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Russia Isn’t the Only One Getting Its Hands Dirty in Libya

The United Arab Emirates, backed by France, is helping to fuel continued bloodshed in the North African country

libya

with all eyes on the coronavirus, one of the Middle East’s most protracted conflicts shows no sign of abating, and foreign actors seem committed to fanning the flames. U.S. policymakers are mostly concerned with the increasing role of Russia, but among the flurry of actors involved in Libya’s turmoil today, the United Arab Emirates stands out as the only state whose intervention is ignored by the United States and other powers. This needs to change if the international community is serious about forging a resolution between the country’s warring factions.

One of the primary motivations of the UAE’s support for the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) leader, Khalifa Haftar, is its obsession with Islamism. Abu Dhabi wants to establish an authoritarian dictatorship in Libya that will stamp out any and all forms of political Islam, putting it at odds with Qatar and Turkey, both of which would prefer to see Islamists hold at least some power in the North African country. To this end, the Emirates had already financed and politically supported the coup against Egypt’s democratically elected then President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. In a cynical zero-sum game catalyzed by the ripple effect of current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s ascent to power in Egypt, as well as other intra-Gulf rivalries, Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Ankara exploited Libyans’ post-revolution grievances and thwarted the country’s transition to democracy, fueling its descent into civil war.

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Both Turkey and Qatar’s involvement gradually receded after 2014, in part because of the unpopularity of their Islamist proxies among large sections of the Libyan public, but more so to acknowledge an emerging international consensus in support of a U.N.-backed political process.

But while the international community consolidated its efforts to bring about a political solution, the UAE’s footprint in the country expanded. Since April 4, 2019, alone, Abu Dhabi has conducted more than 850 drone and jet strikes on Haftar’s behalf. Open source data also shows that, since January 2020, more than a 100 airlifters suspected of carrying tons of weaponry flew from the UAE into eastern Libya and Egypt. Abu Dhabi is also suspected of tricking Sudanese workers into working as mercenaries with the LNA, along with transferring jet fuel to sustain Khalifa Haftar’s war effort.

But while the international community consolidated its efforts to bring about a political solution, the UAE’s footprint in the country expanded. Since April 4, 2019, alone, Abu Dhabi has conducted more than 850 drone and jet strikes on Haftar’s behalf. Open source data also shows that, since January 2020, more than a 100 airlifters suspected of carrying tons of weaponry flew from the UAE into eastern Libya and Egypt. Abu Dhabi is also suspected of tricking Sudanese workers into working as mercenaries with the LNA, along with transferring jet fuel to sustain Khalifa Haftar’s war effort.

Emirati drone strikes are believed to have killed scores of people and have caused immense material damage, a toll borne overwhelmingly by Libya’s civilian population. This situation is no longer just perpetuating the conflict—it’s exacerbating it, creating a major humanitarian catastrophe in one of the world’s most fragile areas.

Yet neither the United Nations nor Abu Dhabi’s great-power protectors—the United States and France—have done much in the way of curbing this activity, and some policymakers have gone as far as rationalizing the UAE’s behavior because they agree with its broader geoeconomic objectives. While this notion might have carried some weight in past years, the fact that the UAE is willing to enable the total destruction of Tripoli and its infrastructure today is evidence that its ideological investment in Haftar outweighs any future economic considerations

For the UAE, the real added value of Paris’ support of its project in Libya was not in the military realm, but the political one. The election of Emmanuel Macron as French president in 2017 gave the UAE’s presence in Libya vital diplomatic cover because of Macron’s appetite for disruptive foreign policy.

Source: Mena Pacs Task Force Team
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