by Sergei Demidenko, Tass
If we turn to history, we see that Libya is the kingdom of the tribes. There are only large tribes there are more than 122, not counting small and medium, as well as tribal unions. In addition to the fact that the country is divided according to the tribal basis, it is divided according to geographical: there are western tribes (Tripolitania), eastern (Cyrenaica) and southern (Fezzan).
Libya is also heterogeneous in ethnic terms: in addition to Sunni Arabs, Berbers, Tuba live there, and from the south, sometimes the Chadian tribes wander, which also seriously destabilize the situation in the country. Modern Libya is a flaky pie of contradictions, and the civil war there is very different from what we know from our own history.
War of all against all
Now in Libya, there are several fairly large forces, based on a tribal and ethno-religious basis. This is the Tobruk parliament, on behalf of which the head of the Libyan National Army, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the Tripolitanian clans, represented by the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (PNS) Faiz Sarraj, act. There was also an Islamist parliament, which self-dissolved in 2015 when an agreement was reached on the creation of the PNS. Its head, Sarraj, is a completely non-self-reliant figure: he depends on Tripolitanian structures, Western Libyan tribes, and external support. Haftar is also not an independent politician: he relies on international support and is dependent on the tribes of the east of the country.
In addition to the two main forces, there is also the city of Misurata with its armed forces. These are other representatives of the local tribal elite, who do not obey either Haftar or Sarraj, although they support the latter. There are still unfinished Islamists, some of whom were affiliated with the Islamic State (the organization is prohibited on the territory of the Russian Federation). Different factions of Islamists clash with each other. There are other actors. All of them are fighting for oil, for smuggling weapons, for water. Plus now in Libya, there is still such a specific type of business as trafficking in people when they trade infrequent refugees who are trying to get to Europe from Black Africa. In Libya, there is a war of all against all.
In this “vignette,” there is no need to talk about any intelligible, verified political solution and, most importantly, the development of a roadmap for a phased peaceful settlement. Even if Haftar put his signature on the Moscow document, it would not matter. In Libyan conditions, even the smallest actor can provoke a new round of escalation of tension, and again everything will fall into the abyss of instability: there are too many independent players in Libya now.
The failure of liberal doctrines
What was the secret of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at one time? He managed to offer this conglomerate such a specific form of government, which he called direct democracy – the Jamahiriya. However, in fact, he simply created a large council of tribes, called the General People’s Congress, a colossal parliament, which included up to several thousand deputies. It was formed in a peculiar way, but all the large tribes were represented there. Gaddafi, who at one time refused all official posts, headed this General Congress as the supreme sheik.
He had a triad – a family, a tribe, a state. He actually transferred this tribal model to control the entire Jamahiriya and, due to this, he has been in power since 1969. What followed after 2011, when Gaddafi died, once again confirmed the idea that, like in other archaic societies, liberal doctrines in Libya do not work. Free elections or free-market concepts do not work. These wonderful ideas are good for a nationally developed society when self-identification is based on belonging to a state or nation.
In archaic communities, people identify themselves through the prism of belonging to a small corporation – a religious or ethnic group, for example. In the Middle East – and Libya is no exception – this process of associating yourself with a state or nation has not gone through to the end. A nation was forming — tribal and ethnic boundaries were gradually obliterating — but the coup came when this process was not yet completed. When Gaddafi was overthrown, everyone fled to their small groups. This is a completely natural process that, in addition to Libya, we are witnessing in Iraq and Syria.
What Haftar wants
For Marshal Haftar, a visit to Moscow is one of a number of trips with which he increases international support. Previously, he negotiated with the French and Italians, he is already supported by the Emirates, Saudis, and Egyptians. He, as, by the way, and his main rival, Sarraj, is trying to form as large a pool of global and regional allies as possible. To do this, Haftar sometimes has to play by their rules.
The leaders of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan formed a platform for a Libyan settlement and invited Haftar to join. He came to Moscow for negotiations, but in the end, refused to join. Why? The answer is simple: he seeks to ensure that all the armed formations of Tripolitania are dissolved, thus eliminating the enemies that can resist him with weapons in their hands. Of course, Sarraj, assisted by Qatar and Turkey, does not do this. Ankara, by the way, also understands perfectly what Haftar needs.
What Moscow wants
At the same time, Russia does not see Libya as a priority of its foreign policy but rather defends its image of a great power that has interests on all continents. Perhaps for Moscow in Libya, some military and economic interests are a priority. But in this case, for example, there is no certainty that Haftaru has something to pay for Russian weapons.
Moreover, assuming that Russia will bet on the marshal and he will win, this does not mean that Moscow will control some Libyan oil resources. We must never forget that Haftar lived in America for almost three decades. He was supported by the Americans during the operation in Sirte in 2016 – they bombed the Islamists. He is now supported by the military means France. When in February 2019, he began to have problems with the Chadian tribes who were trying to control the oil-bearing areas, they were bombed by French planes.
Moscow pursues an active foreign policy and, of course, is eyeing Haftar. He had previously come to Russia. But neither did he make any concrete proposals to Moscow, nor did Russia offer him anything then.
Haftar, most likely, will now rely on a military solution to the conflict, but this is a dead-end. After all, he had already stormed Tripoli, he took Sirte twice. How much more can you do? Obviously, he will not be able to stay in the west of the country, where he has no support.
The war in Libya, as well as in Syria, is an ethno-confessional conflict that develops according to its own laws. This is not a civil war in Russia, where on the one hand there were former, on the other – red, here – the Eastern Front, there – the South. Some with red ribbons, others with gold epaulets, and in principle, everything is clear. Here everything is different – the situation of a puff cake. Different ethno-confessional groups interact, and at a certain historical moment, they can create one political configuration, and after another six months – another.
Like the Syrian conflict (in which, incidentally, one should not overestimate the successes of Bashar al-Assad, who still does not control half of the country’s territory), unfortunately, the Libyan is not resolved from the outside. You can try to gather all the participants in the conflict and sign the program developed by someone. They can support it or not, but it will not matter. Such conflicts end only when the parties just get tired of fighting, as it was in Lebanon, where the 15-year-old civil war came to an end in this way.
About Author: Sergei Demidenko is an Associate Professor and Oriental Expert at the Institute of Social Sciences, RANEPA
This article was sourced by VT Senior Editor Gordon Duff