The Libyan scene has become one of the most complicated files in the Middle East.
Perhaps, the most important complications of the scene lie in the confusion of understanding the Libyan issue due to:
- the acceleration of so many events,
- the changing names of the acting entities,
- the changes in acting figures
- the changing names of the sovereign institutions in the country and the dispute among them,
- and the bias of countries towards one of the conflicting parties, which automatically affects the media outlets of such countries and the way of their coverage of events, as well as the recognition of legitimacies.
There are now three governments in Libya, which do not recognize each other, including two governments in the Libyan capital Tripoli, in western Libya, and one in the eastern Libyan city of El-Bayda. Each government is affiliated to a certain entity that considers itself the official legitimate body, namely, the Presidential Council of the Government of the National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk. Also, each one of the various armed battalions and entities support a certain body of these actors, while their stances always change in accordance with the interests, variables, and political decisions.
The armed battalions and entities are considered the main focal points in the Libyan scene, and the axis of the current changes. The two most significant among these entities, which have apparent effects, are: the Misrata forces in western Libya, and the forces of Hfter in eastern Libya. They are two opposing fronts, and each of them has its own supporters – whether in the east or in the west – and they fight against each other in many fronts, in addition to their political differences. Also, many Libyan armed forces and entities change the names of their battalions and their forces for more than one time mostly due to political variables. So, we see in the media the names of many entities, which leads to confusion. However, when we look more closely, we find that sometimes many of these names refer to a single entity.
Also, the emergence of the Islamic State “Daesh” in Libya – despite its weak capabilities, compared to its position in other places – has confused the Libyan scene and increased the division problems and the polarization fronts. In addition, Libya has turned to a central spot for the operations of illegal immigration. These two issues were exploited by the foreign countries to intervene in Libya. Among these foreign countries, which sent military forces to Libya, are the United States, Britain, Italy and France, along with the EU’s naval operation Sophia which is currently in control of the Libyan territorial waters.
All of these reasons, as well as others, have led to the confusion of the Libyan scene.
We will attempt here to clarify some points and definitions, and discuss some axes that may contribute to reaching an understanding of the Libyan issue.
Basic definitions of active entities in Libya:
- Operation Dignity:
The “Operation Dignity” troops are the forces under the command of retired Major General Khalifa Haftar, along with other forces that are loyal to him. General Haftar led a coup attempt in February 14, 2014 and announced the dissolution of the Libyan General National Congress (GNC) –the parliament– and called his move “Operation Dignity”. Among the most forces loyal to him in the west are: Al-Qaqa’ Brigade, Al-Sawaiq Brigade (Lightning), and The Tribal Army. Haftar, who calls his troops ” the national army”, is politically supported by the Libyan House of Representatives (HoR) –the parliament– in Tobruk, and the interim government in El-Bayda.
- Libya Dawn:
Libya Dawn is a coalition of entities and military forces, mostly from Tripoli and Misrata, including: ‘Libya Shield’, ‘Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room’, and the Misrata Forces. This coalition was established to stand against Dignity Operation, launched by Haftar, but it is no longer existing.
- Al-Bonian Al-Marsous Operation Forces:
Al-Bonian Al-Marsous forces are a coalition of forces mostly from the city of Misrata, which was formed in order to involve in the military operation launched by the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) against the Islamic State, and expel the terrorist organization out of the coastal area of Sirte, with an international political and military support under an American air cover.
- Legislative entities and governments:
- The General National Congress, based in Tripoli, and followed by the National Salvation Government in Tripoli.
- The House of Representatives, based in Tobruk, and followed by the interim government, in El-Bayda.
- The GNA Presidential Council, based in Tripoli, and followed by the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
- The High Council of State, based in Tripoli, is an executive and advisory body, formed in Libya upon the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement in Skhirat under the United Nations auspices. The members of the council are nominated by the 2014 General National Congress, who have agreed to Skhirat agreement. The High Council of State can express binding opinions on the Government of National Accord and the House of Representatives in certain circumstances.
- The General National Congress is the legislative power in Libya since it was elected on July 7, 2012 and received power on August 8, 2012 from the National Interim Council. It consists of 200 members. On August 4, 2014, Izz al-Din al-Awami, the vice-president of the General National Congress, handed over the legislative power from the General National Congress to the elected House of Representatives in Tobruk, in eastern Libya. However, an appeal was filed to the Supreme Constitutional Court on the delivery method, which was also opposed by the president of the General National Congress and the majority of its members. A court ruling was then issued on dissolving the House of Representatives due to unconstitutional actions during elections. Accordingly, the General National Congress continued in performing its work. And since then, Libya has got two legislative councils: the General National Congress in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives in Tobruk.
Each entity has its own government; the House of Representatives has the Interim Government, based in El-Bayda, eastern Libya, and the General National Congress has the National Salvation Government, based in Tripoli, western Libya.
At the end of 2015, an agreement was signed between the Libyan parties in the Moroccan city of Skhirat, known as the “Skhirat agreement” to form a National Accord Government and a Presidential Council backed by the United Nations. However, both the president of the General National Congress in Tripoli, Nuri Bo-Sahmain, and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Akila Saleh, opposed the agreement. The Libyan Government of National Accord headed by Fayez Al-Seraj entered Tripoli in March 2015, increasing the tension between different political and military parties.
But after a period of time, the Government of National Accord had control over the capital, Tripoli, after international and internal agreements, particularly with Misrata – while the National Salvation Government exited the capital.
In mid-October 2016, Prime Minister of the National Salvation Government returned to Tripoli and controlled the headquarters of the High Council of State, in cooperation with the Presidential Security Service, which was assigned to protect the headquarters. Prime Minister of the Government of National Salvation Khalifa al-Ghawil then announced the return of his government to act from Tripoli after its absence from the political scene in the country for months.
The most important armed entities in Libya:
We will divide the entities, according to regions, into: entities in the west, particularly Misurata and Tripoli, entities in the east, particularly Benghazi and Derna, and entities in the south.
Armed entities in the West:
Misrata City contains the largest armed force in Libya, where there are about 200 armed battalions, led by about 40 regular army officers, giving them great experience in organizing the troops and engaging in battles. The battalions act under the chairmanship of General Staff. Among the strongest military entities in Misrata, are:
- Misratan Halbous and Mahjoub brigades: which are considered the strongest battalions in Misrata and in Libya in general.
- Libya Shield Battalions: which consist of the Central Region Shield Brigade, based in Misrata, the Eastern Region Shield Brigade in Benghazi, and the Western Region Shield in Al-Khums and Tripoli
- Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room is a gathering, which includes some revolutionaries who participated in the revolution. It has great influence in Tripoli, and was one of the participants of Operation Libya Dawn. The grouping does not recognize the Government of the National Accord, and some Libyan researchers connect it to the ‘shields’, or it is defined as ‘shields’. However, some say that it has no presence on the ground, but it is only a media platform and a name circulated in the media.
- The Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade is led by Haitham Tagouri, and is known for being “on demand”. During the past period, it fought against forces from Misrata that were responsible for guarding the Intelligence Service building in Tripoli, but it is not loyal to Haftar.
- The Rada’ (Deterrence) Special Forces [Nawasi Battalion] are led by Abdel Raouf Karh, north-east of Tripoli, and are responsible for maintaining security in Tripoli. They are also in touch with the United States over the anti-terrorism file.
- Al-Sawaiq (Lightning) and Al-Qaqa Brigades were founded at the hands of former Defense Minister Osama al-Juwaili in January 2012 in defiance of the establishment of Misrata Brigade, to bring about a balance of power in western Libya. These troops are mostly descending from Zintan City, about 160 km from the capital Tripoli. The two battalions comprise elements from the regular Libyan army during the rule of Gaddafi, and leaders of the revolutionaries in the western mountain fronts during the battles of liberation in 2011.These entities are known for being loyal to the retired General Khalifa Haftar, and they supported him in the Operation Dignity that he previously launched. They are also known for being hostile to Misrata forces. Also, they have previously threatened the Libyan General National Congress (parliament), and were later expelled from Tripoli after fierce battles against what was known as Operation Libya Dawn.
- The Tribal Army consists of fighters from Zintan and Warshefana. It includes three different divisions: one with the former regime, another with Haftar, and the last one with the revolutionaries.
Armed entities in the East:
- Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries:The Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries is a coalition of entities for fighting Operation Dignity of Haftar. The council comprises:a) The 17 February Battalion, which was founded by Muslim Brotherhood members,b) Rafallah al-Sahati Battalion in Benghazi,c) Ansar al-Sharia group, which has branches in Ben Ghazi, Derna, and Sabratha,
d) And the Libya Martyrs Brigade.
- Cyrenaica Province Forces:
They are forces that were affiliated with the so-called ‘Cyrenaica Political Bureau’ which was aimed at establishing a federal for the eastern regions. They also include the guards of the oil ports, who took control of four oil ports and were able to reduce Libya’s oil exports to levels that were about to force Tripoli to announce bankruptcy. The province troops were concentrated in Sirte basin and Tobruk, to the far east of Libya. They also control oil wells in the south-west. Part of these forces is affiliated with Haftar and the House of Representatives, and the other part is with the Government of the National Accord. However, Haftar forces currently controls the whole region.
- The National Army Forces: (Forces loyal to the retired General Khalifa Haftar):These forces assist Haftar in fighting the troops of the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries, in addition to fighting the Libyan forces in the west. The most important of these entities are:a- Battalion-204 Tanks,b- Al-Sa’iqa (commandos) Battalion 21 [Al-Zawya martyrs],
c- and Al-Tawheed Salafist Battalion.
- Jihadist Brigades in Derna:
a) Forces of Mujahideen Shura Council in Derna: They are found in Derna. Although Haftar forces seized control of most of eastern Libya, but they have not been able to control Derna yet.b) Abu Salim Martyrs Battalion in Derna.c) Islamic Youth Shura Council: It is located in Derna and swore allegiance to the Islamic State organization (Daesh)
d) Tahkim al-Shari’a Army: It is active in the east.
Armed entities in the south:
a- There is the Tuareg Tribe in the south, which is loyal to the revolution and has extensions in Chad and Niger
b- There is the Tabu Tribe in the south, which is loyal to Haftar.
There are clashes between the Tuareg and the Tabu, and some Tabu leaders are known for their strong ties with France
The international role in Libya:
1- The USA:
The United States supports the operations of the Al-Bonian Al-Marsous troops, which are politically affiliated with the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord, in their war against Daesh in Sirte, through targeted air strikes, upon the request of the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Fayez Al-Seraj, and through some of the intelligence operations on the ground. Also, there are US AFRICOM forces at the Air Force Academy in Misrata.
The United States is also concerned with the access of oil export funds to the Central Bank of Libya under the authority of the Government of the National Accord in Tripoli to finance the operations of Al-Bonian Al-Marsous in the fight against al Daesh in Sirte, in addition to funding the US air strikes there. The US had condemned the takeover of the oil crescent region by the forces of the retired General Khalifa Haftar, and issued a statement together with several other countries, calling for the withdrawal of Haftar forces immediately without any conditions. They even threatened to prevent exporting the Libyan oil; then they later announced support for the return of exporting the oil on condition that the revenues go to the Central Bank of Libya.
Italy has a historic link to Libya, as well as great interests there. The Libyan oil and gas are very important and sensitive to Italy, where the Italian imports of Libyan oil used to represent about 20% to 30%, and its imports of the Libyan gas reached about 10%. However, this was troubled after the outbreak of the revolution in Libya in 2011. The Italian oil company, Eni, is one of the largest oil companies in Libya, controlling about 50% of oil investments in Libya.
One of the most vital and dangerous topics for the West is that Libya has become a center for sending hundreds of thousands of refugees to Europe, especially Italy. The Italian island of Lampedusa has also become a center for coordinating immigrant delegations, which put a lot of pressure on Italy. The issue of immigration has become a worrying problem to Europe.
Italy allows the US forces to use its military airports for launching its air strikes against Daesh in Sirte. Also, there are many reports about the presence of Italian troops in the west of Libya and in Sirte. However, the Italian government continues to deny, and it always affirms that the troops stationed there are for medical assistance, removing mines, and training the Libyan forces.
Britain has recently intervened in Libya dramatically for several reasons, including:
a- it is one of the founders of the state of modern Libya,
b- it is responsible for the Libyan file in the Security Council,
c- its contribution to the NATO operation,
d- its growing fears of illegal immigration,
e- to reduce France’s escalating power and growing influence in Africa,
f- and the most important reason is to devote its presence on the international arena, especially after its exit from the European Union.
There are British military forces in Libya, including intelligence forces.
There is strong link between Britain and the west of Libyan, particularly Misrata, because Britain sees in Misrata a big influencing force on the Libyan scene in general. Also, there are big British oil investments in Libya. British will focus in the coming period on the projects of infrastructure, energy, and the financial sector in Libya.
4- Germany, Spain
Germany relies on the Libyan oil. It used to import 14% of the Libyan oil exports according to the statistics of 2011, as the second oil importer among the European countries after Italy.
Spain imports 9% of the Libyan oil exports, in addition to the liquefied gas. Spain also has investments in the oil sector in Libya.
Both countries have fears of the illegal immigration; we clearly note their existence in the Libyan scene.
5- France, Russia and the conflicting interests:
France has a historic role in the south of Libya, as well as in Algeria and Tunisia. It also has a significant presence in Africa, and it controls the resources in both Chad and Niger. France mostly focuses on “uranium” in Africa. It is interested in securing the road from Chad via Niger and Algeria all the way to France. This road is considered France’s strategic trade route, where it is interested in its protection and security.
As for the French presence in the south of Libya, and its interest there, France is keen on having control over the Libyan gas reserves to send the product to the homeland via its strategic road in Africa, and become a gas exporter to Europe, competing with Russia. This project was present at the time of Gaddafi, but Gadhafi then fabricated a conflict in Chad to prevent its existence.
Hence, Russia feels a significant threat, since it is the largest exporter of gas to Europe, and due to the fact that the French project will decrease the importance of Russian gas in the region, especially in Europe. Russia could also lose one of its greatest political cards in the international system.
There are also many fears of the presence of the Islamic State (Daesh) organization in the region, its geographical expansion, and its conflict with al-Qaeda on acquiring new members. There are also clashes on the border, posing risks to foreign interests in these countries, so we find many interventions.
France also supports Haftar in eastern Libya, and has a strong presence in Benina Airport, in Benghazi. The Government of National Accord (GNA) had denounced the presence of French troops on the Libyan territory, and its continuing interventions. This prompted France to change its policies in Libya through adopting a friendly relationship with the GNA, and offering its help in the war on terror, in order to find a justification for its official intervention in Libya without international constraints, especially as the GNA is the only official political body which is internationally recognized.
France has strong ties with the Tabu tribe, which extends in Chad and Niger, and enjoys a good relationship with the rebel groups in the region, such as the Sudanese ‘Justice and Equality’ rebel group.
As for Russia, it is watching carefully the developments of the Libyan scene. Russia had denounced the US air strikes there, as well as the US and British presence. Also, it has recently conducted contacts with Haftar, where Haftar’s envoy requested weapons from Russia during his visit to Moscow, to which Russia responded positively. At the same time, Russia attempts to impose its political presence by proposing an initiative for consultations and meetings to break the political stalemate in Libya, under the auspices of President Putin and the supervision of Russian foreign and defense ministers.
There are reports of an agreement between Egypt and Russia for the establishment of Russian military bases in Egypt, one of which is 100 km from the Libyan border. Also, Russia has recently been strengthening its presence in the Middle East. It is worth mentioning that there is a strong Russian presence in Syria, and Russia has established a permanent Russian military base in Tartous.
The Regional Role:
1- Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and the intersection of interests
Egypt supports the forces of the retired General Khalifa Haftar in the east of Libya with weapons, training, and political support. The Egyptian regime also promotes Haftar externally with European countries. Egypt has also carried out a number of air strikes on Libya in support of Haftar against the rebel forces, which he is fighting in the east. Egypt is doing so for fear of the settlement of the rebels’ position in Libya, or reaching an agreement on governance and building a unified military force there, especially under the unification of the Misrata military forces, which threatens the current coup regime in Egypt.
Haftar provides Egypt with the amounts of oil it needs in return for what it offers him of services. Protecting the presence of Haftar in eastern Libya is also considered a safety factor for the coup regime in Egypt.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also provides financial and logistical support to Haftar, and cooperates with Egypt in this matter. The UAE had previously launched air strikes in support of Haftar in fighting the rebels. There is an air base in Mersa Matruh, Egypt, which is used for launching air strikes by the Egyptian warplanes against the rebels in Libya. Also, there is another air base in Siwa, Egypt, which is used by the UAE for launching its air strikes on Libya. It is well-known that the UAE is adopting a hostile stance against the revolutions of the Arab Spring in the region.
2- Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan
Turkey, Qatar, and Sudan support western Libyan, especially Misrata, and the rebels in general against Haftar and his forces. These countries work to strengthen relations with the acting rebel entities on the Libyan scene, and provide support to them. Also, these countries agree on supporting the Arab Spring in various ways, but in different rates of support.
There are also two projects to establish gas lines, one from Russia and another from Qatar, which will be passing through Turkey heading to Europe. So, the Libyan gas is one of the most important reasons for Qatar’s and Turkey’s interest in the Libyan issue.
The Sudanse regime considers that Haftar and his forces are posing great danger to Sudan; as Libya has borders with Sudan, and Haftar gets assistance from the forces of the Sudanese ‘Justice and Equality’ rebel group. This is an important reason for Sudan to provide support to the Libyan rebels and heir military entities against Haftar.
Now it is clear that the Libyan scene has too many international and regional intersections, which raises a lot of possible scenarios, of which the following are the most important:
There is a possible scenario for dividing Libya into two or more parts. First, it could be divided into two parts, one to the east wih Haftar and his forces, as well as an Egyptian and French presence; and the other to the west with the Misrata troops in addition to an Italian and British presence.
Libya may be also divided into more than one part: eastern, western, southern; and the south could be dominated by the Gaddafi supporters, or the Islamic State (Daesh), which may expand in the neighboring countries ( Egypt, Chad, Niger and Algeria) and connect them together to form the organization’s own state there.
Second: a political bargaining to approve an authoritarian regime
Domestic and international bargains and agreements could be reached to approve certain persons and entities, and ensure a dictator regime in Libya to restore the country’s stability and protect the international interests there.
Third, the situation continues as it is
The third scenario is to allow the current situation to remain as it is, including the continuation of chaos, which can be controlled by the foreign countries, without allowing stability or deciding on the existing conflicts; and each state undertakes the protection of its own interests.