A Never Ending War : Libyas Frightening Ordeal
“It views the termination of war as a process of rational calculations by the participants; unless both sides believe that they can be made better off by a settlement, the war will continue” – Donal Wittman, How A War Ends: A Rational Model Approach
Libya has been facing a major humanitarian crisis ever since the Arab Spring protests of 2011. Not only did it lead to a civil war inside the country, along with foreign interventions to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1973; but also the consequent death of Muammar Gaddafi (Oct 20, 2011), Libya’s de facto veteran leader since 1969. Two main internal conflicts have shaped Libya’s current situation: The rise of the anti-Qadhafi regime protests (2011); and the subsequent fall of the regime (2014) which led to the state being divided in two.
Lack of a National Identity
Libya has always been suffering from an acute identity crisis. The fall of the Qadhafi regime (1969-2011) was followed by the Libyan Civil War, based on tribal and regional divisions. The lack of a common national identity has obstructed the spirit of nationalism in Libyans, and as a result there were no established democratic institutions or national identity to unify the people of Libya.
Libya comprises of three major regions, namely Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan. Italian colonization united the colony state of Tripoli and Cyrenaica, which were under separate administrations under the Ottoman Empire. These disturbances in state administrations and tribal and cultural differences made the civil war almost inevitable.
While tribal identity has always been more prominent than national identity in Libya, the
differences only resurfaced and strengthened after the fall of the central government.
Internal and External Actors
Libya is currently dealing with two internally conflicting actors. The GNA – Government of National Accord- was founded in 2015 under the UN led agreement of a permanent ceasefire facilitated by its 5+5 Libyan Joint Military Commission talks in Geneva. It was based in the capital city of Tripoli and led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Saraj. The LNA - Libyan National Army –a component of Libya’s military forces, was established by putschist General Khalifa Haftar, as a direct opposition to the GNA, and backed by the House of Representatives; consisting at the time an air force and a navy.
Additionally, a number of external powers have exploited the Libyan Wars for their own means. Sides were taken and peace treaties denied and delayed to keep the conflict alive. Turkey, Italy, Egypt, UAE, France and Russia being the main international actors, with Russia, UAE and France backing Haftar while Turkey and Qatar supported Al-Saraj.
The Failed Cease-Fire
The cease fire established by the UN in Geneva involved the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months. There were 75 members in the forum, who reached an agreement to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on December 24, 2021 to facilitate a transitional government that would lead the divided country to national elections and eventual unification of the country as a whole.
This cease fire was promptly violated by Haftar when he attacked a military camp in the town of Awbari, as stated by the High Council State. Following the act, Defense Minister Salahaddin Namroush has warned that they will consider the ceasefire invalid if Haftar launches any military action. “We warn the UN and peace supporting countries that if they don’t curb war criminal Haftar and stop his recklessness, we may withdraw from the 5+5 military agreement” stated Namroush.
This attack was especially prominent because Awbari hold strategic importance given its proximity to the country’s largest oil field, Sharara. The nine years of conflict have restricted production and export. This is a huge loss, considering the Sharara oil field contributes to nearly one third of the country’s production.
Haftar: The Warlord
Haftar attacked the capital city of Tripoli in July 2020, which was opposed by the GNA, strongly backed by Turkey. Egypt declared the city of Sirte, where the troops had settled after the opposition a “red line”, and urged the GNA to start negotiations to end the crisis once and for all. This ceasefire was rocky at best, when the UAE, Russia and France together supplied, supported and considerably swelled Haftar’s militias. Emboldened by such reinforcements, Haftar directly threatened Turkey, refusing all attempts of peace until Turkey stops supporting the GNA. Haftar claimed his LNA would “prepare to drive out the occupier by faith, will and weapons”.
In response, Turkey’s defense minister, Hulusi Akar has said that any attack by Haftar would be promptly met with force and that Haftar and his supporters will be seen as a “legitimate target” if any attacks on Turkish troops are executed.
Mass graves were found in the regions controlled by the warlord, facilitating the claims of his war crimes. According to official GNA reports, Haftar has committed innumerable war crimes and acts of genocide between April 2019 and June 2020. Over 300 dead bodies were found in the mass graves found in Tarhuna and Tripoli.
Egypt initiated the first diplomatic contact between the two sides since 2015 when an Egyptian diplomat visited Tripoli to meet the officials of GNA. “Egypt wants to preserve the ceasefire East of Sirte. It is concerned that if the ceasefire in Sirte were to break, Turkey and the GNA’s pursuit of territory into Eastern Libya could collapse Haftar’s LNA. Normalising ties with the GNA is an attempt to incentivise peace & maintain the LNA’s integrity through the ceasefire in the process,” said Anas el Gomati, the head of Libya’s Sadeq Institute.
The main point of discussion was cooperation between the two countries, with special emphasis on efforts to restore the diplomatic ties severed in 2014. Ahmed Eliba, a security expert with the Egyptian Centre for Thought and Strategic Studies considers the visit a declaration of Egypt’s stance on the Libyan crisis.
However, this out of the blue move has raised suspicion in quite a few regional observers, considering the lack of any interaction or intervention for almost 5 years from the country and the fact that Haftar has previously had Egypt’s support in supressing the GNA. Gomati also clearly stated that Egypt would continue to prioritize Haftar’s LNA and that “his preservation is its main priority today”.
UN’s Continued Failure?
The UN’s envoy in Libya have been involved in a strange carrousel. In the past nine years, six envoys have resigned and a seventh is expected. After the 2011 revolution; the first envoy, Jordanian diplomat Abdelelah al Khatib was appointed by the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Khatib’s attempts at convincing Gaddafi to accept the will of the Libyan population and give up his absolute power failed, when Gaddafi continued to suppress the widespread protests.
In April 2011, British national Ian Martin was appointed a special advisor alongside Khatib, who then later took charge a few month later when the Gaddafi regime fell. He set up the UNSMIL (UN Support Mission in Libya). Martin was then later replaced by the Lebanese Tarek Mitri when Martin failed in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) and Security Sector Reform (SSR).
In 2014, the very forces that had worked together to topple their common enemy, Gaddafi, clashed with each other, resurrecting age old rivalries and divisions. The UNSMIL now had to focus on brokering peace and resolution. Mitri was then replaced by Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon in August 2014. However, Libya saw another change in envoy when Leon was forced to resign two months after his appointment over allegations of involvement with the Emiratis of UAE.
Leon was followed by German Diplomat Martin Kobler in October 2015; the fifth UN envoy in Libya, after who came Ghassan Salame who resigned early in March 2020. Currently Salame’s deputy Stephanie Williams has continued acting as Special Representative until a new envoy is appointed.
But that’s not all. Haftar’s recent attempt at violating the cease fire was followed by utter silence from the UNSMIL. Libya’s High State of Council condemned the act, calling it “astonishing”. The Council stated “The UN mission has to impose sanctions on the perpetrators of the incident, as it has signalled in many statements before”.
It can be concluded that the UN needs a shift in strategy, not personnel.
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) stands at a stalemate on conflicting views of forming a common government. This is facilitated by Haftar’s growing military presence and so far, all attempts at reaching a solution have failed. The UN’s proposal to reduce the percentage of voting inside the forum for selecting the executives have been dismissed and thirty members have threatened to pull out from the talks, accusing the UN of bias.
Haftar has made every effort possible to oppose stability and peace in Libya, until he gains power. The GNA has made it clear that they will not accept Haftar’s involvements in any potential agreements. With the current stalemate and Haftar’s actions, it is speculated that the war will resume undecidedly.
Considering the fact that both internal and external actors are actively working towards protecting their respective interests, and making alliances accordingly, a true solution can not and will not be found until and unless all interests are taken into consideration.