[News] Time is Not on Our Side in Libya

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jul 22 14:54:35 EDT 2020



by Vijay Prashad - July 22, 2020 

Ahmed, who lives in Tripoli, Libya, texts me that the city is quieter
than before. The army of General Khalifa Haftar--who controls large
parts of eastern Libya--has withdrawn from the southern part of the
capital and is now holding fast in the city of Sirte and at the airbase
of Jufra. Most of Libya's population lives along the coastline of the
Mediterranean Sea, which is where the cities of Tripoli, Sirte,
Benghazi, and Tobruk are located. 

Haftar, who was once an intimate [2] of the United States' Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA), is now prosecuting a seemingly endless and
brutal war against the United Nation's recognized Government of National
Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and led by President Fayez al-Sarraj. To
make matters more confusing, Haftar takes his legitimacy from another
government, which is based in Tobruk, and is formed out of the House of
Representatives (HOR). 

Ahmed says that the quiet is deceitful. Militias continue to patrol the
streets along the Salah al-Din Road near where he lives; the rattle of
gunfire is anticipated. 

On July 8, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres made a
statement that could have been delivered at any point over the last
decade. "Time is not on our side in Libya," he announced [3]. He laid
out a range of problems facing the country, including the military
conflict, the political stalemate between the GNA and the HOR, the
numbers of internally-displaced people (400,000 out of 7 million), the
continued attempts of migrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea, the
threat from COVID-19, and the "unprecedented levels" of "foreign

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution [4] to send a
Fact-Finding Mission to Libya to investigate human rights violations in
this war, including the mass graves found in Tarhouna. The credibility
of the Council is in doubt. An earlier Commission of Inquiry on Libya
set up in 2012 to study war crimes in 2011-2012 was shut down largely
because the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) refused [5] to
cooperate with the investigation. A second inquiry, set up in March
2015, closed its work in January 2016 with the political deal that
created the Government of National Accord. 

Guterres did not mention the NATO war in 2011. I am told that he wants
to appoint a joint Special Representative with the African Union and he
would like a full review of the UN mission. All that is well and good;
but it is short of what is necessary: an honest look at the NATO war
that broke [6] the country, fomenting a conflict that seems without end.

Foreign Interference 

Statements about Libya drip with evasion. These terms--"foreign
interference" and "foreign-backed efforts"--are dropped into
conversations and official statements without any clarification. But
everyone knows what is going on. 

I ask Rida, who lives in Benghazi (now under the control of General
Haftar), what she makes of these phrases. "We all know what is going
on," she tells me via text. "The government in Tripoli is backed by
Turkey and others; while Haftar is backed by Egypt and others," she

At the core, she says, this is a dispute between two regional powers
(Turkey and Egypt) as well as a contest between the Muslim Brotherhood
(Turkey) and its adversaries (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates).
Wrapped up in all this are contracts for offshore drilling in the
eastern Mediterranean Sea, which additionally involved Cyprus and

It is not enough that this is a regional conflict. There is accumulating
evidence that General Haftar is being supported by armed mercenaries
(from Russia and Sudan) and by arms shipments from France, while the
United States seems to have hedged its bets with support to both sides
in the conflict. 

Last year, General Haftar's forces moved swiftly toward Tripoli, but
were eventually rebuffed by the intervention of Turkey (which provided
the Tripoli government with military aid as well as Syrian and Turkish
mercenaries [7]). 

In late December, Turkey formally signed a military and security
agreement [8] with the Tripoli-based GNA, which enabled Turkey to
transfer military hardware. This agreement broke the terms of the UN
resolution 2292 [9] (2016), recently reaffirmed in UN resolution 2526
(2020). Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have openly been supplying
[10] Haftar. 

Now, the forces of the Tripoli government have moved to the central
coastline city of Sirte, which has emerged as the key hotspot in this

The Tobruk [11] government, which backs General Haftar, and a pro-Haftar
tribes council [12] urged Egypt's General Abdul Fatah El Sisi to
intervene with the full force of the Egyptian armed forces if Sirte
falls to the Turkish-backed government. Egypt's military drill--called
Hasm 2020 [13]--came alongside the Turkish navy's announcement of
maneuvers off the Libyan coast--called Navtex [14]. 

This is a most dangerous situation, a war of words escalating between
Turkey and Egypt; Egypt has now moved [15] military hardware to its
border with Libya. 


Of course, oil is a major part of the equation. Libya has at least 46
billion barrels of sweet crude oil; this oil is highly valued for Europe
because of the low costs to extract and transport it. Countries like the
UAE, which are pushing the embargo of Libyan oil, benefit from the
withdrawal of Libya, Iranian, and Venezuelan oil from already suppressed
world oil markets. Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) has stopped
oil exports since January; from about 1.10 million barrels per day,
Libyan oil production fell to nearly 70,000 barrels per day. 

Neither Haftar nor the Government of National Accord in Tripoli can
agree on the export of oil from the country. Oil has not left the
country for the better part of the past six months, with a
loss--according [16] to the NOC--of about US$6.74 billion. General
Haftar controls major oil ports in the east, including Es Sider, and
several key oil fields, including Sharara. 

Neither side wants the other to profit from oil sales. The United
Nations has intervened to try and resolve the differences, but so far
there has been limited progress. The entire conflict rests on the belief
that either side has that it could win a military victory and therefore
take the entire spoils; no one is willing to compromise, since any such
agreement would mean a de jure partition of the country into its eastern
and western halves with the oil crescent divided between the two. 

Demilitarized Zone 

UN Secretary-General Guterres has surrendered to reality. In his recent
statement on Libya, he listed a series of "de-escalation efforts,
including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone"; this
"demilitarization zone" would likely be drawn somewhere near Sirte. It
would effectively divide Libya into two parts. 

Neither Ahmed nor Rida would like their country to be partitioned, its
oil then siphoned off to Europe, and its wealth stolen by oligarchs on
either side. They had misgivings about Muammar Qaddafi's government in
early 2011; but now both regret the war that has ripped their country to

_Vijay Prashad's most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian
Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015)._ 


[3] https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/07/1067961
[4] https://undocs.org/A/HRC/43/L.40
[6] https://www.akpress.org/arabspringlibyanwinter.html
[9] https://undocs.org/en/S/RES/2526(2020)
[10] https://emiratesleaks.com/%D9%84%D9%8A%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7-85/
[12] https://www.arabnews.com/node/1705546/middle-east
[13] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bGs1nLsjBj8
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