Foreign powers have become the true power brokers in Libya, whose split into two is “the most likely outcome” of the conflict, said Ulf Laessing, bureau chief of Egypt and Sudan.
In an online briefing on Tuesday hosted by the Council for Arab-British Understanding and attended by Arab News, Laessing said developments in Libya since long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s fall have been widely misunderstood by the outside world.
“Various armed groups took over the country (after Gaddafi’s fall), and they became police forces or called themselves the army. Then you had ministers, who were just figureheads sitting in ministries, who weren’t even as powerful as the men guarding them,” Laessing said.
“The main question now is: Who speaks for the state? Many people in Libya have access to a government letterhead or a title of minister, but their real power is limited,” he added.
“It’s very difficult, when you have two governments based in Tripoli and Benghazi, to get to the bottom of who represents the real state.”
Libyan militias, he said, are often backed by foreign powers that have entered the conflict in pursuit of their own strategic goals
One such power is Turkey, whose involvement in the conflict in support of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) has transformed the war, Laessing said.
“On the ground, the Libyan players have limited skills — they know how to run Kalashnikovs and old tanks,” he added.
“But now you have drones operated by foreign countries such as Turkey and Russia, and the Libyans have become side players. Their fate is being decided by foreign powers.”
As well as providing drone support, Turkey has sent advanced weaponry and artillery, as well as hundreds if not thousands of mercenaries from Islamist militias in northern Syria, to assist the GNA in its fight against Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
The result of this outside intervention, Laessing said, is an intractable conflict. “Diplomatic talks are going on but there’s no sign of any breakthrough. The UN has tried several times to solve the crisis, but the UN’s delegation never stood a chance,” he added.
“It’s hard to see how Libya can come out of this together. Since 2014 the country has been divided between east and west, and at this stage it doesn’t look like there will be a unity government anytime soon. Effectively now, Libya splitting in two, or a de-facto split, is the most likely outcome.”
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