Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1235, (26 February - 4 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Calling the West’s bluff

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for international intervention to end the Libyan crisis has effectively called the West’s bluff, writes Dan Glazebrook

Al-Ahram Weekly

Western states are trumpeting the Islamic State (IS) as the latest threat to civilisation, claiming total commitment to its defeat and using the group’s conquests in Syria and Iraq as a pretext for deepening their own military involvement in the Middle East.

Yet, as Libya seems to be following the same path as Syria — of “moderate” anti-government militias backed by the West paving the way for an IS takeover — Britain and the US seem reluctant to confront the group there.

They immediately poured cold water on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s request for an international coalition to halt its advances. By making the suggestion — and having it, predictably, spurned — Al-Sisi is making clear Western duplicity over IS and the true nature of NATO policy in Libya.

On 29 August 2011, two months before the last vestiges of the Libyan state were destroyed and its leader executed, I was interviewed on Russia Today about the country’s future. I told the station, “There’s been a lot of talk about what will happen [in Libya after the ouster of Gaddafi] — will there be Sharia law, will there be a liberal democracy?

“What we have to understand is that what will replace the Libyan state won’t be any of those things; what will replace the Libyan state will be the same as what has replaced the state in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is a dysfunctional government, complete lack of security, gang warfare and civil war.

 “This is not a mistake by NATO. They would prefer to see failed states than states that are powerful and independent and able to challenge their hegemony. And people who are fighting for the Transitional National Council, fighting for NATO, really need to understand that this is NATO’s vision for their country.”

Friends at the time told me I was being overly pessimistic and cynical. I said I hoped they were right. But my experiences over a decade following the results of Britain’s wars of aggression in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq long after the mainstream media had lost interest led me to believe otherwise.

Of course, it was not only me who was making such warnings. On 6 March 2011, several weeks before NATO began seven months of bombing, Gaddafi gave a prophetic interview with the French newspaper Le Monde in which he stated: “I want to make myself understood: if someone threatens [Libya], if someone seeks to destabilise [Libya], there will be chaos, Bin Laden, armed factions. That is what will happen.

“You will have immigration, thousands of people will invade Europe from Libya. And there will no longer be anyone to stop them. Bin Laden will base himself in North Africa and will leave Mullah Omar in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You will have Bin Laden at your doorstep.”

He specifically warned that Derna, a town that had already provided large numbers of suicide bombers to Iraq, would become an “Islamist emirate” on the Mediterranean. Gaddafi’s warnings were mocked in the Western media (although many intelligence experts, in underreported comments, backed his assertions), and few in Europe had ever heard of Derna.

Until November 2014, that is, when IS announced its takeover of the city, the first of three in Libya now under its control. The group’s most recent conquest, Sirte, Gaddafi’s hometown, was heralded by the posting on Youtube of the beheading of 21 Egyptians, Coptic Christians, captured there last December.

Sirte was a pro-government stronghold during NATO’s onslaught in 2011 and one of the last cities to fall, the result of its ferocious resistance and zero support for the “rebels”. It was subjected to a massive siege and became the scene of some of the worst war crimes of the war, both by NATO and their allies on the ground.

Now that the people of Sirte have been forced to live, and die, under the latest incarnation of NATO’s freedom fighters it is becoming ever clearer why they fought so hard to keep them out in the first place. Yet even this massacre is eclipsed by the almost 600 Libyan army soldiers killed by IS and its allies in the battle to take Benghazi over the last three years.

This is the state of affairs NATO has bequeathed to Libya, reversing the country’s trajectory as a stable, prosperous pan-African state that was a leading player in the African Union and a thorn in the side of US and British attempts to re-establish military domination. And it is not only Libya that has suffered; the power vacuum resulting from NATO’s wholesale destruction of the Libyan state has dragged the whole region into the vortex.

As commentator Brendan O’Neill has shown in detail, the daily horrors being perpetrated in Mali, Nigeria and now Cameroon are all a direct result of NATO’s bloodletting, as death squads from across the entire Sahel-Sahara region have been given free rein to set up training camps and loot weapons across the giant zone of lawlessness that NATO has sculpted out of Libya.

The result? African states that in 2010 were forging ahead economically, greatly benefitting from Chinese infrastructure and manufacturing investment, moving away from centuries of colonial and neo-colonial dependence on extortionate Western financial institutions, have been confronted with massive new terror threats from groups such as Boko Haram, flush with new weaponry and facilities courtesy of NATO’s humanitarianism.

Algeria and Egypt, too, still governed by the same independent-minded movements which overthrew European colonialism, have seen their borders destabilised, setting the stage for ongoing debilitating attacks planned and executed from NATO’s new Libyan militocracy. This is the context in which Egypt is launching the regional fight-back against NATO’s destabilisation strategy.

Over the past year, in particular, Egyptians have witnessed their western neighbour rapidly descending down the same path of IS takeover as Syria. In Syria, a civil war between a Western-sponsored insurgency and an elected secular government has seen the anti-government forces rapidly fall under the sway of IS, as the West’s supposed “moderates” in the Free Syrian Army either join forces with IS (impressed by their military prowess, hi-tech weaponry, and massive funding) or find themselves overrun by them.

In Libya, the same pattern is quickly developing. The latest phase in the Libyan disaster began last June when the militias who dominated the previous parliament (calling themselves the Libya Dawn coalition) lost the election and refused to accept the results, torching the country’s airport and oil storage facilities as opening salvos in an ongoing civil war between them and the newly elected parliament.

Both of today’s parliaments have the allegiance of various armed factions and have set up their own rival governments, each controlling different parts of the country. But starting in Derna last November areas taken by the Libya Dawn faction have begun falling to IS. Last weekend’s capture of Sirte was the third major town to be taken, and there is no sign that it will be the last.

This is the role that has consistently been played by the West’s proxies across the region, paving the way and laying the ground for IS takeovers. Al-Sisi’s intervention — air strikes against IS targets in Libya — aims to reverse this trajectory before it reaches Iraqi-Syrian proportions.

The internationally recognised Libyan government based in Tobruk — the one appointed by the House of Representatives that won the election last summer — has welcomed the Egyptian intervention. Not only, it hopes, will it help prevent an IS takeover, but it will also cement Egyptian support for its side in the ongoing civil war with Libya Dawn.

Indeed, Egypt could with some justification claim that winning the war against IS requires a unified Libyan government committed to this goal and that the Dawn’s refusal to recognise the elected parliament, not to mention its ambiguous attitude towards IS, is the major obstacle to achieving such an outcome.

Does this mean that the Egyptian intervention will scupper the UN’s “Libya Dialogue” peace initiative? Not necessarily, and in fact it could have the opposite effect. The first two rounds of the talks were boycotted by the General National Congress (GNC — the Libya Dawn parliament), safe in the knowledge that it would continue to receive weapons and financing from NATO partners Qatar and Turkey while the internationally recognised Tobruk government remained under an international arms embargo.

As the UK’s envoy to the Libya Dialogue, Jonathan Powell, noted last week, the “sine qua non for a [peace] settlement” is a “mutually hurting stalemate.” By balancing up the scales in the civil war, Egyptian military support for the Tobruk government may show the GNC that taking the talks seriously will be more in its interests than continuing the fight.

Al-Sisi’s call for the military support of the West in his intervention has effectively been rejected, as he very likely expected it to be. A joint statement by the US and Britain and their allies poured cold water on the idea. They did not go to all the bother of turning Libya into the centre of their regional destabilisation strategy only to then try to stabilise it just when that strategy was starting to bear fruit.

However, by forcing them to come out with such a statement, Al-Sisi has called the West’s bluff. The US and Britain claim to be committed to the destruction of IS, a formation which is the product of the insurgency they have sponsored in Syria for the past four years, and Al-Sisi is asking them to put their money where their mouth is. They have refused to do so.

In the end, the Egyptian resolution to the UN Security Council this month made no mention of calling for military intervention by other powers and limited itself to calling for an end to the one-sided international arms embargo which prevents the arming of the elected government but does not seem to deter NATO’s regional partners from openly equipping the Libya Dawn militias.

Al-Sisi has effectively forced the West to show its hand: the latter’s rejection of his proposal to support the intervention makes the two-faced nature of the West’s supposed commitment to the destruction of IS clear to the world.

There are, however, deep divisions on this issue in Europe. France is deepening its military presence in the Sahel-Sahara region, with 3,000 troops based in Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, and a massive new base opened on the Libyan border in Niger last October. It would likely welcome a pretext to extend its operations to its historic protectorate in southern Libya.

Italy, likewise, is getting cold feet about the destabilisation it helped to unleash, having not only damaged a valuable trading partner, but increasingly being faced with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the horror and destitution that NATO has gifted the region.

But neither of these countries is likely to do anything without UN approval, which is likely to continue to be blocked by the US and Britain who are more than happy to see countries like Russian-allied Egypt and Chinese-funded Nigeria weakened and their development retarded by terror bombings.

Al-Sisi’s actions will, it is hoped, not only make the West’s acquiescence in the horrors it has created abundantly clear, but also pave the way for an effective fight-back against them.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis.

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