Libya heading for catastrophe if guns are not silenced
Instead of foreign powers doing all in their power to end the conflict and empower the UN-recognised government in Tripoli to fight Covid-19, they are fuelling the violence to suit their own hegemonic interests.
Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are backing rebel leader Khalifa Haftar’s forces, ignoring the UN arms embargo and supplying the rebels with weapons, and encouraging an onslaught on the capital.
On the other hand, Turkey has intervened on the side of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, supporting his war effort with tanker aircraft, armed drones, military equipment, Turkish soldiers and mercenaries from Syria.
Turkey has a constant flow of military supplies and soldiers entering Libya through an air link it has created between Istanbul and the airports in Tripoli and Misrata.
Each of the countries arrayed behind the respective sides has its own agenda. France, for example, relies on oil supplies it receives from areas under Haftar’s control. France also wants Haftar’s support in fighting militants in Chad and Niger, which share borders with Libya and where French troops have been active for years.
Turkey wants to exert strategic influence over the government in Libya and have a say in dynamics in the Mediterranean.
If Libya falls under Haftar, who is a staunch ally of the UAE, it puts Turkish maritime interests in the Mediterranean at the mercy of the UAE, Egypt and Greece, all of which are at odds with Turkey.
In November, Turkey and the GNA signed an agreement to demarcate exclusive economic zones in the Mediterranean Sea. The deal allows Turkey to explore gas reserves in the offshore territory where other regional players have shut Turkey out of exploration efforts. Turkey’s energy needs are primarily met through imports.
Turkey also supports the GNA’s make-up, of which the Muslim Brotherhood is an important component.
Russia is also vying for influence in the region and seeks to control the oil fields under Haftar’s control.
The UAE is pursuing its wider geopolitical ambitions, empowering Haftar and facilitating his control over eastern Libya, arguably more than any other state. The UAE has supplied Haftar with advanced weapons systems in violation of the UN embargo, as well as aircraft and military vehicles.
Abu Dhabi wants to crush democratic movements and Islamist forces, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. It seeks to replicate an anti-democratic military regime in Libya like the one in Egypt, which depends on Emirati support. The UAE’s primarily goal is to ensure proponents of political Islam do not wield any power in Libya.
The Emirati Air Force has played a crucial role in allowing Haftar’s forces to consolidate control over eastern Libya, and has created military bases in the east. The UAE has even recruited Sudanese mercenaries to back Haftar.
The recruits were enticed with lucrative security jobs in the Emirates, but were then sent to fight in Libya.
The UAE and Saudi Arabia are interested in bringing Libya’s significant oil reserves under Haftar’s control, which they could then exploit according to their interests. Given Egypt’s aversion to the Muslim Brotherhood, it found a natural ally in Haftar.
The UK has pledged support for the GNA, and Italy might also enter the fray on the side of the GNA, as Turkey gave the country humanitarian and medical support at the height of the Covid-19 crisis. The European Parliament has also welcomed Turkey’s support of the GNA.
The US had supported the creation of the GNA, but in April last year, US President Donald Trump recognised Haftar’s “significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources”.
Russia has supported Haftar, and Russian mercenaries from the private Wagner group have been on the ground supporting Haftar’s forces. Those supporting Haftar want to prevent an independent and stable, oil-rich Libya from emerging, which would attract European and international investment and enable it to compete with the other Gulf monarchies.
The plethora of foreign agendas has had dire consequences for the people of Libya, making it one of the few places in the world where hospitals treating Covid-19 patients are being intentionally bombed by warring militias trying to overthrow the central government.
Al-Khadra Hospital in Tripoli was bombed by Haftar’s militias, and rebels targeted hospital depots with missiles. More than 27 health facilities have been damaged and 14 forced to close.
At a time when Libyans need water for sanitation, rebel militias attacked the capital’s water supply, cutting off water to two million people. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator in the country called the act “reprehensible”. Electricity supply is also being repeatedly cut. Covid-19 is spreading within the ranks of rebel militias, putting the lives of ordinary Libyans at grave risk.
The top UN official in Libya has said that the ability of Libya to fight Covid-19 will depend on the silencing of the guns, but with the big powers fuelling this conflict with their weapons of war and mercenaries, it seems increasingly unlikely that Libya will be spared a catastrophe.
Ebrahim is Independent Media group foreign editor