28th Sep 2023


Libya is now turning into an international conflict

  • The death of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 led to chaos, not stability (Photo: gordontour)

In July 2012, Libyans and the West celebrated the first post-Gaddafi democratic elections.

A less-fragmented Europe worked hard with the Barack Obama administration to see the Libyans pave their path out of autocratic legacy.

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  • Since his coup in February 2014, general Khalifa Haftar has been on the attack, starting from the Libyan eastern border with Egypt and heading west towards the capital, Tripoli (Photo: Wikimedia)

These days are long gone now. Disagreement on the elections results, which is blamed mainly on the Muslim Brotherhood, the assassination of the US ambassador in Benghazi, the diverging internal and regional interests led Libya into chaos since 2013.

Events in the region did not help either and several neighbouring countries turned into various forms of dictatorship.

In Egypt, the military, led by general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, came back to power, halting any democratic aspiration, and human-rights violations peaked.

In Saudi Arabia, while opening the country for some basic freedoms, many blame the Crown Prince for the assassination of the Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi and brutally dismembering his body.

In Syria, president Bashar al-Assad backed by Russian president Vladimir Putin managed to overcome every opposition.

In Turkey, thousands were detained after the failed coup and the country's politics and actions moved away from the EU and the Nato on a serious scale.

Tunisia remains the only democratic hope - even if fragile under economic pressure.

Since his coup declaration in February 2014, general Khalifa Haftar has been on the conquest, starting from the Libyan eastern border with Egypt and heading west towards the capital of the country.

Backed by general Sisi, together with the Russian military private contractor Wagner, which is also involved in eastern Ukraine, and the government of UAE, Haftar is now on the edge of Tripoli and Misrata.

Every European initiative sadly could not lead to an acceptable solution for all stakeholders, in particular with the different positions of France and Italy on the country gas resources and favourable trade relations.

On the ground, weapons continued to flow in the country and air strikes even targeted refugees camps.

In a desperate move, the UN-recognised Libyan government in Tripoli asked for military aid. Only Turkey, a Nato member, agreed and it is now a question of days before deployment, pending the decision of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on what and how many Turkish servicemen to send to Libya.

How many would be enough?

Last Friday (3 Januray) the EU spokesperson, as expected, condemned the decision of the Turkish parliament to authorise military deployments in Libya.

It is, however, imperative to seek, in parallel, every possible way for conciliation with Turkey, if regional war is to be avoided in the eastern Mediterranean.

The current anti-Turkey alliance of Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, while fully understandable, is further isolating and alienating the country with worrying consequences.

A military adventure in Libya without a conditional European agreement would not only worsen the situation but also triggers a high risk of Egyptian-Turkish confrontation in the Mediterranean.

Sisi has been reinforcing the Egyptian navy with German submarines and French Mistral class assault ships during the last four years.

It might not be too long before we see the Turkish ships targeted in the sea by unidentified missiles or its troops on the ground hit by terrorist attacks.

How would the Nato react?

Its indifference would hardly contribute to reinforcing its functioning as an alliance while itself under various threats, including on the Eastern borders.

Turkey, Canada and other members of the Nato are training the Ukrainian soldiers and navy to safeguard the country's territorial integrity and its borders under pressure.

The future of Libya as a democratic, stable and prosperous country requires both functioning democratic institutions and national army. This cannot be achieved by allowing Haftar to establish another authoritarian military regime in Tripoli. We have seen this before.

Italy, with its particular relations with Tripoli and Misrata, and UAE, with its significant influence in Egypt and Libya, can truly play a pivotal role in halting the Haftar offensive.

This would be the first and necessary step before coming back to dialogue. The recent comments of UAE minister of foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, on the necessity "to put wisdom, balance and political solutions above confrontation and escalation" may represent a rare window of opportunity in a particularly dark moment.

It is time for brave decisions to close with this downwards spiral and inverse the trend before it is too late.

"Generals always prepare for the past war" said Winston Churchill. Let's try to avoid the coming one.

Author bio

Dr Mohamed Sameh is a co-founder and advisor for International Relation of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF-Europe) and a former staff of the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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