Seven years after the Libyan revolution of February 2011, the political landscape in the country has changed dramatically. The city of Benghazi, which was the cradle of the Libyan revolution, has turned into a stronghold for the former regime’s supporters, the Azlam, as they are called in Libya. This happened after retired General Khalifa Haftar gained control of the city, acting as the military face of the counter-revolution in Libya, which is supported by the conspiracy hotbeds of Cairo and Abu Dhabi.
For the first time since the fall of the Gaddafi regime, and in an unprecedented step, the senior political and security leaders met for the first time publicly in Libyan territory, particularly in Benghazi for two days on 12 and 13 May. This was coordinated with the security and military commanders loyal to Haftar. The leaders of the former regime were in the organising group for this meeting, as part of the Revolutionary Committees, and they did not hide their support for Haftar in his war on what he refers to as terrorism.
Thus, this is the first coalition — or shall we call it the first electoral bloc? — between the two sides. This undoubtedly paves the way for the next phase in Libya, as the country is expected to witness parliamentary elections by the end of this year.
Over the past four years, Haftar has tried to expand into the western parts of Libya in order to gain control there, thus putting him in a stronger position in the crisis equation. However, he failed miserably in this regard. The former regime’s agents have social and tribal influence in the eastern part of the country, so he resorted to them to take refuge under their socio-political umbrella, which will be his gateway into the National Conference expected to be held in the coming months, according to the plan to resolve the crisis put together by the Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Ghassan Salame.
The Gaddafi regime loyalists called their meeting “The Preparatory Forum for National Forces” and said that they wanted to save Libya from what they called “terrorism, chaos, and foreign intervention.” These are very loose terms that do not have any actual substance. At the same time, in their closing statement, they announced their support for Haftar’s forces, who the whole world witnessed committing public acts of terrorism in front of the cameras, including killing their opponents in town squares, then hanging their corpses in the streets. They also dug up graves, burned bodies and committed other violations.
It is important to note in this regard that a number of the regime’s former officials who met in Benghazi have been living in countries backing the counter-revolutions and supporting the idea of the military governing in Libya, such as Egypt and the UAE. We cannot deny that these two countries have played a negative role in Libya by supporting Khalifa Haftar, whose insistence on a military solution has contributed to preventing the rival parties from reaching a political settlement.
Among the participants in this meeting were prominent leaders from the Gaddafi era internal security agencies, which are considered to have been the criminal iron fist of the former regime. These participants were specifically those who were known for their involvement in arrests, repression and torture in Gaddafi’s prisons. Following the fall of the regime they went to Egypt and have now returned to the eastern part of Libya in the areas controlled by Haftar. Such individuals include General Saleh Rajab, who was known for his extensive relations with repressive Arab security agencies, in addition to personally being involved in detaining Libyans in prisons and conducting the worst forms of torture against them.
Furthermore, prominent leaders of the former Revolutionary Committees Movement, an armed political group established by the then Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in the 1970s, took part in the meeting. Among them were some of his followers who were known criminals, such as Mustafa Zaidi, Al-Tayeb Al-Safi, Abdul Majid Al-Qa’ud and Mohammad Abu Al-Qassim Al-Zawi who, from the late 1970s to the 1990s were involved in the implementation of illegal revolutionary trials, as well as field executions of opponents of the former regime in several Libyan cities and regions.
To sum it up, the members and supporters of the former regime in Libya, the Azlam (or the Septembrians, as they call themselves, after the September coup against the monarchy staged by their leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1969) now want to contribute in any way possible to the political process. This is despite the fact that they were active tools in a corrupt, oppressive and tyrannical regime, which contributed to Libya’s delayed development for over forty years. They left a lot of corruption and underdevelopment, the consequences of which the Libyans are still suffering from today. Their legacy is the main cause of the crisis in Libya.
This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21 on 14 May 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.