In the face of defeat, Haftar and his backers make a transparent bid for peace

In the face of defeat, Haftar and his backers make a transparent bid for peace
Comment: Sisi's counter-revolutionary track record and Haftar's war on Tripoli put their overtures to peace on very shaky ground, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
10 Jun, 2020
Libyans watch rogue General Haftar talk about the 'Cairo declaration' peace talks [Getty]
It was once said that war is the continuation of politics by other means. But sometimes the reverse is true, and politics, in the guise of diplomacy, is the continuation of war.

This is precisely the cynical calculation that lies behind Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's recent Cairo Declaration on Libya this week. Sisi, flanked by fellow field marshal Khalifa Haftar and leader of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives Aguila Saleh, unilaterally announced a "ceasefire" across all of Libya and called for renewed peace talks. 

Of course, no member of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) was present.

The UAE, which along with Sisi has been the main backer of Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) and its destructive crusade against the GNA, quickly praised the initiative.  Emirati foreign minister Anwar Gargas tweeted that Sisi's Libya initiative "strengthens the Arab and international momentum for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of foreign troops, and the return to a political track."

Saudi Arabia was similarly effusive in its praise for the initiative, as were the Arab countries that fall within the Saudi-Emirati sphere of influence, such as Jordan and Bahrain. 

There was similar backing of the initiative by Russia, which has emerged as a key backer of Haftar, providing his LNA with mercenaries and military equipment.

What a difference a couple of months makes. Sisi's Egypt and the UAE have been the main forces stoking Haftar's war to capture Tripoli and eradicate the GNA. Both states fully and materially supported Haftar's criminal military offensive to capture Tripoli, claiming the warlord is, true to the mantra of global authoritarians, "fighting terrorism".

Haftar's offensive has now collapsed, which explains why those who only recently had a mouth for total war, are now speaking so superficially about peace

But that offensive has now collapsed, which explains why those who only recently had a mouth for total war, are now speaking so superficially about peace. In recent weeks, with intensified backing from Turkey, GNA forces have pushed Haftar's ragtag alliance of foreign mercenaries, local gangster Gaddafi loyalists and, most ironically, given their anti-Islamist image, Saudi-aligned Madkhali Salafi-Jihadists, into full retreat. 

For many, it was a question of 'when' not 'if' Haftar, with so many powerful foreign actors behind him, would take Tripoli. But with GNA forces launching a successful counter-offensive into Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte, the question is now how far into the East the government could push? 

The UAE and Sisi, with Russia deploying its own Wagner mercenaries and roping in Syrian fighters allied to Assad to fight for Haftar, perhaps thought they could 'do an Assad' with the warlord. In Libya's case this would mean foreign forces pulling the strings of a domestic military core to overwhelm the isolated GNA regardless of popular or political legitimacy. 

With powerful European forces like France covertly supporting Haftar, and the wider EU and the Trump regime - while officially recognising the GNA - staying effectively neutral, success seemed likely. 

But Turkey had other plans; ramping up its support for the legitimate government in Tripoli, and the UAE and Egypt both understood that Turkey could not be militarily matched. 

But with the UAE-Egypt military plan for Libya essentially foiled by Turkey, the main aim now - and this is something straight out of Russia's playbook of fig leaf diplomacy in Syria - is to portray the GNA and Turkey as the warmongers.

Is anyone foolish enough to believe that the mass murderer Sisi suddenly understands the value of reconciliation with a governmental force that includes the very force he has spent the last 7 years attempting to annihilate, namely the Muslim Brotherhood? 

Read more: In Libya, Russia calls in its proxy, Assad

More widely, who believes that the UAE, as well as Saudi Arabia, suddenly considers the GNA as a viable force worthy of negotiation? 

The UAE went above and beyond its counter-revolutionary call of duty to subvert even incipient democracy in the region, including by deliberately prolonging a near-genocidal war in Yemen. Sisi himself owes much to the Emirates - quite literally, when you consider how much money the Emiratis have invested in the ceaselessly brutal Egyptian counter-revolution.

The shared goal of the UAE-Sisi-Saudi is the eradication not just of democracy, but, particularly, of the kind of moderate, reformist Islamic democracy espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Only a fool or knave would advocate that these forces who know only subversion and brutality, would suddenly endorse peace with those whom they despise. 

The Cairo Declaration might invoke peace talks, but these are the forces that have rejected every avenue of peace and negotiations possible - including the official UN-led peace/unification process - in order to pursue aggressive war against a legitimate government. 

They are simply and cynically now dangling the carrot of 'peace' over Libya to save their own necks and halt the GNA advancing even further into the East, especially the oil fields. 

Is anyone foolish enough to believe that the mass murderer Sisi suddenly understands the value of reconciliation?

But the key question is what the form the 'stick' that follows the carrot will take. At the very best, they're trying to save face in anticipation of what is an inevitable victory for the GNA, and to divert the attentions of the GNA away from the official peace talks. And at worst, they're trying to buy time to rethink and recuperate before once again attempting to overthrow the GNA by force.

But Turkey's presence has made that scenario much more complicated. The Tobruk government have lost whatever small popular legitimacy they had, with their use of Neo Nazi and Islamophobic Russian mercenaries, ones who have allegedly used chemical weapons and who booby trap teddy bears with IEDs.

One thing that has become readily apparent, is the expandability of Haftar within the pyramid structure of this mafia of counter-revolutionaries. It's possible that the UAE-Egypt will attempt to side line Haftar in favour of the more amenable and less unpredictable Saleh. There has been a growing rift between the Haftar and Saleh as they vie for control of the Tobruk government and its various militias.

And this is perhaps the fundamental flaw in the Haftar forces - they lack domestic legitimacy, controlled as they are entirely by foreign forces, often with divided loyalties and interests contrary to Libyans.

Libya's peace will not come from absurd declarations made by fascist dictators in Cairo, with the UAE pulling the strings, but nor will it come from Turkish military power alone.

The most important point in this is not victory in itself, but rather victory with progressive consequences.

Turkey has played a commendable role in protecting the legitimate government of Libya. But the GNA must assert itself in ensuring that foreign interests do not subvert, but rather supplement the necessity of the genuine reconciliation of Libyans based on the principles of the Libyan revolution. 

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

Join the conversation @The_NewArab

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.