Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The UAE in Libya

The UAE has been interfering in the Libyan crisis, in violation of UN resolutions and with the apparent cooperation of the UN’s envoy to Libya, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Recent leaks regarding the relationship between the former UN envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, and the UAE, which has appointed him director of the UAE Academy of Diplomacy, has drawn attention to the role of the UN and regional powers in the Libyan crisis.

Now questions are being asked about their responsibility for the perpetuation of the conflict in a country threatened with disintegration and territorial partition. The UAE, which has been a key player in the Libyan crisis since the fall of the former Gaddafi regime in 2011, has been using Libyan politicians to serve its regional and international interests.

The relations between Leon and the UAE were not born from the political dialogue that began in September 2014 in Ghadames, western Libya, between members of the then recently elected House of Representatives and a group of elected deputies who chose to boycott the assembly. Some of the groundwork was laid by the dialogue initiated by Leon’s predecessor, Tareq Mitri, which collapsed in June 2014.

Documents from the Libyan dialogue, which did not convene as scheduled in Tripoli in June 2014, prove that the preparations were made by the Emirati team and included Libya’s ambassador to the UAE, Aref Al-Nayed, and Arab and Libyan security officials, businessmen and financiers.

The dialogue relied on the liberal National Forces Alliance, led by Mahmoud Jibril and the largest political bloc in Libya, and was supported by the Zintan tribe, based in southwest of Tripoli, which is the UAE’s local ally in western Libya.

Only a week before the parliamentary elections on 25 June 2014, UN envoy Tareq Mitri acted to stem the security breakdown that had worsened after Libyan military leader Khalifa Hiftar launched Operation Dignity on 16 May 2014.

Mitri hoped to bring the disputants together around the negotiating table. However, documents from the process reveal that those who helped in their preparation, including a paper on political and security arrangements, did not approve of the changes Mitri introduced because they would have given the Islamists an opportunity to participate in power, even if they remained unelected.

The documents, seen by Al-Ahram Weekly at the time, brought to light a curious phenomenon: security arrangements designed to expel the militias from Tripoli were based on a Sufi prophecy familiar to Libyans. This is not surprising as one of the most prominent contributors to formulating the arrangements leaned toward the Sufi trend.

After Mitri’s term came to an end, his successor, Leon, began to explore a different route. Leon invited both the attendees and the boycotters of the House of Representatives sessions to meet first in Ghadames on 29 September 2014, and then in Tripoli on 5 October. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attended the latter meeting.

Leon’s aim was to mend the rift between the two camps, strengthen the position of the House and pull the rug of legitimacy entirely out from beneath the feet of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli.

However, the meetings failed to produce the desired results. The dialogue collapsed after the Supreme Constitutional Court issued a ruling on 6 November 2014 that nullified the third interim phase, in accordance with which the House of Representative elections had been held. Leon was then forced to revert to the course that Mitri had begun.

At the outset of 2015, Leon grew convinced that he needed to expand the dialogue. He broadened the sessions to include representatives from all stakeholders on the ground, including the GNC and the House.

The rounds began in Geneva in January and proceeded through Brussels, New York and Skhirat in Morocco. The documents concerning the political agreement and the annexes containing the security arrangements connected with the UAE were proposed again, but this time they were put to Libyan negotiators.

Meanwhile, the UAE was moving in Libya with total freedom, thanks to its local political and military alliances and a complex web of financial, political and social relations. It had no compunction about communicating with what they called the “national salvation government” in Tripoli, which is not internationally recognised.

Over the past year, two formal invitations were extended to members of this to visit Abu Dhabi. The first came in January, during the premiership of Omar Al-Hassi, whom the GNC subsequently dismissed. The second occurred in April and was heavily cloaked in secrecy: it is noteworthy that the visit was undertaken by government figures from Misrata and the delegation was led by Samira Al-Farjani, social affairs minister in the unrecognised national salvation government.

The visit by the delegation from the Al-Hassi government to the UAE took place on 8 January, during which the delegation met with UAE officials to explain the political and military situation in Libya. This was the third foreign visit by members of this government.

On 7 December 2014, Al-Hassi headed a delegation to Jordan, and on 5 January 2015 his foreign minister, Mohamed Al-Ghirani, visited Niger.

In addition to Al-Farjani, the national salvation government delegation to Abu Dhabi included Justice Minister Mustafa Al-Qalib and fourth Deputy Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Tayyib Boutita.

The Tripoli government delegation tried to neutralise the UAE position on the war in Libya by offering economic concessions. It also discussed the issue of five Libyan businessmen who were detained in the UAE the previous year: Kemal Al-Darat, Mohamed Al-Darat, Salim Al-Aradi, Adel Nassef and Ma’az Al-Hashemi.

The second visit, in which the Tripoli government was represented by officials from Misrata, was for similar purposes. The delegation tried to clarify the situation in Libya to UAE officials in the hope of winning their support or at least neutralising their position. They also tried to safeguard the interests of the Libyan businessmen, which had been harmed by the UAE’s stance on the current crisis.

The visits paved the way for a visit to the UAE by a delegation from the Misrata municipal council. This also sheds light on the UAE’s unilateral actions towards the Libyan crisis in which, acting independently from its regional allies, the UAE has sought to achieve political and economic gains.

Above all, it has sought to demonstrate to international parties its ability to influence the chief players in the Libyan arena via the federalists in the east and the bedouins in the west. It has also wanted to show that it has a grip on the Libyan business community through its influence over the Libyan Business Council in Misrata.

By receiving representatives from Misrata and the national salvation government in Tripoli, the UAE also has been able to penetrate domestic public opinion opposed to Operation Dignity and to present itself anew as a party that can contribute effectively to promoting peace among all the stakeholders in Libya.

The UAE invitations to representatives from the Libya Dawn operation and Misrata helped it to secure the support it needs for its plans regarding the political settlement. In fact, the UAE’s fingerprints can be seen clearly on the composition of the national unity government proposed in Skhirat in October.

Representatives from finance, business, politics and currently effective power centres close to the UAE were assembled in the proposed government.

The recent leaks regarding the relationship between Leon and the UAE could, however, affect the input of regional powers, especially as the UN reports indicate that the UAE is supporting one of the parties in the Libyan dispute, in blatant violation of UN resolutions.

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