By Ferhat Polat
Today, Libya is fragmented and polarized, mired in instability and insecurity. As a result, Libya is lacking a unified, representative and legitimate government able to exercise authority throughout the country and hold a monopoly over the use of force.
Main International Players Involved in the Conflict
Despite the United Nations’ attempts to reach a negotiated solution between rival groups and forces, Libya remains divided.
The interference of some international powers and regional actors has been a significant factor in deepening political fragmentation and polarization.
The European Union (EU)
The ongoing conflict has resulted in a steady flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.
This instability has also caused a proliferation of terrorist groups using Libya as a base. In 2017, a deal between Italy, the EU and Libya was signed aimed at stemming the flow of migrants from North Africa to Italy. However, in the past two years more than 4000 people have drowned in the Central Mediterranean alone.
The EU aims to draw all conflicting Libyan parties into negotiations in order to promote a long-standing political solution to prevent a further influx of refugees into EU countries.
Italy has specific interests in Libya as a former colony. Rome therefore wants to preserve and widen its economic interests. Eni, the Italian energy company, has a long presence in Libya and is currently its largest international oil producing company.
This may explain Italy’s displeasure at the interference posed by France. Italy’s far-right Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has accused French President Emmanuel Macron of having supported Khalifa Haftar on behalf of the French energy giant Total.
“My fear is that someone, for economic motives and selfish national interest, is putting at risk the security of North Africa and, as a result, of Europe as a whole,” commented Salvini. Italy has remained supportive of the GNA, at the same time recognising the importance of Haftar’s role in Libya’s future.
Italy is also concerned about the influx of refugees from Libya. For example, last year the Italian government announced an allocation of an additional 80 million Euros to its existing 200-million-Euro Africa fund in order to increase the number of troops stationed in Misrata to fight illegal migration and human trafficking.
The roles of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former British Prime Minister David Cameron were substantial in the removal of Gaddafi from power. Sarkozy considered Gaddafi a threat to French interests in Africa.
For example, Gaddafi’s government intended to use 143 tons of gold which had been accumulated prior to 2011 to establish a pan-African currency pegged on the Libyan golden dinar. This plan would have provided an alternative currency to the French franc (CFA) for Francophone West African countries.
The preservation of French economic interests in Libya and the strengthening of French influence in North Africa were Sarkozy’s main priorities. France’s role in leading the anti-Gaddafi coalition also aimed to promote the interests of Total.
France has supported Haftar as being recognized as a primary actor in Libya because he controls the areas where French interests lie, the oil fields in the east of Libya. France views Libyan oil as cheap to extract and easy to export to Europe.
In May 2018 the French president hosted the Libyan rivals in Paris for his own summit, during which they agreed to hold elections in December 2018. However, the election did not take place.
The efforts of France were poorly coordinated with the UN, and seemed to contradict – at times – the endeavour of the U.N. envoy, Ghassan Salame, who wanted the Libyans to hold a national conference and draft a new constitution before holding elections.
On the other hand, some of Salame’s political moves cast some shadows over his intentions, and whether, wittingly or unwittingly, he is favouring France’s interests in Libya.
For instance, observers fail to elucidate Salame’s sheer indecisiveness over the LNA war crimes in Derna, in contrast with his rapidity and determination to stop Tripoli’s fighting in September 2018.
Moreover, Salame’s lack of reprimands vis-à-vis Haftar’s inflexibility and disruption to the U.N. political process has raised many eyebrows. For example, the U.N. envoy remained supportive of Haftar during last year’s Paris conference despite the latter’s multiple attempts to ruin his own work.
Needless to say that Salame’s political moves seemed aligned more with Paris designs than anything else.
Under Gaddafi, Tripoli and Moscow enjoyed strong relations and significant economic and political cooperation, including arms deals and licensing agreements for Russian oil and gas companies.
More significantly, Russian involvement in Libya has had a historical geopolitical dimension, particularly in Russian’s desire for access to Mediterranean ports. Libya is therefore important to Russia both economically and politically.
As a result, Russia has been strengthening its presence in the country by resuming prior agreements established with the Gaddafi regime. In August 2017 Haftar expressed his readiness to act as a guarantor of all Russian-Libyan military contracts.
The GNA is viewed by the Kremlin as a Western-backed entity. Russia therefore wants to maintain leverage in order to influence the GNA and its sponsors.
Moscow’s largest concern is that if Libya remains the way it is the Kremlin will be excluded from participation in political settlements and therefore lose political and economic influence in post-war Libya.
While Russia has been close to Haftar, in 2017 it also hosted a meeting with al-Sarraj. In a recent meeting between al-Sarraj and the Russian Ambassador to Libya, Ivan Molotkov, the ambassador stated that his country “supported the GNA and expressed his country’s keenness to enhance cooperation and active agreements signed between the two countries” .
Moscow has sought to maintain ties with opposing sides of the Libyan conflict in order to ensure the preservation of Russian interests in any final political settlement. Because of this, Russian could play a significant role in crafting a compromise between rival parties.
Egypt’s policies toward Libya are based on a combination of security concerns, economic interests and regional political considerations.
President AbdelFattah El Sisi continues his aim to marginalise the Muslim Brotherhood at home and abroad, and he sees Haftar as a suitable ally toward this end. Egypt has been assisting Haftar’s forces by supplying arms, logistical support and intelligence.
Egypt relied heavily on the Libyan economy before the 2011 revolution, as a workforce of approximately 2 million Egyptians sent $33 million USD back to their home country.
Additionally, Libya was a reliable source of inexpensive oil. Moreover, Libya had invested over $10 billion in various sectors of the Egyptian economy.
By supporting Haftar, Egypt is widening divisions within the country and making the situation in Libya more problematic. However, keen on protecting its interests, Egypt has played host to talks between Haftar and Sarraj in Cairo.
The United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s ongoing support for Haftar has multiple dimensions. However, it is believed that Abu Dhabi’s counter-revolutionary orientation towards the region is driving the approach of Emirati decision makers.
The UAE has held secret negotiations with Haftar in efforts to export Libyan oil through channels other than the sole exporter approved by the UN, the National Oil Corporation (NOC).
NOC is the only legitimate entity responsible for managing oil under the GNA. The UAE and Haftar had violated U.N. National Security Council resolutions that ban any export of Libyan oil except through the country’s National Oil Co.
Therefore, this has increased international pressure on Haftar to return oil exporting ports to the National Oil Corporation. Furthermore, Libya has several potentially competitive advantages over the UAE, including its strategic location close to Europe and its possession of the largest oil reserves in Africa.
As a result, Libya has the potential to become the new regional hub and financial centre, attract international investment and businesses, and thereby establish a close and convenient alternative to the UAE.
Turkey has a strong desire to establish strong political, economic and cultural relations with the entire African continent. Libya opens a door from the Mediterranean Sea to the interior of Africa. Therefore, Turkey has always tried to maintain a good relationship with Libya.
During the Gaddafi period, both Turkey and Libya worked to the improvement of relations. In 2009, Turkey’s then Minister of Industry and Commerce, Zafer Caglayan, visited Libya with the intention of reaching an agreement about investment, construction and trade.
In 2010, the Libyan Privatization and Investment Board sent a delegation to Istanbul where they discussed the establishment of free trade zones with their Turkish counterparts. Following this meeting an investment forum was held to build corporate relationships between Turkish and Libyan firms.
The two countries have also aimed to increase common investments in Africa in the fields of energy, small and medium-sized enterprises, technology, education, consultancy, banking, transportation, and agriculture.
Turkey has invested billions of dollars in the construction sector of Libya. Between 2009 and 2010, Turkish construction firms were involved in 124 projects in Libya.
In 2008, the trade volume between the two countries was $1.4 billion USD. This rated increased by 57% in 2009, reaching $2.2 billion USD.
According to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, the total value of 304 contracts that Turkish firms could not complete due to the civil war was approximately 15 billion USD.
Many of these projects were at the completion stage. Therefore, Turkish companies were unable to collect their receivables and subsequently left the country.
Prior to his overthrow, the Turkish government had working relations with Gaddafi. Turkey showed interest in maintaining the existing relationship with Gaddafi and held that Libya’s issues had to be solved internally.
Therefore, Ankara initially objected to NATO intervention. The Turkish government contacted Gaddafi on several occasions to persuade him to take into account the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. However, there was no change in Gaddafi’s attitude.
As a result, Turkey’s open dialogue policy changed, and Turkey eventually supported the NATO operation.
Turkish President Erdogan was one of the first world leaders to visit Libya after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. Turkey was the first country to appoint an envoy to the new authorities in Tripoli in September 2011.
At the new government’s request, Turkey immediately became involved in training forces after Gaddafi’s ouster. Turkey wants to be part of the peace process. The Turkish government seems to be concerned that other countries might exploit Libya’s instability for economic gain. Many Libyan dissidents have fled to Turkey.
Istanbul may host as many as 1.2 million Arabs, and over 3 million Syrian refugees now live in Turkey. Many Arab satellite television stations, think tanks and associations are based in Turkey. Istanbul’s Arab Media Association now counts 850 journalists as members.
Therefore, Turkey could play a significant role in the peace process and bring some Libyan rivalling political figures to the negotiating table. There are numerous Libyan activists living in Turkey, many of whom support the GNA.
Turkey’s initial reaction was to refrain from recognising the Tobruk Parliament and government. Then Prime Minister Erdogan’s reaction in 2014 was that “Turkey could not accept the Libyan legislature meeting in Tobruk,” and Ankara has maintained its support for the GNC.
As a result, the Tobruk-based government reacted negatively and claimed blatant interference in Libyan internal affairs. Haftar also called for all Turkish citizens to leave Libya, especially in the oil-rich East.
Haftar’s oppositional stance toward Turkey has led to the deterioration of relations on both sides. However, in 2017 a delegation from Libya’s Tobruk-based House of Representatives visited Ankara and expressed its intention to cooperate closely with Turkey in order to resolve their differences.
Another purpose of the visit was to reassure Turkish businesses that their receivables from Libya were guaranteed.
The United Kingdom (U.K.)
The U.K. became involved with Libya for several reasons, one of which was to impede Gaddafi’s influence in Africa. However, the UK Foreign Affairs Committee report, which was published in 2016, criticised former British Prime Minister David Cameron, saying that he was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya strategy.
According to Stephen Hickey, UK Political Coordinator at the UN, it is clear that a military solution to Libya’s problems will not bring the long-term peace and stability, which the country needs.
Therefore, all Libyans should come together in a spirit of compromise and engage in the UN-led political process. The UK government has been supportive of the UN-backed alSerraj government. However, during the past two years the U.K. has kept a low profile about its involvement in Libya.
Continues in Part 3
Ferhat Polat is a Deputy Researcher at the TRT World Research Centre. He is a PhD researcher in North African Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Exeter with a particular focus on Turkish Foreign Policy.