How will the Gulf crisis affect Libya?

How will the Gulf crisis affect Libya?
Comment: An emboldened Egypt and UAE spells bad news for an inclusive Libyan national agenda, writes Guma ElGamaty.
6 min read
12 Jul, 2017
Haftar's 'Libyan National Army' recently declared victory in Benghazi [AFP]

The Gulf crisis, triggered by drastic sanctions issued by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt against Qatar, is not showing any sign of resolution - and may yet escalate further.

The meeting of the four blockading nations' foreign ministers in Cairo on July 5 rejected the official response from Qatar to their 13 demands for resolving the crisis.

Although the four countries did not announce any further actions to exert pressure and isolate Qatar further, it is clear that the crisis is likely to drag on with far-reaching and devastating consequences for the whole region and beyond.

In today's geopolitics and the interlinked regional and global conflicts, the Gulf crisis has much wider implications than just affecting Qatar and the Gulf. The ongoing Libyan conflict is directly connected to the rivalry among the Gulf countries and the outcome of the current turmoil will have a huge impact on the future of Libya.

By just looking at the list of "terrorists" - 12 organisations and 59 individuals Qatar is accused of supporting - issued on June 8 by Saudi Arabia and its allies, we find that one organisation and five individuals are from Libya.

It is also no coincidence that all of them are Libyans who are opposed to General Haftar and his military campaign, supported heavily and openly by the UAE and Egypt.

Qatar is being punished for specifically supporting the Arab Spring, in which a popular uprising allowed the opportunity for a transition to a more inclusive and democratic new political order in countries such as Libya and Tunisia among others. 

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been supporting a counter-revolution, especially in Libya, through providing unlimited military and logistical support for people such as Haftar in his bid to revert Libya to authoritarian military rule. 

The government based in the east, riding on the coat-tails of the anti-Qatar campaign, attempted to block an ongoing contract selling Libyan oil to the giant international trader Glencore - believed to be part-owned by Qatar

As soon as the Gulf crisis broke out, it had an immediate effect, further polarising the competing factions in Libya. The eastern-based Libyan government is totally controlled by Haftar, despite the fact that it has little authority and is not recognised by the international community; it has immediately followed its backers - mainly the UAE and Egypt - in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli and internationally recognised as the legitimate government of Libya, meanwhile, did not take that step, and maintain a neutral stand on the crisis.

Furthermore, the government based in the east, riding on the coat-tails of the anti-Qatar campaign, attempted to block an ongoing contract selling Libyan oil to the giant international trader Glencore - believed to be part-owned by Qatar.

However, Mustafa Sanalla, the chairman of the National Oil Corporation (NOC), which is Tripoli-based and loyal to the GNA, warned the eastern-based government against using the Qatari-Gulf crisis as an excuse to block exports or illegally export oil.

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By targeting Qatar, in a clear attempt to curtail its support for pro-Arab Spring groups in the region, the UAE and Egypt in particular are hoping to weaken those groups in Libya who are opposed to Haftar and his counter-revolutionary military campaign.

If Qatar gives in and capitulates under pressure, the UAE and Egypt will delegitimise all groups who are rejecting Haftar's domination and demonise them as "terrorists". This they hope will embolden Haftar to achieve all-out victory, take control of Libya and fulfil the UAE-Egyptian agenda.

While Qatar is being put under considerable pressure to look inwards and concentrate on its own survival, the UAE and Egypt have, at the same time, increased their direct military involvement in Libya in favour of their ally, Haftar.

On June 25, Haftar reportedly received - in his headquarters near Benghazi - a visiting UAE military delegation headed by the UAE army's deputy chief of staff, General Eisa Saif al-Mazrouei, to discuss increased military support and cooperation.

This increased UAE military involvement in the Libyan conflict has also been confirmed by a detailed 299-page report by the United Nations Sanctions Committee (UNSC) panel of experts, published only last month and sent to the UN Security Council. The UN report details how the UAE has consistently ignored and violated a UN arms embargo on Libya in recent years and has, as a result, significantly strengthened the military and especially air power of forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar.

Egypt is also increasing its direct military involvement in Libya. On May 17, Haftar received Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy in his headquarters near Benghazi. This high-level military visit to Haftar in the east is the first of its kind and took place without even informing - let alone liaising with - the officially recognised GNA in Tripoli, which Egypt supposedly recognises as the only legitimate government in Libya.

In the past few weeks, Egypt has increased its airstrikes inside Libya against positions held by anti-Haftar forces in Derna, Benghazi and Gufra in the central Libya. Reports also speak of Egyptian Special Forces involved directly and being deployed in Benghazi.

The Benghazi war has cost more than ten thousand young Libyan lives and has left many thousands more badly injured. Major districts of the city have been totally destroyed

On Wednesday July 5, Haftar declared a military victory in Benghazi after defeating his opponents in their last stronghold in the Assabri district, following three years of fighting.

The Benghazi war has cost more than ten thousand young Libyan lives and has left many thousands more badly injured. Major districts of the city have been totally destroyed and nearly 150,000 of its inhabitants have been displaced. The social cohesion of the city has been greatly damaged and it will take years, if not decades, to heal again.

There is no doubt that Haftar and his supporters will see the victory in Benghazi as a major boost on which they can build both militarily and politically, while others, as a BBC report put it, "will view it as a product of a man who was power-hungry and lumped up all of his enemies under the banner of 'Islamist terrorists' to pave the way for a future political role through the might of the gun".

The UAE and Egypt will also be encouraged by the latest military developments in Benghazi and see that their huge political and military support for Haftar, their proxy man in Libya, is paying dividends. They will feel that, while they are isolating and squeezing Qatar, they will also weaken those who are opposed to Haftar within Libya.

As a result, the UAE and Egypt are likely only to escalate their interference in Libya and further increase the huge support they are providing to Haftar on the hope that he will progress further and extend what he has achieved in Benghazi to the whole of Libya.

It is likely, therefore, that the Gulf crisis will have a severely detrimental impact on the situation in Libya and will only aggravate it more.

Such damaging regional interference will continue to dictate and shape events in Libya and make the conflict deepen further; that is until such a day when the Libyan sides involved realise that being proxies to regional countries and serving their agendas at the expense of an inclusive Libyan national agenda may lead to the demise of Libya and its existence as the country as we know it today.

Guma El-Gamaty is a Libyan academic and politician who heads the Taghyeer Party in Libya and a member of the UN-backed Libyan political dialogue process. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Guma_el_gamaty

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab