The media in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have expressed tacit support for the onslaught launched by armed forces loyal to retired Libyan Brigadier General Khalifah Haftar amid the escalation of events in the city of Benghazi.
Right from the start of the onslaught on Friday, several Saudi and UAE newspapers and news websites have been full of reports quoting Haftar and his views about what has been going on in Libya. This has also been clear on Al-Arabiya Satellite TV Channel, which on 14 February hastily broadcast Haftar's communique about his first coup attempt and continued to do so at the top of its news bulletin for many hours despite the coup's failure. At the time, Libyan circles expressed dismay at the manner in which Al-Arabiya dealt with the affair and this was made evident in the response of local media.
Several Saudi and UAE news websites have reflected in their coverage what amounts to an official espousal of Haftar's narrative as opposed to the version of the Libyan government and army. The Saudi website Ilaf published a report under the headline: "The capital of the revolution against Gaddafi has been lived through anarchy and criminality. Haftar declares war on radical Libyan militias in Benghazi".
The same attitude was repeated in the coverage of the UAE website 24 which reflects the official position of the Abu Dhabi government. The website quoted what it called the spokesman of the "National Libyan Army", Muhammad Al-Hijazi, as saying that irregular fighters under Haftar's command "have bombed bases belonging to Ansar Al-Shari'ah and other Islamic groups in Benghazi". The UAE website went as far as to say that "Haftar's troops have bombed the camps of the militias in a bid to restore the legitimacy of the Libyan state".
Both the Saudi and UAE websites recalled Haftar's communique on the eve of his first coup attempt in which he declared that he had "suspended the Libyan National Congress and the Libyan government as well as the Constitutional Declaration and that he had announced a road map consisting of five points." They also stressed that the city of Benghazi "was coming under attack by armed men… as a result of the lack of security across the country."
Al-Arabiya TV and its website highlighted what Brig. Gen. Haftar called the ongoing "Libya Dignity" operations aimed at cleansing Benghazi of what he described as the "Takfiris" (those who declare other Muslims to be infidels). The channel also reported the former commander of the Libyan armed forces, Colonel Adan Al-Jarushi, as saying that the armed forces were taking action against terrorism in Benghazi. Al-Jarushi, according to Al-Arabiyah, made an appeal for soldiers to join their units and issued an order to all air bases to bomb the positions of the "terrorists".
The UAE's Al-Arabiyah also quoted eyewitnesses who claimed that the air force has joined Haftar's group and bombed a barracks occupied by "the 17 February battalion", described by the channel as "an Islamic militia". It pointed out that the communique issued by Haftar during his first coup attempt had "resulted in mobilising the Libyan street". In doing so, the channel contradicted what happened in reality, namely the swift suppression of the coup attempt and the restoration of calm to the capital Tripoli. This led some observers and journalists at the time to describe Haftar's as an "Al-Arabiyah coup", nothing but a "coup in front of the cameras".
Libyan circles have spoken about external support for the coup attempts inside Libya. Within this context, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Bashir Al-Kabti, said: "The Libyan blood that has been spilled is the responsibility of the weak government and the foreign fingers that are playing with the destiny and blood of the Libyans with the aim of crushing the 17th February Revolution as part of a programmed war against the Arab Spring."
In the same context, the spokesman of the Libyan government expressed his regret that the media funded [by external powers] is attempting to bestow legitimacy on the moves of outlawed army personnel. "They are being presented by this media as if they are patriotic individuals, although they are nothing but rebels, according to military convention," insisted Ahmad Al-Amin.
Al-Kabti appealed to the mass media to "support constitutional legitimacy and refrain from being drawn to serve the interests of those who have influence and are trying to redraw the political map according to their own personal agendas and interests."