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Libya’s War: No Peace During the Global Pandemic

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The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has rejected a unilateral ceasefire offered by the renegade general, Khalifa Haftar, in Libya. A spokesperson for the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) declared the truce on the occasion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The announcement comes after the LNA, who is ruling the eastern part of the country, suffered serious losses in recent weeks.

A divided country

The resource-abundant country of Libya has been in turmoil since 2011. Three years after the so-called “Arab Spring” revolution, 2014 saw the establishment of two rival administrations, the GNA in the West, and the House of Representatives in the East. Most Western countries recognize the Tripoli based GNA, which is led by Fayez al-Sarraj. Libya is not only rich in resources, but it is also rich culturally, having a diverse ethnic composition. That makes governing more difficult. Besides various Arab clans, the country is inhabited by Tuaregs, other Berber tribes, and the Tebou.

Last year, Haftar started an offensive in April, to take over Tripoli. This took the international community by surprise, as the action was started a few days before a UN peace conference on Libya was due. Although he promised it would be a swift campaign, one year later he still has not succeeded. On the contrary, it seems that the LNA is losing a lot of territories. In March, as the novel coronavirus started spreading in Africa too, the intensity of the fighting did not decline but increased. It seems that the military leader is not the kind of person who wants to share power.

Government forces reclaiming ground

GNA fighters have recaptured more than six cities in just seven hours, on April 13. One of the strategic cities is Sabratha. Whoever controls Sabratha, can gain access to other cities and areas in the West. It also makes it easier to control the international coastal highway, which links Tripoli to the Tunisian border. Sources told Al Jazeera that Sudanese and Chadian soldiers also died in the battles. This new success of the government forces can be attributed to Turkish aerial support. Turkish drone strikes also help the GNA by undercutting their enemies’ supply chains. But why are we talking about the Turkish, Sudanese, or the Chadian forces in Libya? And who else is involved in this conflict?

How did Libya become a proxy-war?

The civil war in Libya is not merely a fight between two opposing sides of one country. It has evolved into a proxy-war, with international players taking different sides and using the conflict for their own interests. The LNA, which has at least an estimated 25 000 soldiers, is supported by the UAE, Russia, Egypt, France, and Saudi Arabia. On the other side, al-Sarraj is aided by Ankara, Italy, and the United Nations. Both Italy and Turkey are involved for the same reason, which is the “black gold” – oil. Italy always had a strong interest in Libya. Its oil and gas company, ENI, has been working there for decades. Similarly, Turkey wants the GNA to survive, to obtain drilling rights in the Mediterranean Sea.

During Bashir’s rule in Sudan, some troops have been sent unofficially to fight with Haftar, and they seem to be present now too. Just last week, Sudan was accused of secretly receiving Emirati security officials, to raise support and recruit people for Haftar. The Sudanese government denied any such actions.

The Turks are the only party who admitted publicly that they sent military personnel to the war-driven region. “Turkey is there with a training force. There are also people from the Syrian National Army” – said President Erdogan in February. Russia, however, denies that they are contributing to the conflict by sending troops. This is despite the existence of Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor, within the borders of Libya. The sad reality of the Middle East is shown by reports, in which Russia is also recruiting Syrians to the North-African state.

This means that Syrians might meet each other in a foreign country, on the opposing fronts of a civil war.

Egypt and the UAE are against the GNA, due to its links to political Islam, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey and the UAE have been in a regional power struggle for years and the newest scene of it is unfolding in Libya.

Haftar to take on “popular mandate” to govern Libya

In 2015, the UN helped broker a deal, called the “Lybian Political Agreement” (LPA) or “Skhirat Agreement”. Up until now, this has been the basis of any power-sharing agreement and the functioning of the political system. On April 27, the rebel leader announced the abandonment of the agreement, stating he has a “popular mandate” to rule the country. “We announce our acceptance of the people’s will and mandate, and the end of the Skhirat Agreement”. He also added: “The political agreement destroyed the country”.

This move can create confusion and backfire, as the LNA is the official army of the Parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR). They appointed Haftar to be the leader of the military. But the HoR also accepts the LPA, so by attacking the agreement, Haftar might undermine his legitimacy. Again, this shows how unpredictable a leader he is.

No peace in sight

Peace initiatives have failed repeatedly during recent months. Even after the arrival of the novel coronavirus, there is no rest in sight for Libyans. While Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan, in this North African country the fighting is continuing. World powers have despised Haftar’s unilateral move, with the GNA calling it a “coup”. The EU’s spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said: “Any attempt to push forward a unilateral solution, even more by force, will never provide a sustainable solution for the country.” He reiterated that the Skhirat Agreement “remains the viable framework for a political solution in Libya until amendments or replacements are found”.

Think about the long run

Khalifa Haftar thought he would take in Tripoli quickly. It has since become clear that the military powers of the two sides are more even than expected. This is especially due to the foreign interference, which we detailed earlier. However, a recent article of the Institute for Security Studies Africa (ISS Africa), rightly points out that instead of focusing on whether Haftar can win the rivalry, we should focus on how a future Libya would look like with Haftar or without him. The commentary indicates that a Libya without the GNA would remain a weak state, with robust criminal and potential terrorist activities.

Sadly, there are also clear signs that Salafist movements, supporting jihad, are gaining more ground in both camps, taking up high positions. This leaves us with only hoping that whether through military interventions or by other means, the warring sides will eventually sit down, coming to a table, to look for a non-violent, political solution for a peaceful, united Libya.


The author of this article is Aron Lovas, International Business Economics (BSc) student at Budapest Business School. Aron is an Associate at International Diplomatic Student Association and Editor at IDSA Foreign Affairs Newsletter.


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