Libya has had little peace since the ouster of its long-time ruler Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The existent ethnic, sectarian and political issues have remained unresolved in the post-Gaddafi decade, creating a power vacuum in the country. This has led to increased tribal and armed militia infighting in Libya. Its geographical position in the East Mediterranean basin and its abundant oil reserves also enhance its economic significance in the region. The potential economic benefits and unstable internal politics has provided opportunities for external actors to collude with rivalling factions within Libya for their geopolitical, strategic and economic gains in the region.
In the backdrop of interference by external powers and internal power struggle, Libya is currently dealing with a delayed December 2021 election, political deadlock, and the worst fighting in Tripoli in two years.[i] December 24 marks one year since the 2021 Libyan national elections were postponed. Assessing the situation, the recent United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) report pointed that the continued interference by external countries is obstructing peace and stability efforts, which in turn has made the goal for elections more distant.[ii] While the United Nations (UN) has voiced support for a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned electoral process, a resolution to the ongoing political stalemate seems afar.
UNSC Meet on Libya
The UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1970 (2011) concerning Libya met recently on December 16, 2022 to discuss the current political situation. Briefing the UNSC, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily, Head of the UNSMIL, who has earlier visited the region and held discussions with various stakeholders within Libya and regional countries, stressed upon the need to reduce foreign interventions in Libyan affairs.[iii]
Highlighting the external powers’ interference, the 2021 report of UNSC’s Panel of Experts on Libya noted that the 2011 UN arms embargo on Libya has remained totally ineffective.[iv] The report identifies countries externally supporting the two rivalling factions in Libya through arms import and defence agreements, often in breach of the UN embargo. Countries like Turkey, UAE, Egypt and Qatar find particular mention for their arms support to the two political factions in Libya – the UN recognised Government of National Unity (GNU) based in Tripoli and the rivalling Libyan National Army (LNA) commander, Khalifa Haftar who is in association with the Tobruk based House of Representative (HoR) in East Libya.
Libyan Crisis and the Regional Countries
According to the UNSC Panel of Experts report, General Haftar’s main backers—the UAE, Jordan, and Egypt—have been strengthening his campaign by supplying drones, fighter jets, and foreign fighters.[v] The report states that the UAE’s military support to General Haftar is in repeated non-compliance with the 2011 UN arms embargo. UAE’s support for the Haftar faction stems from Abu Dhabi’s low tolerance policy for political Islam which is in line with Haftar’s ideology. As the Tripoli government faction has traces of Islamist dominance, Haftar becomes UAE’s natural ally in curbing the spread of Muslim Brotherhood ideology in the region.[vi] Similarly, Egypt’s aversion to Muslim Brotherhood brings it closer to Khalifa Haftar faction. It visualises him as the best hope for stabilizing the troubled state of Libya.[vii] Haftar’s military background and his command over the Libyan National Army (LNA) also has the potential to help President el-Sisi in reining in the armed groups dominating eastern Libya’s sparsely populated desert region bordering Egypt. Apart from UAE and Egypt, Haftar also enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia.
Turkey, on the other hand, has been one of the foremost external supporters of GNU’s predecessor, Government of National Accord (GNA), since its inception. Turkey and the GNA have shared Islamist ideologies and have signed multiple security agreements which facilitate the transfer of armoured vehicles, drones and troops to Libya. Agreements relating to maritime border demarcation and enhanced security cooperation have also been signed between Turkey and the GNA, like the 2019 Maritime Border Delineation Deal. With this deal, Turkey hopes to expand its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in East Mediterranean Sea in an attempt to dominate the natural gas channel to Europe.[viii] As this deal with GNA remains contentious with competing countries in the region like Greece, Cyprus and Egypt – an ally of Haftar, Turkey’s economic interests could be hampered under Haftar’s leadership. These ideological and economic factors make Turkey a natural ally of the GNU. As far as Qatar is concerned, Doha had played a key financial and military role in the 2011 overthrow of Gaddafi. It now continues to diplomatically back GNU over Haftar.
The members at the December 16 UNSC briefing called for the interests of Libya and Libyan people to be prioritised by avoiding the imposition of external solutions. The UAE representative also encouraged the Libyan parties to overcome their remaining differences and suggested intensified engagement with the UNSMIL Special Representative.[ix] Similar support for the electoral process has emanated from other regional actors like Egypt and Turkey. However, the lack of progress by the states in the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign forces and fighters from Libya continues to aggravate the political crisis in Libya.[x]
Currently, nearly 7 million Libyans live under the risk of military escalation and are denied a social, economic and political environment conducive for a dignified life. Successful direct enforcement of UN resolutions is a long drawn process but regional efforts can be called upon for reaching an amicable solution to the current impasse. For example, the joint efforts of the Libyan and regional parties led by the UNSMIL created the Joint Military Commission (5+5; GNA+LNA) under the Libyan Peace Process which has upheld the fragile ceasefire agreement in Libya, despite the current military build-up.[xi] The hope for this military cooperation to be replicated in the political sphere however seems bleak at present as the two factions continue to remain at loggerheads. It is thus important for the rivalling parties to put aside their personal interests to safeguard the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Libya. Only then the goal of Libyan-led and Libyan-owned electoral process can be achieved.
*Ishani Agnihotri, Research Intern, Indian Council of World Affairs, Sapru House, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views are of the author.
[i] Al Jazeera, (2022, August 28), 32 Killed in Libya’s Tripoli as fears grow of a wider war, Retrieved from Aljazeera.com: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/8/28/23-killed-in-tripoli-clashes-fears-grow-of-wider-libya-war, Accessed on November 25, 2022
[ii] Abdulkader Assad, (2022, October 19), Libyan FM, UN envoy stress the need to limit foreign intervention in domestic affairs, Retrieved from The Libya Observer: https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/libyan-fm-un-envoy-stress-need-limit-foreign-intervention-domestic-affairs, Accessed on November 30, 2022
[iii] Meeting Coverage, Security Council, (2022, December 16), One Year after Failing to Hold Elections, Libya’s Situation Deteriorating, Special Representative Warns Security Council, Calling for Action Towards Electoral Track, Retrieved from: https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15144.doc.htm, Accessed on December 20, 2022
[iv] UNSC document, (2021, March 8), Final report of the Panel of Experts on Libya established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1973 (2011), Retrieved from: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N21/037/72/PDF/N2103772.pdf?OpenElement, Accessed on December 16, 2022
[vi] Human Rights Watch (2021), Libya Events of 2020, Retrieved from Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2021/country-chapters/libya, Accessed on November 26, 2022
[vii] Africa News, (2020, January 14), Who supports who in Libya's complex battlefield: Egypt, Russia, Turkey, Arab League, Retrieved from Africanews.com: https://www.africanews.com/2020/01/14/who-supports-who-in-libya-s-complex-battlefield-egypt-us-russia-turkey-europe//, Accessed on November 30, 2022
[viii] Federica Saini Fasanotti, (2019, September 17), Turkey’s moves on the Libyan chessboard, Retrieved from: https://www.gisreportsonline.com/r/libyan-government-turkey/#toc-pos-factsfigures, Accessed on November 30, 2022
[ix] Meeting Coverage, Security Council, (2022, December 16), One Year after Failing to Hold Elections, Libya’s Situation Deteriorating, Special Representative Warns Security Council, Calling for Action Towards Electoral Track, Retrieved from: https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15144.doc.htm, Accessed on December 20, 2022
[x] Abdulkader Assad, (2022, November 16), UN Envoy Concerned over Stalemate in Libyan military dialogue track, Retrieved from The Libya Observer: https://www.libyaobserver.ly/news/un-envoy-concerned-over-stalemate-libyan-military-dialogue-track, Accessed on November 17, 2022
[xi] Meeting Coverage, Security Council, (2022, December 16), One Year after Failing to Hold Elections, Libya’s Situation Deteriorating, Special Representative Warns Security Council, Calling for Action Towards Electoral Track, Retrieved from: https://press.un.org/en/2022/sc15144.doc.htm, Accessed on December 20, 2022