The Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General, Hossam Zaki, recently affirmed on Egyptian TV that Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is the ‘accredited government for the Arab League, the African Union and the United Nations.’ This statement from a senior official from the League — an organisation that has been previously reluctant to publicly support the GNA — was significant at a time when the latter is seeking to consolidate external support in the wake of its successes against the Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF). Zaki also seemed to affirm the legitimacy of the controversial MoUs that were signed in November 2019 between the GNA and Turkey.
Zaki’s statement could signal an important shift for the Arab League which, until now, has usually sided with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in shielding Haftar and the LAAF from censure. While calling out Ankara’s intervention, it has been unwilling to condemn the UAE’s repeated violations of the international arms embargo. In February 2020 the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez Serraj criticised the League for its lack of support and said that, he was ‘pained’ by its stance which, according to Serraj, has made it ’unable to hold a meeting at the delegate level to discuss the aggression launched against an Arab capital.’
It is unclear if Zaki’s statement has broad support amongst the League’s member states. Even if it reflects Haftar’s rapidly declining fortunes, it does not necessarily mean that the organisation — which has been relatively spineless since it was established in 1945 — would suddenly move to challenge the interests of powerful members such as the UAE. In 2011 it took an unusually principled position in supporting both NATO’s intervention against Muammar Qadhafi’s regime and expelling Syria from the Arab League. This, however, was in the context of two Arab dictators: Qadhafi who was widely reviled by his regional peers; and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who was seen asbeing too close to Iran. If Zaki’s statement does reflect a broad shift in the Arab League’s position there will be additional pressure on Haftar to compromise and even yield power.