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Sam Hamad

French support for Haftar sabotage undermines Libya 'reconciliation'

Haftar said he was only in Palermo for bilateral talks, not for the summit [Getty]

Date of publication: 13 November, 2018

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Comment: Europe's disingenuous attempt to foster 'reconciliation' in Libya is defined by its own narrow interests, writes Sam Hamad.
Tuesday marks the last day of the Palermo conference held by Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, with the stated purpose of forging a new path for the unification of Libya's various warring factions, and a new timetable for elections.  

It might be a mark of the plausibility of this entire endeavour that even now on the second day, the presence of some of the key players at the summit remains unclear, while Trump and Putin have barely even acknowledged its existence, let alone attended it.  

Khalifa Haftar, the warlord who controls much of the east of the country, started this phase of the war, when - backed by Sisi's Egypt and the UAE - he launched 'Operation Dignity' against the allegedly Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated General National Congress (GNC). He seems to have only turned up in Palermo to make a point of not formally attending the conference.  

The warlord 
refuses to sit down with representatives of Qatar, who he claims fund his 'Islamist' and 'al-Qaeda' enemies.   

Though the different actors involved in Libya's civil are numerous and varied, there are two main quasi-governmental forces vying for hegemony over the country: The House of Representatives (HoR), based in Tobruk and backed by Haftar's 'Libyan National Army', and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Libyan prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj and formed out of the UN Security Council-brokered Libyan Political Agreement. 

In addition to this, there are the various remnants of the GNC, most recently known as the 'National Salvation Government'. These forces have mostly switched allegiance to the GNA, while their former allies have remained part of more extreme jihadist forces.  

Haftar seems to have only turned up in Palermo to make a point of not formally attending the conference

Though counter-revolutionaries and conservatives in the West have decided to forsake a proper understanding of the dynamics within Libya in favour of absurd narratives of 'NATO-backed jihadi chaos' engulfing the country, the reality is that what we're witnessing in Libya is not unusual after the fall of a 42-year-old tyranny.

The true complication, as ever, is geopolitics and not outside intervention per se, but intervention from forces that put their own narrow interests above those of the Libyan people.

And this is the true nature of the Palermo summit.

Earlier this year, President Macron of France blindsided Italy by holding a summit in Paris where the warring factions agreed 'in principle' to hold 'credible and peaceful' elections by 10 December.  

But, as ever, all was not as it seemed. Macron's purpose was to ensure that Haftar, who only has the legitimacy of a well-funded warlord, was elevated to the same level or above the UN-backed GNA. Though the GNA would have to agree 'in principle' to elections, it could not recognise Haftar as long as he continues to make a point of not recognising and waging war against it.

Read more: What are the practical alternatives to Libya's detention centres?

Palermo should thus firstly be seen as Italy's attempt, in a throwback to the days where European powers would squabble over colonies (and the dark irony of France and Italy, two forces with genocidal imperialist histories in North Africa, vying for diplomatic power over Libya will not be lost on Libyans), to wrestle back the status of the main European power broker from France.  

So while it seems likely that new elections will be agreed to at Palermo, with a more realistic timetable of Spring of 2019, it will - with Haftar's very deliberate non-compliance - once again simply be 'in principle'. The reality is that nothing will change on the ground in Libya as long as Khalifa Haftar is given power above and beyond the GNA.

France under Macron has done more than any other European power to aid Haftar in his counter-revolutionary crusade, providing him with military advisers and weaponry.  

In Haftar, France sees a cheap and easy ally against the diminished but ever-present threat of the Islamic State in Libya, while it also finds a willing ally in its pursuit of the ruthless 'Fortress Europe' anti-immigration and anti-refugee policy.  

These forces only see Libya through the narrow and contradictory lens of anti-migrant politics and intra-European neo-colonialist squabbling

Macron's administration have through their support for Haftar seemingly fully taken up the cause of the Saudi and UAE's counter-revolutionary drive to rid the region of democratic Islamism, epitomised by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In much of the analysis of the events leading up to the Palermo summit, one thing scarcely noted is the GNA's refusal to accept Europe's plan to create 'assessment camps' for refugees and migrants in Libya, something heavily pushed for by the so-called 'progressive' Macron.  

This policy is part of Europe's will to further utilise regional tyrannies to police the walls of Fortress Europe, but with the GNA unwilling to allow these camps to be set up in Libya, France has doubled down on its support for Haftar, who would be more compliant to Europe's anti-migrant proclivities, much like his senior ally Sisi.  

The pressure for Libya to accept the European plan for these quasi-concentration camps for migrants has been echoed by Italy's fascist interior minister, Matteo Salvini. Again, we see how Europe's attempts to foster 'reconciliation' are heavily conditioned and thus effectively undermined by their own narrow self-interest.

The tragedy in Libya is precisely not that the revolution failed. The revolution, inasmuch as Gaddafi and his tyrannical Jamahiriya were overthrown, was successful.

The tragedy in Libya is that what stunts its progress is a combination of the 'organic' instability that inevitably follows any revolution, along with the exacerbation of this instability by wider counter-revolutionary forces like the UAE, Saudi and Sisi's Egypt, as well as their European allies. These forces only see Libya through the narrow and contradictory lens of anti-migrant politics and intra-European neo-colonialist squabbling.     

Instead of pleading with the warlord Haftar to join the table, European powers would be better off bolstering the GNA and dislodging Haftar and the politics of sabotage, counter-revolution and tyranny that he represents.  

France has doubled down on its support for Haftar, who would be more compliant to Europe's anti-migrant proclivities

Haftar's power lies in his military strength. If there was such a thing as an honest broker for Libyan reconciliation in Europe, they would attempt to undermine Haftar by providing resources for the various GNA-affiliated militias to centralise as a potential national army, while placing an arms embargo on Haftar's forces.

So far, the opposite is happening, with much of Haftar's weaponry coming through Europe.

Unification between Tripoli and Tobruk is a necessity, but Haftar is a law unto himself and even though his forces are loyal to the HoR, it's clear his autocratic attitudes are stopping even the pragmatists in the east from working towards meaningful and lasting reconciliation.  

This can be most acutely glimpsed by the 
appraisal given by Ghassan Salame, the UN Special Envoy to Libya, of Haftar's allies in the HoR as 'wanting elections to be resisted at all costs'.

Palermo is a particularly vague and haphazard epitome of Europe's success only in making matters in Libya worse.  


Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.  

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