#Libya: Which present? Which future?

(Sabah News) by EMRE GÖNEN

It has almost become customary to start an article on Libya by saying, “once again the country is at war.” It is a fact that since 2011, the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, the almighty ruler of the country, no central authority has been established. The country is ruled by a myriad of different local factions, all with their own militias. After some serious efforts by the U.N., the Government of National Accord (GNA) was formed two years ago in Tripoli, under the authority of Fayez al-Sarraj. Lots of hope was placed in a reconciliation procedure, but the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli had to challenge some very strong opposition in the country.

Last April, a former high-ranking officer of the late Gadhafi regime introduced a new phase into the conflict. Marshall Khalifa Haftar, Libya’s strongest warlord, ordered the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army to take over the country’s capital, Tripoli. He controls all the eastern part of Libya, Benghazi and Tobrouk, most of the uninhabited but strategic parts of the south. His uprising, defined as a “coup d’etat” by the Tripoli government, has caused 400 deaths and displaced around 50,000 people.

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It has almost become customary to start an article on Libya by saying, “once again the country is at war.” It is a fact that since 2011, the fall of Moammar Gadhafi, the almighty ruler of the country, no central authority has been established. The country is ruled by a myriad of different local factions, all with their own militias. After some serious efforts by the U.N., the Government of National Accord (GNA) was formed two years ago in Tripoli, under the authority of Fayez al-Sarraj. Lots of hope was placed in a reconciliation procedure, but the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli had to challenge some very strong opposition in the country.

Last April, a former high-ranking officer of the late Gadhafi regime introduced a new phase into the conflict. Marshall Khalifa Haftar, Libya’s strongest warlord, ordered the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army to take over the country’s capital, Tripoli. He controls all the eastern part of Libya, Benghazi and Tobrouk, most of the uninhabited but strategic parts of the south. His uprising, defined as a “coup d’etat” by the Tripoli government, has caused 400 deaths and displaced around 50,000 people.

He did not succeed in his endeavor to invade the capital city Tripoli, in spite of attaining close positions near Misrata airport. There is a Turkish military presence supporting the internationally recognized government of al-Sarraj. Ankara has often extended military support to the legal Libyan government. There was already a very long tradition of the Turkish Navy training of young Libyan cadets. This cooperation disappeared in time, with Moammar Gadhafi becoming less and less predictable and more and more arrogant. Still, the new era of conciliation for Libya has seen Turkey extending a sincere helping hand.

This move was conducted without taking into consideration the instability of the whole region and all the regional and international powers igniting proxy wars. The new “civil war” in Libya was initiated by Egypt, supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates, and helped almost openly by Russia. The “legal” government in Tripoli should be supported by all democratic countries, but except Italy and the U.K., Turkey remains the sole provider and supporter of the U.N.-recognized regime. Qatar also, for obvious strategic reasons, follows Turkey’s policy in lending a hand to the internationally recognized Libyan government.

France, who conducted military cooperation with Haftar forces during its Barkhane operation in the Sahel, definitely supports Benghazi’s strong warlord for purely strategic reasons. So, here we all are in a total quagmire, which turned Libya for years into a global hub for illegal migration, human trafficking and a variety of other smuggling systems.

Haftar, having failed to overthrow al-Sarraj’s legal government, has openly threatened Turkey as being an enemy. Turkish authorities responded very firmly, saying that any attack on Turkish citizens or representatives will make Haftar’s forces a legal and legitmate target. This very serious rhetoric has worked for the time being. Haftar’s forces have been obligated to set six sailors of a Turkish merchant navy free after being arrested illegally.

On the other hand, by making Libya an open field for proxy wars, the whole system of the U.N. is being severely tested. The EU is deeply and strongly divided on the issue of illegal migration through Libyan coasts and Lampedusa Island, which belongs to Italy. Recent developments that saw the arrest of the German captain of a humanitarian rescue vessel, who defied Italian authorities to dock 50 migrants in a Lampedusa port, is eloquent enough to show the magnitude of the political crisis within the EU.

Democratic countries have missed their chance to stop the bloodshed and slaughter in Syria by failing to stop Assad’s criminal regime and its allies. At that time, I was comparing the Syrian civil war with what had happened in Spain between 1936 and 1939, when democracies decided not to intervene, whereas Hitler and Mussolini’s forces were already on the ground. My dearest wish is that we will not have to make a similar comparison between what is going to happen in the Middle East and North Africa, with what has happened in Europe after 1939.

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