The Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk decided in 2015 to award a war criminal, former prisoner of war and public agent of the CIA, the rank of Field Marshal, the highest available to an army officer, rather than holding him to account. The "Field Marshal" has now dissolved the House after his recent defeats in Tripoli and the cities on the west coast of the country. In doing so, he abandoned the legal and political cover gave him some kind of legitimacy. He is now content with cover from the medals that he received for historic defeats, from the days of his capture in the 1987 Chad War to the zero-hour defeats that freed the Libyan capital from the clutches of his terrorist militias and mercenaries.
The truth is that Haftar has surpassed his former comrade-in-arms, Muammar Gaddafi, in his sardonic appearances for the cameras. The latter had a hostile revolutionary position towards imperialism, while Haftar is creating false prestige and is a retired CIA employee. From his first appearance to the last, he has spoken in a decisive manner that was not matched by reality. What is constant in his behaviour is that he has an inferiority complex after the humiliation of being captured, and this is reflected in the violence of his Daesh officers, such as Mahmoud Al-Werfalli, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. He did what all Daesh fighters did on the living and went even further by digging up the dead.
To understand this farce, we need to remember that Haftar staged a coup against the Government of National Accord (GNA) that was born out of revolutionary legitimacy, international resolutions and fair elections. He relied on geographical and tribal divisions in his east Libya fiefdom, as well as the backing of the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Then the dissident House of Representatives in the east made him a Field Marshal and he became a leader, receiving international envoys and being received in international capitals. He then staged a coup against the House and its President, Aguila Saleh, blowing his political and tribal cover in one fell swoop.
Did he trade roles with Saleh? Why would he write him off? Did the gap between them widen so he decided to have Saleh for lunch before Saleh had him for dinner? In truth, he was probably following the orders of his UAE sponsors, as his action against the House in Tobruk resembles the escalation in southern Yemen where the UAE's closest ally, the Southern Transitional Council, staged what was in effect a coup against the Riyadh Agreement made with the legitimate government. It seems that the UAE is afraid of a political solution in Libya given the military defeats that Haftar has suffered, so decided to escalate matters and split the country in two, as it has done in Yemen. As the UAE Foreign Minister once said to the former UN envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri, when the latter warned him that UAE policy would destroy Libya, "The UAE does not care if Libya is ruined."
The Emiratis are gambling on time to sabotage and destroy Libya, with Haftar the warlord strengthened and seizing control of the shattered country. For the UAE, a united democratic Libya must be stopped from coming into being, and a separate state must be established in the east of the country, just as the STC was established in southern Yemen. Such a division of Libya is not acceptable to the Libyans. They rose up in order to build a state, not to divide their country, which is one of the most racially and culturally homogeneous in the world. Libya lacks neither wealth nor land and if it had been left alone after the 2011 revolution it would also now be among the wealthiest.
The response to Haftar's coup and his UAE-Egyptian-Saudi sponsors will not just be a military victory by the GNA, as a new page must also be turned with eastern Libya. The government did well to call on the House of Representatives to convene; it is an opportunity for Aguila Saleh to go down in history as a partner in protecting Libya from division and military coups. There is no reason to boast about the military victories, as every drop of Libyan blood is irreplaceable, and in civil wars the winner are also losers.
The people of the east who gave so much to the revolution against the Gaddafi regime will not waste their sacrifices in favour of a damaged Gaddafi clone. Other than the time and place, the conditions that produced the colonel's dictatorship no longer exist. As a retired official in an Arab country once said, "They used to say I have delusions of grandeur; the grandeur is gone and all that remains are the delusions." In Libya, it is Gaddafi who is gone and Haftar who remains.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 30 April 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.