26 Aug 2014

Neither dawn nor dignity in Libya

Here’s the story so far: in 2011, Libyan revolutionaries overthrew the dictatorship of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi with a little help from the air forces of the US, France and Britain.

Roll on three years, and instead of installing a democratic government and building up a functioning state, the revolutionaries are fighting each other in Tripoli.¬†Libya’s recently elected House of Representatives has fled to the eastern city of Tobruk as the capital is so violent and dangerous.

Libya’s neighbours look on with growing distress – the borders are porous, the country is awash with weapons, and jihadi groups have forged links with al-Qaeda and Isis.

While western countries are pinning their hopes on mediation between rival political factions, the United Arab Emirates is reported to have taken the law into its own hands and bombarded Islamist positions in Tripoli on Saturday. Egypt denies involvement, but US sources say the UAE used Egyptian military bases.

The raids were ineffectual – militia from the port city of Misrata, allied with Islamists in what they call Operation Dawn, seized the airport a few hours later. But it revealed the regional ramifications of this messy struggle.

The UAE armed and funded the revolutionaries who overthew Gaddafi, especially those from the town of Zintan in Libya’s western Nafousa mountains. Qatar also armed and funded rebels, but it concentrated on brigades in the east who were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and some Salafi or extremist groups.

A building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, burns after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district in Tripoli

A building on fire, which witnesses say was hit by a rocket, after clashes between rival militias in the Sarraj district in Tripoli, 23 August 2014

Religious and secular, west and east, UAE and Qatar, all came together against Gaddafi but now they have fallen apart.

The leader of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bn Zayed Al Nahyan, has long feared destabilisation by Islamists at home. In Libya he’s backing retired General Khalifa Heftar, who leads a coalition called Operation Dignity, fighting to prevent an Islamist takeover.

The Qatari government financed the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and has been accused of supporting jihadis in Syria. Many Libyans believe the Qataris still support Islamist factions in Libya.

Tomorrow the UN Security Council is likely to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Libya, a strengthening of the arms embargo, and the imposition of sanctions on those inciting violence. Britain is leading an attempt at mediation between the warring factions, hoping that politicians can persuade the armed groups to lay down their weapons.

Dignity and Dawn – Libya’s rival factions – have such elegant names. But as long as they keep fighting, pulling in neighbouring powers, Libyans have no chance of the new dawn nor the life of dignity the 2011 revolution promised.

Lindsey Hilsum’s book Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution was published by Faber and Faber in 2012

Follow @lindseyhilsum on Twitter

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3 reader comments

  1. Nikos Retsos says:

    Sorry, Lindsey, but Khalifa Hiftar is not the UAE’s mercenary in Libya; it is the CIA’s mercenary. Helping Khalifa Hiftar take over Libya militarily is akin to the CIA’s and the British Intelligence bribes to Iranian General Fazlollah Zahedi to overthrow Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and install the Shah Reza Pahlevi as tyrant of Iranians and looter of Iran’s oil riches.
    After the failure of the CIA’s effort to overthrow the Chad government in 1981 with Khalifa Hiftar as leader of the CIA operation, Hiftar was moved to the U.S. by the CIA, and lived close to the CIA headquarters – probably on a CIA pension like former Kourdish leader Moustafa Barzani, also a CIA pensioner. The Shah’s son, Reza Pahlevi, Jr. has also been living close to the CIA and contributed to the CIA’s effort with the MTK mercenary group to overthrow the Islamic Republic, hoping that if successful the CIA would have appointed him as Iran’s new Shah- like it had done with his father.

    Hiftar’s resurfacing in Libya was certainly on another CIA mission to take over after Gaddafi. He bragged about that he wanted to clean up the Islamists who had won the majority election in the Libyan Congress and take over Libya, and that means that he was not there for democracy, but as a U.S. stooge like the late Shah of Iran.

    I don’t see how the Libyan neighbors are in distress. Tunisia has a elected government where the Islamists are the majority. I don’t see how they see the Libyan Islamists as a problem. Egypt’s U.S. puppet dictator surely don’t like the Islamists, as the U.S. don’t too. If Egyptian and UAE airplanes bombed the nationalist militia, the Misrata Council who contributed the most to overthrow Gaddafi, then it was either at the U.S. request, or encouragement. This is the first time in history that the tiny UAE state carried airstrikes thousands of miles away from it home base, and cannot believe it was spontaneous. Another reason I don’t believe it is the fact that the U.S. pretends to complain of the UAE bombing of Libya to help the CIA’s man Khalifa Hiftar mission there. It just offends the intelligence of any person who knows the U.S. policy in Middle East and its geopolitical and oil objectives there. Nikos Retsos, retired professor, Chicago

    1. libyan says:

      @Nikos_Restos: Go home you’re drunk ;)

  2. anon says:

    Thought your reporting on the situation the other night was spot on. going back a few nights before to the comments re the General # on what could be done re events in Iraq, one thought would be to simply disarm rthe lot of them

    no weapons =no war

    supplies of weapons could be interdicted #? ,(is that the military term referred to by the General) anyway in this case on their journey to Libya,

    few weapons could get through if the International community worked on this and —I am certain—- Russia would help ——if asked—, ask them?

    the fighting would peter out, they could throw rocks at each other thats about lal,

    and also crucially if the UN has to send peacekeepers in there, it owuld be much easier and safer if the people doing the killing have no weapons or poor weapons and we have the best weapons, drones etc available

    this might well help bring peace elswhere in the World

    starve war of the fuel that fans the flames,

    one of these fuels is weapons with which to fight

    Thank you to everyone at Channel 4 News for your excellent and courageous work,

    I think the Dawn is coming Ms Hilsum

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