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Democracy is not an option in the ideological and political landscape of the Middle East and North Africa and, every time a crisis comes about, Islamic terrorism surges. Authoritarian twists are not the problem, but almost always the solution.

This is the case for General Abdul Fattah Khalil al Sisi in Egypt, it has been so for the past 30 years in Algeria where the Generals rule by proxy, as it is for al Assad's family's political and military survival in Syria and, lastly, for General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar in Libya. The uprisings that should follow the manipulations of the vote, as should have happened following the presidential elections of al Sisi (97% of votes) and Bashar al Assad (88%), are simply not taking place. The same could happen in Libya, now in the hands of armed groups, citizen and ethnic-based militias, regional rivalries and divergent interests, where an authoritarian solution could be the only viable path out of the crisis.

Authoritarian solutions?

The Libyan citizens in search of security have understood it, as have the countries in the region and foreign powers that have economic and political interests to preserve. Moving from ethics to pragmatism and having put aside the theories on the exportation of democracy that justified military interventions during the Bush era, the current US administration has understood that the current situation in Libya cannot be solved by speeches or statements, but with facts. Barack Obama has realized that a country's stability is more important than its political configuration. Foremost, he learnt the lesson that supporting democracy and social justice in this part of the world and then facing the nth hotbed of terrorism is not a political or economically desirable outcome and is basically dangerous.

The US administration has also learnt the lesson from the support to the Muslim Brothers in Egypt (then abandoned to their destiny), from the uncritical support to the opposition to the Syrian regime (the fall of Assad would have opened, as the rise of ISIS shows, a new front in the war on terrorism) and from having lead Iraq to its disintegration following their military intervention. In the last stage of their “path to redemption”, the US, without being open about it but through a confirmatory official silence, are looking with favor at the military initiatives undertaken by General Haftar in Libya. He could represent not only the lesser of evils, but possibly their solution.

Haftar's military adventure is the result of the above mentioned American considerations, of the General's excessive and never concealed ambition, of his Egyptian colleague al Sisi's openly declared support and of the money and the favors provided by the CIA (and, apparently, also by Saudi Arabia).

khalifa belqasim haftar
Khalifa Belqasim Haftar

The rise of General Haftar

On May 16 2014, Khalifa Belqasim Haftar launched “Operation Dignity” in the declared attempt to eliminate terrorism from the Cyrenaica, thus trying to accredit himself as the Muammar Khadafi of the future. His aims are in fact wider than the simple fight against fundamentalism (a struggle supported by those who fear its spreading in Libya) and go as far as the elimination of an inefficient Parliament and government. The foiled attack against him on June 4, 2014 seems to have reinvigorated his military ardor. Also because – as it is now pretty clear – only the rise of a strong man can halt the dissolution of the country.

As usually happens in these cases, several militias, with the ones from Zintan – that have been competing with their counterparts in Misrata (closer to radical stances) since the beginning of the civil war – in the forefront, have jumped on the bandwagon. The new leadership will be measured on its military might and not on popular consensus. The latter is an irrelevant factor in this part of the world, as are the concepts of democracy and human rights. There are also external actors that support Haftar in his struggle; they are those countries who fear the dissolution of the Libyan state.

The biography of the new Khadafi

Khalifa Belqasim Haftar was one of Khadafi's frontmen since his coup against King Idris in 1969 and until his fall into disgrace after the failed attempt to take over the Aouzou Strip in Tchad in the 80s. Captured by the Tchadians, jailed and abandoned by Khadafi, once freed Haftar migrated to the United States becoming a pawn in the hands of the CIA. He was part of the failed attempt to sponsor and fuel the political and military opposition against the Libyan dictator. Haftar, together with other high ranking officials freed by Tchad (Colonel Saleh Mohamed Habbouni, Lieutenant Colonels Abdallah Shaikhi and Salem Rahman), joined the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) founded by the former Libyan ambassador to India, Mohamed Megaryef.

Among the numerous groups and organizations opposing Khadafi from abroad, the NFSL was probably the most active and efficient formation. Founded in Khartoum on October 7, 1981, pro-Western and with branches in the United States and Cairo, it was responsible for one of the most striking military actions against Khadafi: the May 8, 1984 failed attack against the Bab Azizya barracks in the heart of Tripoli and home to the Raìs. From that moment onward, the NFSL became the primary target of the regime's killers in their hunt for Libyan dissidents. One of the Front's leaders, Yousef Krebesh, was assassinated on June 26, 1987 by one of the Revolutionary Committee’s commandos in Rome (two out of four hitmen were apprehended). The same happened with other Front's members in Egypt and Jordan.

Khadafi's former general was assigned to lead the Libyan National Army in the attempt to wage a coup d'état against the Supreme Guide. The military operation was supposed to take off from Tchad, but the attempt failed following the defenestration of Tchadian President Hissène Habré by Idriss Déby in 1990. Deby had been hosted by Khadafi in Libya prior to his taking over Tchad. Khalifa Haftar and his men fled and managed to return to the United States (while others decided to reconcile with the regime). But, regardless of his foiled plot, in the eyes of his sponsors, namely the CIA, Haftar's reputation benefited in terms of both reliability and credibility from this incident.

He finally resurfaced on Libyan soil together with the NFSL in March 2011, alongside the Benghazi rebels. Haftar held the role of military leader and Youssef Megaryef was the political guide. The latter was appointed President of the General National Congress from September 2012 until May 2013. He was forced to step down by a bill that barred officials with ties to the previous regime from holding key posts.

Since his return home, Khalifa Haftar has gone back to cultivating his ambitions, initially frustrated by the fact that he was not the top man in the rebel's military ranks. Abdul Fattah Younis, former associate of Khadafi, ex Minister of Interior who had shifted to the rebel camp at the last second, was above him. Younis was killed in dubious circumstances in July 2011. Some commentators go as far as implying Haftar could be involved in his death.

abdul fattah younis
Abdul Fattah Younis

The road to Tripoli

Today, General Haftar and his Operation Dignity aim to eradicate the Islamic menace from the Cyrenaica, provide stability and security to a country where both are currently inexistent, avoid – where possible – the regional fragmentation of the nation, but mainly and foremost to fulfill the personal ambitions of a man that wants to become the future Raìs. He's got the necessary external support and money to achieve this. The NFSL has always benefited from the funding of the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. This partly explains why Haftar has plenty of weapons, including Russian manufactured helicopters and airplanes, and can afford an entire army (and hence has the money to pay for his men's wages). But, just like all those aspiring to become a dictator, he will become the leader only if he wins his war.

The arrest and extradition in Cyrenaica on June 18, 2014 of the Ansar al Sharia leader Ahmed Abu Khattala, alleged mastermind behind the assassination of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi in 2012, has earned General Haftar yet more points in the eyes of the Americans. Khattala's apprehension was officially an FBI and Delta Force sting operation, but nothing could have happened without the factual local support of the General's men. From now on, Haftar will benefit from the support of US intelligence and this could pave him the way to the road that goes from Benghazi to Tripoli.