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Libyan PM Fayez al Sarraj

The latest developments in Libya, that range from the fighting in the streets of Tripoli to the different militias split between their support or opposition to PM Fayez al Sarraj and from the bellicose arguments of Khalifa Haftar and the chaos that envelops most of the country, show that events have turned for the worse.

Useless UN decisions

The United Nations is supposed to be the sole authority tasked with managing global affairs. Its executive branch, the UN Security Council, unanimously approved a Resolution that supported the December 17, 2015 Skhirat agreement that stated that the only legitimate authority was the government led by Sarraj.

The Resolution included sanctions for those who opposed the deal, called for the disarmament or disbandment of the militias and a number of other measures to favor a national accord. None of these provisions have ever been applied. Even the Government of National Accord that the UN supported has become powerless.

Despite the fact that this was not an easy task, that talks and diplomatic initiatives had involved all major Libyan players, it is striking to see those same Permanent Members that approved the Resolution acting in the frontline to undermine its foundations. The UN risks becoming useless if its decisions are not imposed by everyone, let alone by its executive branch.

The second consideration points the finger against the unethical behaviour of those that could have opposed the Resolution by voting against it, or used their veto power, and that are now undermining the very credibility of the institution they pretend to represent. And they do so blatantly in Libya.

Fayez al Sarraj, the internationally acclaimed leader in Tripoli, is left on his own; everyone talks to General Khalifa Haftar, the man that wants to replace Sarraj; Haftar should have used his army to support a national unity government instead of threatening it. But he never did.

Haftar can behave the way he does because he can count on Egypt’s unconditional support. The French also stand by his side and have sent special forces to Cyrenaica. While the UAE provides aerial support and the Saudis pump money. At the same time, the Russians favor him because they are looking for new naval bases in the Mediterranean and the US don’t really mind him. After all, the General was on the CIA’s payroll when he was trying to oust Muammar Gaddafi and is now an American citizen.

Politics of hypocrisy

Hence the question: if prominent members of the UN Security Council like Khalifa Haftar so much, why didn’t they choose him as Libya’s legitimate leader when they had the chance?

The answer lies in the ambiguous conscience of the international community: Haftar is inconvenient, he doesn’t envisage a democratic future for Libya and has no interest for negotiations since he only talks war.

Choosing to side with Khalifa Haftar meant and still means accepting the idea that after having toppled a dictator manu militari, another dictator is set to replace him. It is by no coincidence that Haftar was part of the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power and that he was part of that regime for a long time before falling in disgrace. His concept of national reconciliation is not about diplomacy and talks, but rather about threats, scuffles and the physical elimination of opponents.

This is why, at least officially, not a single country has decided to dirty its hands by showing its support for Khalifa Haftar. It was better to opposed him officially and then support him under the counter. The key word to give him an aura of legitimacy was “reconciliation”. Yes, the General doesn’t respect the UN Resolution, he doesn’t plan to disarm his militias dubbed “Libyan National Army”, but the international community has to support the “reconciliation” process. So please, Mr. Haftar, stop the bloodshed and we’ll get you back in through the back door. It is extravagant to think that any of this will help the negotiations.

But, by opening the doors to all actors, regardless of their legitimacy, to the talks, Haftar has been welcomed as the key player and main actor on stage.

khalifa haftar

Khalifa Haftar

Local developments

The recent turn of events have shown that: Fayez al Sarraj doesn’t have the backing of its militias, as several of them turned down the request to intervene against the 7th Brigade from Tahruna. The PM also lacks political support. He is a dead man walking.

On the other hand, Khalifa Haftar has an army on his side and can count on the political and military support of the former Gaddafi loyalists. This is why the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Enzo Moavero, recently flew to Benghazi to meet with Haftar and plans to hold a conference in Palermo where all major Libyan actors will convene.

By supporting Haftar we come to terms with the fact that the Libya of tomorrow will be much the same as the Libya of the past. It also means accepting the language of war as the only way out of a conflict. No more negotiations, conferences, talks, peace deals. They are all useless. It also implies that the UN has failed, or was betrayed, because those who run it decided to ignore the decisions they had taken. It means that the war in 2011 was pointless, as it’s only result has been death and destruction for ordinary Libyans.

If this is how it was going to end, we could have stuck with Gaddafi and his heir, Saif al Islam, the man that wanted to bring democratic reforms in Libya.

ghaddafi and saif al islam

Geddafi and his son Saif al Islam

The international approach

No one cares whether Libya turns into a democracy. Oil and gas. This is what everyone is after. Gazprom, Gazpromneft and Tatneft from Russia, Total from France, Eni from Italy and Marathon Oil from the US are all after Libya’s rich oil and gas reserves that are worth billions. Other businesses of interest are the railway linking Benghazi to Sirte and arms trafficking or sales.

Stability. This is what businesses want, regardless of how it is obtained or enforced. Stability also means making sure Islamic extremism doesn’t find a safe haven along the coasts of the Mediterranean. And, as far as Italy is concerned, also implies putting a halt to the human trafficking towards its shores.

Democracy, human rights, national reconciliation are a bunch of useless words for those advancing their own agenda in Libya. And if Khalifa Haftar’s ambitions end up coinciding with the interests of foreign actors, then the General is set to become the Gaddafi of the future.

Seif and the future of the country

The historical paradox is that the only person that could contrast the ambitions of Khalifa Haftar is Gaddafi’s son, Saif al Islam. Following his release from the jails in Zintan, Saif has regained the support of the old guard. Gaddafi’s loyalists have the economic resources and still exert a great influence over their respective tribes (those that granted Muammar Gaddafi over 40 years of reign). If properly channeled, this could benefit the military and social support Saif needs.

Saif al Islam was chosen by his father to succeed him and he would have done so by introducing a series of reforms to move Libya closer to a democracy. By doing so he had found the resistance and opposition of the Revolutionary Council that saw its power threatened. Saif spoke about democracy, human rights, reconciliation and a new Constitution. And when the war broke out – him being the first son – he had to become one of his father’s staunchest supporters and became a commander on the field despite his lack of military experience.

After he was captured by the rebels, he was put on trial at the International Criminal Court where he was accused of crimes against humanity. Now that Saif is free, he tours his country and is reviving the links with the tribes that once supported his defunct father. Saif al Islam is possibly the most popular among the regime’s loyalists, while Haftar was long seen as just another traitor.

It is a paradox that the man that could introduce democracy to Libya is the son of the ousted dictator. But Saif al Islam is a better guess than Khalifa Haftar can ever be. The conflict has caused more than 50 thousand victims, the civil war has dismembered a State, while terrorist groups and human traffickers have taken over. Anyone with a militia or a weapon became ambitious and socially dangerous. The final nemesis is that the future of Libya is in the hands of two men: an ambitious traitor that also happens to be a General and the son of a dictator that was put to death by his own people.

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