As reports focus on the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic worldwide, stories regarding the state of affairs in Libya have all but disappeared from pages of leading media outlets. But in the meantime, recent events in this country are increasingly indicative of the fact that the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, is in its death throes.
Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was toppled and killed by opposition forces in 2011 during the civil war that the United States and NATO were involved in, had viewed his country as exceptional. Until 2011, Libyan citizens enjoyed the “life of luxury”. But nowadays, a 9-year war is ripping apart this once prosperous nation, and there is no end in sight to this conflict, but not because it is impossible to resolve. Certain western forces, who were behind the military intervention in Libya in 2011, had simply wanted to redistribute global earnings from the sale of crude oil, as Libya was a very important player in this market.
The ongoing war in Libya reflects the tragic situation in many Middle Eastern nations after transatlantic experiments with “color revolutions” were conducted in this region. If the conflict in this nation is not resolved soon, it may cause instability in neighboring countries, such as Tunisia and Egypt, and could lead to more refugees flooding into Europe.
The author believes that the crisis in Libya is a civil war between groups from different tribes and regions that are battling for control over the nation’s earnings from crude oil sales with support provided by outside “sponsors”.
At present, there are two distinct sides in the armed conflict in Libya. The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, was established under the Libyan Political Agreement signed on 17 December 2015. The Islamist-dominated GNA controls the capital of the country, Tripoli. On the other side of the conflict is Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), which are headed by anti-Islamist Field Marshal Khalifa Belqasim Haftar. Although, at present, the authoritarian and nationalist Field Marshal is in control of most of the nation, Tripoli has not been captured as yet.
External players pursuing their own interests back either side in this conflict. For instance, Turkey and Qatar support the GNA, while Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates stand behind Khalifa Haftar. Global media outlets, which have been covering this conflict recently, have increasingly focused on outside competition for Libya’s oil and gas resources, primarily between Turkey and Egypt.
However, it is important to remember that interests of external players, first and foremost of Turkey and Qatar, in the Libyan conflict are not only energy-related but are also religious in nature and significantly so. The two nations hope to extend their influence much more widely not only within the large oil-producing nation in the Mediterranean region but also in neighboring countries in this part of the world if Islamists manage to strengthen their grip on Tripoli. This is precisely why Qatar provided substantial assistance to Lybia’s Islamists, in particular to religious scholar and politician Ali Muhammad al-Sallabi. And thanks to such support he, and not Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, is the de facto leader of the GNA When, at the end of last year, the GNA was on the verge of being defeated, Turkey became actively involved in the armed conflict in Libya by supplying the Government of National Accord with weapons, drones, its own servicemen and even fighters from Syria.
Still, even such a level of aid has not helped Tripoli succeed in the nation-wide conflict. Currently, the GNA is in control of only 15% of the nation, and it has been losing ground on a daily basis. The government is being torn apart by internal disagreements, evidenced by the scandal involving Fathi Bashagha (the Minister of Interior of the GNA) that has erupted recently. Some of the fighters made a move against him by using a cyber attack, a tool not often used by militants. The official media outlet of the Tripoli Protection Force circulated a film online about an investigation into Fathi Bashagha’s criminal activities, abuses of power and about his appeal to the United States to establish a military base in Libya.
In addition, according to online newspaper Al-Masdar News citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) whose headquarters is based in London, Syrian mercenaries brought by Turkey to Libya are very unhappy about their current situation and accused Ankara of breaking promises. The report said that there was “widespread discontent” among the Syrian fighters, and that they had been paid the agreed-upon salaries for only one month.
On 29 March, the Libyan Tribes Union expressed their support for the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is battling terrorism and various extremists supporting the so-called Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya. The corresponding statement by the Chairman of this organization was published on their official Facebook page.
GNA leader Fayez al-Sarraj was forced to leave the headquarters of the Government of National Accord on 30 March after he had been attacked by militants from Misrata.
All of these developments demonstrate that internal fighting among GNA militants is intensifying, and that, in anticipation of the end to GNA’s rule, they are frantically looking for external support, particularly from Turkey, the United States and nations of the Persian Gulf.
Still, even in such a climate, external players do not appear to be interested in reduction of the intensity of the conflict in Libya and remain, first and foremost, focused on retaining control over the oil and gas sector in North Africa. This is also evidenced in a recent statement on resolving the conflict in Libya made by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell. Aside from phrases typical of such documents, seamlessly moving from the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held in January of this year, to the need to continue crude oil production, he did not say anything new. Still, Josep Borrell did mention that the European Union would increase efforts to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya.
In light of recent developments in Libya, there are, at present, stronger appeals to sever diplomatic ties with the so-called GNA in Libya, since the government in Tripoli lost its legitimacy as far back as 2018. Thus, it no longer has the right to enjoy diplomatic relations with other nations or sign international agreements. In addition, GNA’s activities indicate that it has, in essence, transformed into a safe haven for terrorists and a means for ensuring upward social mobility among these militants. This is why, at present, many believe that if the GNA were no longer internationally recognized as a legitimate government, it would help resolve the conflict in Libya.
Vladimir Odintsov, expert politologist, exclusively for the online magazine ‘New Eastern Outlook’.