its forces.
Before the conference opened one of the organizers, Mokhtar al-Jadal, withdrew from the event telling Wasat news website that previously formed tribal councils and actors on the ground had not been invited. He also complained that until the very last minute it was not clear under whose auspices the conference has actually held – the Egyptian government’s or the UN’s. Alluding to the two rival camps facing each other in Libya’s civil war, he claimed the event had been given “a certain political colouring”.
Members of tribes that have aligned themselves with rival administration Libya Dawn, which governs the capital, were notably absent. Attendees admitted to Libya Channel that there were no representatives from Misrata, a key city in the Libya Dawn alliance, nor from the Amazigh community, which is anchored in the northwest and largely backs Dawn.
But even groups that fight with the government and in the name of the army – such as the town of Zintan and the Warshefana and Magarha tribes, also in the west – refused to attend.
Representatives of these groups had reservations about the meeting being held in Cairo and the Egyptian authorities having an influence over the outcome.
The conference was opened by the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri who said Egypt had invited the tribal leaders to talks because they were the”backbone” of society and main guarantor of Libyan stability, security and territorial integrity.
“We hope that the Libyan brothers … make use of the forum to exit the vicious cycle of violence, conflict and terrorism,” he said, promising Egyptian support in the fight against jihadis including the Islamic State.
There was no specific agenda for the four-day meeting, which finishes on Thursday, attendees said.
“It is not following anyone’s directives, be it parties, tribes, regions, towns, Libya Dawn, HoR or anyone else,” said Tuareg representative Mulay el-Gedidi, who is also part of the organizing committee.
“We are Libyans, sheikhs, tribal representatives and we want to sit together for the sake of Libya,” he added.
The purpose of the conference, al-Gedidi continued, was to “agree on and formulate a common viewpoint” on how to deal with the many troubles facing Libya including its growing jihadi movements who have seized swathes of territory in the west, south and east of the country.
In October the country’s extremists pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and since then have laid claim to the multiple strategic coastal towns from Sirte in the centre to Derna in the east.
Meanwhile United Nations-backed peace talks aimed at creating a unity government between the warring factions have failed and fighting has intensified across multiple cities in the troubled country.
The UN is set to host a fresh of negotiations in Morocco in early June. The UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon said he hoped for a draft peace agreement to be completed by Ramadan mid next month.