Peace in Libya is a comforting lie

Military confrontation and power politics are sketching the hard truth

Diplomatic efforts by Russia, Turkey and Germany to put an end in Libya crisis are bringing to the global foreground an issue buried since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. Nobody can argue that achieving peace is not a fundamentally ultimate goal. Nevertheless, the implications for such a cause are far from a reality that the Libyan people are coping with since 2011.

Implementing a ceasefire to halt the hostilities between disputed parties is an essential step towards peacemaking. But the real hindrance can be traced in the peacebuilding process. There are countless conflicts in the world where a ceasefire was implemented but no peace and viable resolution was ever achieved (Cyprus, Transnistria, Abkhazia to name a few). The thing is that Libya cannot be treated as such. The oil rich country is encompassed with tremendous economic and political value in terms of global and regional competition. Not to mention that a fragile and temporary ceasefire will suffer the fate of the ones that have been implemented in Syria and Yemen all these years.

Back in 2011, western interventionism created a massive chaos in the war-torn country. The American and French deep states decided that it was time to get rid of the long-term Gaddafi reign for a greater energy share in the region. And it all happened within a humanitarian context that resulted in an acclaimed rise of Islamist powers both political and terrorist. Libya fell into the vortex of civil war in order for the vacuum power created by the abovementioned situation to be filled. After a failed reconciliation and vast factional violence, the first phase of the war came to an end. In 2014, the legislative branch was seized by the Gaddafi loyalist field marshal Khalifa Haftar, marking the second phase of the war that lasts up until today.

Haftar denounced the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and claimed legitimate representation of Libya by establishing the House of Representatives (HoR) authority based in Tobruk. Loyal to secularism, General Haftar swore to eradicate Islamism from the country that was flowing rich both in GNA and in the extremist-controlled mainland. Meanwhile, the international community sought to rush peacemaking mechanisms to resolve the crisis and recognized GNA as the legitimate Libyan authority. But yet another time, the conditions for peacebuilding were absent as the Libyan crisis was overshadowed by the situation in Syria. Nobody raised stakes for Haftar but the regional allies of UAE and Egypt, whose interests matched those of the HoR’s.

The following years, Haftar conquered the majority of Libya by fighting against Islamist powers. In 2019, Haftar began an offensive to capture Tripoli. By that time, EU managed to halt migrant flows by supporting GNA. Italy played a major role in this part as an anti-immigration power, while France differentiated its stance and put its faith in Haftar protecting its oil interests. Russia and Turkey involved to uphold their agenda of expanding their influence in the broader region, backing militarily Haftar and GNA accordingly. This complex situation left the USA without much options but to establish connections with HoR’s appraised field marshal. In this farrago of conflicting interests, a mutually beneficial solution is a utopian concept.

The differences between GNA and HoR are massive to be bridged at the present moment. Haftar discarded the ceasefire deal in Moscow and continued its Tripoli offensive. Khalifa Haftar cannot coexist with GNA prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj in a situation which power is shared among them. That is unless Tripoli abandons the Islamist agenda and obey Tobruk’s authority. HoR has the upper hand of influence, military and economic power as well as regional and international support. At the end of the day, Sarraj is extremely dependent on one actor involved in the conflict (Turkey) while Haftar enjoys multilevel backing (Russia, France, UAE, Egypt). Stability will be restored in Libya realistically after Haftar wins the war by military means and enforce an order much like Sisi have done in Egypt.

Ironically, just as happened in Syria, western intervention backfired and the Gaddafi order will be restored. That is if the parties involved want to achieve peace, at least by ending hostilities, in a fast and pragmatic way. Of course, diplomacy and dialogue are integral parts of this process and that’s why the upcoming Berlin Conference is a step forward. But nothing permanent can come out of it.