Libya — people or oil
After a lull of a few years, Khalifa Haftar’s forces have attacked the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. In the course of events, Khalifa has been to Cairo to meet President Sisi, who has reiterated his support for combating terrorism, gangs and extremist militias all over the Libyan soil.
Tripoli, where most of the rebel forces that toppled Gaddafi are also stationed, became the centre of the UN-backed GNA when in 2016, Fayez al Sarraj, along with a few accomplices, was ferried in to Tripoli from Tunisia. Fayez is the son of a minister in the Libyan monarchy that was placed by the British when they freed the country. Gaddafi ousted the monarchy in 1969.
Since Gaddafi’s demise, foreign oil companies including Italy’s Eni, France’s Total and ConocoPhillips of the US have made oil deals with the National Oil Corporation, a state organisation. Haftar, after his attack on Tripoli, has taken control of half of Libya’s oilfields and has disrupted the extraction for the time being, triggering a rise in international crude prices.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed grave concern, saying that there is no military solution to Libya’s crisis. The same was France’s view a few days later. The irony is: Nato attacked Libya to liberate it of a tyrant dictator and deliver the so-called ‘bliss of democracy’ to the people, but so far it has only been successful in delivering the oil out of the country. Nor is there any democratic process that takes into account the will of the war-torn people who have gained nothing but more air strikes and rebel control since Nato’s intervention.
The oil price crisis and Haftar’s possible ousting of the GNA — which may result in the reassertion of full control of the country by a group affiliated to Gaddafi — have indeed created a split in the EU. President of the EU Parliament Antonio Tajani, an Italian, has criticised France and Britain for their role in the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, calling the move “a mistake that had generated chaos.”
So, what will Haftar’s reconsolidation really mean?
Once upon a time, president Reagan called Gaddafi a ‘madman’ on national TV, and accused him of having a goal of ‘a Muslim fundamentalist revolution’. Libya was listed in the Reagan Doctrine’s ‘rollback’ list. The doctrine stated that the US was to provide overt and covert aid to anti-communist guerrillas and resistance movements in an effort to ‘roll back’ pro-communist governments. Then one day, long after Reagan’s era, the US and Nato forces attacked Libya, on the accusation that the Gaddafi government was mistreating peaceful protestors. And all of a sudden, we saw the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) taking control of all major city centres. Just as Nato was attacking with airpower — 9,700 strikes and 7,700 precision-guided bombs during the seven-month campaign — the LIFG seemed to be collecting the fruit on the ground by taking over town after town.
The LIFG, which had been based in London before entering Libya a few years before Gaddafi’s ouster, had been placed exactly like the Reagan Doctrine had perceived which means that Haftar’s regaining control of whole Libya would be a rollback of the decades-long strategic planning of the US against the country.
The UN is right in asserting that “there is no military solution to Libya’s crisis”, but this was also exactly true in 2011 when Nato came in bombarding innocent civilians for crimes they had not committed. While passive reporting counts Nato’s toll on Libyan civilians close to 30,000, higher estimates go between 150,000 and 300,000. Eight years on, in Libya there is no centralised governance system that would ensure the basic needs of the people, nor is there a chance of taking the people out of the devastation of war with vital reconstruction. Instead, the only security providers are the myriad of lawless militias that control all major coastal cities and adjacent lands, keeping the areas in constant battle mode. This is the fruit of Nato’s military solution that took place eight years ago, and of the subsequent effort to impose a government that has nothing to do with the people and only to do with oil politics.
But now the question is: what if the forces of Haftar fail to oust the UN-backed GNA that he deems a puppet of foreign forces, protected by militias that brought the demise of Gaddafi? If Haftar fails, these militias may regain strength and be emboldened by the same forces that need their protection. This may lead to another mission creep, throwing the people into another spell of never-ending chaos.
And if Haftar succeeds, with regional players like Egypt and the UAE and even international player Russia at his back, what will be the chances of Libya delivering a people’s government to its people? Or will the Libyans prefer a strongman who would save them from foreign intervention, constant war and chaos, and undo Libya from what it has become with the Nato solution — a murderous proxy warfare theatre?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2019.