When Doha hosted the first meeting of the Libya Contact Group (LCG) in April 2011, the then British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague, co-chairing the meeting, suggested an ‘international fund’ to support the rebels trying to overthrow Colonel Gaddafi. The LCG decided that the Interim National Council (INC) ought to meet with the LCG as it was the ‘legitimate interlocutor’.
The INC was formed by the rebels and Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French President, had recognized it as the ‘sole representative of the Libyan people’. The meeting was attended by 21 countries, the United Nations (UN), Arab League, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), European Union (EU), Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States (GCC). All but the Libyan people and Qatar’s Crown Prince made a statement asking Gaddafi to step down.
A month earlier, United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) Foreign Minister had said in a special GCC ministerial meeting called for on Libya, ‘We call on the international community, especially the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), to face their responsibilities in helping the dear people of Libya’.
The INC was formed by the rebels and Nicolas Sarkozy, the then French President, had recognized it as the ‘sole representative of the Libyan people’.
In the Operation Unified Protector (March-October 2011), in addition to NATO members, Qatar, UAE and Jordan operated their aircrafts from Crete and Italy, and Turkey took part with its maritime fleet. In October, Gaddafi was tortured and his corpse displayed on international media. Months before that, Obama had ordered $25 million in aid to the rebel held areas and eased sanctions against Libya to allow for the sale of oil controlled by the rebels. The first sale of 1.2 million barrels of Libyan crude oil was made in June, perhaps because that was the most urgent humanitarian need of the Libyan people.
So much confidence by the international community in the rebels was not without reason. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), the main rebel group led by Abdelhakim Belhaj and other Libyan dissidents, had been harboured in the United Kingdom (UK) for years. The Libyan Day of Rage had been announced by its political wing, the National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (NCLO) that had been formed in June 2005.
Though the National Transitional Council (NTC) created by the rebel forces, had been armed and funded by the United States (US) and European allies especially Britain, Qatar had been a major supporter of the rebels and Kuwait gave $180 million soon after its formation. Though all GCC members were of one voice in the bid to oust Gaddafi, soon after his demise Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt parted ways from Qatar and rallied behind ex-Gaddafi General Khalifa Haftar, now leading the Libyan National Army (LNA).
Because of such bipolarity, the UN-NATO-rebel backed government in Tripoli kept dwindling. The House of Representatives, an integral part of the Tripoli government, relocated to Tobruk in 2014, allying with Haftar. To fill the gap, another panel of leaders was called in from abroad in 2016, when Fayez al-Sarraj along with six other members of the Presidential Council, were ferried in to Tripoli from Tunisia; as the President of the General National Congress (GNC). In spite of foreign aid to Tripoli, the LNA has consistently taken in more Libyan territory under its control, attracting more international sympathizers.
The Saudi backing of the LNA comes from its loathing of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom it deems are in support of the rebels. The Saudis want to replay the anti-Morsi formula that was used in Egypt, wherein the ex-Mubarak general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was returned to power after ousting the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s socialist leaning has always troubled the Saudis. The diplomatic crisis with Qatar since 2017 also has its roots in a similar natured clash; between a conservative/moderate Saudi camp and a revolutionary/democratic Qatar camp that has backed groups like the Hamas and Hezbollah for their fervent ideologies. It is worth noting that Maldives, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti, the Comoros, Jordan, the Tobruk government and Mansur Hadi’s Yemeni government all joined the Saudis in boycotting Qatar, making it a quasi-global move.
The Saudis want to replay the anti-Morsi formula that was used in Egypt, wherein the ex-Mubarak general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was returned to power after ousting the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the meantime, Italy and France became divided in Libya, perhaps reflecting their former history in the country. Italy was the former colonizer of Libya till 1947, when the Allied forces took it from them. France on the other hand, still enjoys political influence and military presence in several ex-Francophone African colonies including Chad, Mali and Niger etc. France’s continued presence in North and West Africa perhaps endowed it with the prescience that helped it foresee Haftar as the obvious victor of the Libyan disaster, therefore making its oil deals with the Eastern oilfields. In 2011, French Foreign<minister Alain Juppé said it would be ‘fair and logical’ for France’s companies to benefit from Libyan oil because they had done so much for the Libyan people. In similar vein, it would seem fair and logical to buy from Haftar too as it is Libyan oil after all. But Eni S.p.A, an Italian multinational, in its naivety, has kept all its stakes tied with Tripoli.
In fact, France closed its embassy in Tripoli in 2014 and the US-French-British allegiance with Tripoli has dwindled since 2016, when news of their forces fighting for Haftar came out. No wonder then that the so-called UN backed Tripoli apparatus has a bleak future. Most international players have come to a consensus that the rebels they had backed are actually the terrorists. According to a recent statement by the French Foreign Minister, France ‘…does not ignore the role of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar in the fight against terrorism’. In a stark reversal in US foreign policy, Trump has recognized Haftar’s ‘significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources’, as the two discussed a ‘shared vision for Libya’s transition to a stable, democratic political system’.
It seems that the international consensus, in ousting Gaddafi, was actually a consensus for the replacement of one strongman for another; only that the new one ought to have been more malleable to the ‘international community’. Certainly, Haftar would have learned his lesson from Gaddafi’s inflexibility which led to continued sanctions on the country and a halt to its oil exports. He must have had made promises of a smooth oil flow to his international sympathizers and a strongman would be able to curb the needs of his people in the process; that too quite amicably.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, around 200,000 people remained internally displaced as of 2018; owing much to armed groups carrying out extrajudicial executions, attacks on civilians and their properties, abductions and torture. Civilian and military courts are operating in a reduced capacity and are closed down entirely in some parts of the country. Additionally, Libya remains a major hub for refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Do these facts compel the global forces to realize how wrong they were in their actions in Libya or are they still as adamant as the first day when NATO Secretary General, in October 2011, self-righteously asserted, ‘…you have already started writing a new chapter in the history of Libya. A new Libya based on freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law and reconciliation’.
It seems that the international consensus, in ousting Gaddafi, was actually a consensus for the replacement of one strongman for another; only that the new one ought to have been more malleable to the ‘international community’.
It is becoming increasingly clear that in time, international organizations and forums have become so emboldened in their unilateral righteousness, as to be able to treat any targeted nation, like an object void of conscious self-recognition, and that in imposing upon this nation their own form of democratic liberation they have distorted the very essence of democracy for them. In ousting Gaddafi, international stakeholders may have resolved their issues, but the people of Libya were left devastated and in ruins.
It is suffice to conclude that in a globalized world, international organizations, regimes and platforms have taken upon themselves the crusade of delivering democratic ideals upon members of the global community in a manner that is not necessarily democratic for the target nation but something quite the opposite. Libya is a living example of today’s globalized political framework where decisions have been made in global platforms that posed to be the real representatives of the Libyan people, when in reality the real people of Libya have had neither a voice nor a face on any of those platforms.
Aneela Shahzad is a geopolitical analyst who frequently writes for Express Tribune and Daily Pakistan Global. She serves as an editor at Maritime Study Forum.