By Richard Galustian
Do you suppose the words of Baron Rothschild in the 18th century, crossed subconsciously the mind of the Libyan British Business Council (LBBC) when they decided to hold a conference last week in Malta encouraging British industry to start commercial activity in Libya?
Rothschild famously said: “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets.”
I’m sure not but it does seem a tad premature that senior experienced diplomats of such high calibre as distinguished Arabists Vincent Fean and Robin Lamb should lead a business conference to discuss commercial opportunities in Libya; too early some would say given Libya is on the brink of a full-scale civil war.
Militias and political factions have been fighting each other across the length and breadth of the Libyan capital Tripoli, bringing down the curtain on hopes that the internationally-supported Government of National Accord (GNA), of which the Obama administration was a key architect, can impose order on this chaotic country.
Meanwhile last week in the Kremlin during the first-ever State of the Union address for Russia, Vladimir Putin announced: “We’ve never sought enemies, we need friends.”
Putin, is of course, referring to a renewed US/Russia foreign policy.
But if two historical foes can finally mend divides, we might be set to witness real change in political hotspots where ordinary western diplomacy has either no place or has already failed.
Post-Gaddafi Libya remains in tatters. A more robust, and altogether different approach is needed to bring stability to the region. The UK and EU efforts are to date, largely irrelevant, even damaging.
The current situation is this. Normal diplomacy in Libya has not worked and the country is in absolute free-fall. Western-led talks are making things worse not better. Various factions are in constant conflict, and self-interest is the national currency.
The legitimate and internationally recognised government was overthrown by pro-Islamist militias. Now, there are effectively not two but three governments in Libya. The paralysis between the groups has created a vacuum for those with extreme ideological sympathies to have input in governing, particularly Tripoli.
The international community, including the US, only recognise one government; the ‘Government of National Accord’ formed and forced on Libya by way of a UN Resolution, along with its puppet Prime Minister Faez Serraj. Both lack credibility because the GNA has no military strength other than a loose command over different Islamist militias, and is also viewed by Libyans as a Western imposition that is not formally recognised by Libya’s democratically-elected HOR parliament.
Malta as a country has more chance to broker peace in Libya than the UN and EU combined
Ibrahim Dabbashi, the outgoing New York based UN Libyan ambassador openly criticised the international communities’ handling of the transfer of power. He adds that: “Libya was under an undeclared trusteeship under the UN umbrella, who are taking decisions on behalf of the Libyan people, assisted by a dialogue committee dominated by foreigners of Libyan descent and radical Islamists, who lost the elections and people’s sympathy in Libya.”
The foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri says: “The Libyan process has seen many participants in the Dialogue Committee who have no influence whatsoever on the ground.”
A few days ago sources confirmed that heavy fighting had broken out in and around Tripoli. This may well be the start of a push for Tripoli and after five years of conflict, finally heavy fighting has started in the capital. This I believe will be the last battle that secures the country or finally divides it.
Governing institutions must be rebuilt, along with agreeing that Field Marshall Haftar, is given a prominent role. Haftar’s militarily secured stability in oil production and export and therefore has the economic and military backing to actually help rebuild the country.
However, Mohamed Eljarh of the Atlantic Council stated: “The UN and international community continue to insist (the Skhirat agreement) is the only option, when everyone realises this is not going to work.”
The monopoly that is or was the UN’s clearly isn’t working.
Speaking on 21st century international relations Putin added that “we are ready to cooperate with the new US administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security.”
Both the US and Russia have major interests in Africa, and Libya is the gateway to Africa. Stability is therefore essential. Not forgetting Chinese interests in the continent.
Unlike his predecessors and Clinton, Donald Trump has been vocal in his absolute unwillingness to ally himself with Islamists. He has also vowed to obliterate Isis. Indeed, retired Lt General Jerry Boykin predicted that Trump as president would “purge people inside the (DC) government that are known to have connections to the Muslim Brotherhood”. If Trump will not tolerate such links in his backyard, the same would hold true in his approach to international negotiations. The Muslim Brotherhood is very powerful in Libya, heavily supported in every way by Turkey. It is branded a terrorist organisation by both UAE and Egypt. But Turkey is in Nato? Go figure.
Oil is now the only thing in Libya that is working and is again about to become Africa’s largest producer. In the wake of OPEC’s announcement to stabilise output at an expected 600,000 barrels per day, it appears Libya won’t adhere to OPEC’s diktats.
In a move indicative of closer relations, Russia has also agreed to cut its production, previously unheard of. Is this some indication of Trump pragmatism already at work?
Now that things in Libya are at crisis point the Trump administration needs to pick one side and that side must be the army, Haftar, whose influence extends both militarily and economically.
New friends, the right people around the table and an end to UN/EU mindless bureaucracy could finally bring meaningful and positive action to Libya and the region if the Trump administration wants it so. If not, we can only expect further chaos and a greater threat to world peace.
Malta does hold an important and unique position both strategically and diplomatically as it assumes the presidency of the EU but not because of the EU but more on its own. Malta as a country has more chance to broker peace in Libya than the UN and EU combined.
Richard Galustian is a security analyst.
Times of Malta