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Libya’s Don Quixote Haftar

Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, 17 January 2020 [Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr]
Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, 17 January 2020 [Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Flickr]

Almost a year ago, when the coup leader Khalifa Haftar attacked the Libyan capital Tripoli with his mercenary militias, I wrote an article in which I said, “The battle of Tripoli is a decisive battle between the forces of the revolution and the counter-revolution forces; it separates truth from falsehood. Since battles of the truth are prolonged, interests are intertwined, and the various forces of falsehood are united behind one man in facing the forces of the truth, which are usually a handful of believers in God.”

This is why the battle in Tripoli has lasted an entire year and remains ongoing, and why the self-promoted Field Marshal — a rank reserved for generals who lead armies in the field, unlike Haftar — has not managed to end it. The former General was not content with his false rank; he even decorated his uniform with medals and badges, despite being defeated in the one war that he fought in Chad, which he left as a humiliated prisoner.

I reiterate that Haftar has not managed to enter Tripoli, despite announcing arrogantly at the beginning of his invasion that he would be there within two weeks. His arrogance also saw him quoting from the speech made by Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, after entering Makkah: “Those who lay down their arms will be safe and those who remain in their homes will be safe.” That, thought Haftar, would see the people of Tripoli raising white flags and handing the city over on a silver platter.

Libya: Continued clashes between government forces and Haftar’s militia

Instead, it was a fierce battle in which his fighters were among those killed, wounded and captured, and the revolution’s forces thwarted his militias. He had no other solution than to target civilians and civil institutions. After a year of defeats, Tripoli’s heroes liberated all the cities on the west coast and besieged Al-Watiya Air Base and the city of Tarhuna, Haftar’s personal and symbolic stronghold. To cover up his military losses, he made the farcical decision to declare himself to be the President of Libya; abandon the Skhirat Agreement, signed in Morocco; and dissolve the presidential council and parliament. He forgot that the shred of legitimacy that he has is reliant on the approval of the Tobruk-based parliament.

In fact, before he appointed himself as “President”, he was already dealing with the international community as Libya’s de facto ruler. This was perhaps due to his extreme arrogance; the weakness of Fayez Al-Sarraj, the head of the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord; and the unlimited military, material, logistical and moral support that he gets from the counter-revolutionary forces. In this case they are represented by the forces of evil in the region, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which are driven by other international powers represented by the US, Russia and France to achieve their goals in Libya.

The criminal Haftar lusts for power, and has succeeded in presenting himself on the world stage as the opponent of the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, in Libya. This has earned him the support of the US and its allies in the region, not least because he was nurtured by the CIA following his release from captivity in Chad and being abandoned by Muammar Gaddafi. Hence, he was able to impose himself on the international community as someone who could not be excluded from the negotiations for the resolution of the Libyan crisis.

UN and Western delegations opened their doors to him, not only as a military leader but also as someone fighting terrorism, the hottest commodity in the world now. That is why they have insisted that his presence is necessary, which has increased his arrogance and sense of superiority. He receives them with challenging and threatening rhetoric as if he is the leader of the most powerful army in the world. The former US envoy to Libya, Jonathan Winer, tweeted that Haftar told him in two meetings in 2016 “how he intended to run Libya until such time the country was ready for democracy when he would go back to his barracks.” He also tweeted, “Haftar made clear to me he would never take orders from any Libyan politician.”

David Threlfall, as Don Quixote performs on stage during a dress rehearsal of Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, on November 2, 2018 in London, England [John Snelling/Getty Images]

David Threlfall, as Don Quixote performs on stage during a dress rehearsal of Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, on November 2, 2018 in London, England [John Snelling/Getty Images]

Such is the mentality of the man, so it was neither strange nor surprising that he appointed himself as “President of Libya”, despite his defeat. He thinks rather like Gaddafi used to; both are deluded and obsessed with power, even while drowning in Libyan blood.

The so-called Arab League is nowhere to be seen in Libya, and has nothing to say about Haftar and his crimes. This is typical of the organisation, based as it is in Egypt. Its strings are pulled by the counter-revolutionary forces, and he is their man in Libya.

Absent also are the Western colonial countries, but that is due to their shame. They did not ignore the situation, as the Arab League did, but nor did they condemn Haftar’s claim to be President. Their statements were characterised by political uncertainty: the US Embassy in Tripoli expressed its regret, while a Russian Foreign Ministry official expressed Moscow’s surprise and its reservations about unilateral action; Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “regretted” what happened. Even the UN mission in Libya did not condemn Haftar, but instead demanded dialogue between the two conflicting parties and declared support for the political initiative announced by Aguila Saleh, President of the House of Representatives, regarding it as a positive step.

Libya: Attacks give government ‘no choice but to respond’

There is a degree of global flexibility towards Haftar that suggests implicit approval of his attack on Tripoli which will rid them of the “terrorist” Islamists. It is no surprise that Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin and their boys in the Arab world support him, as Haftar is their ideal model for rulers of Arab countries.

The most dangerous thing about Haftar’s farcical declaration that he is the President of Libya is the division of the country. I believe that this is what he wants. I also believe that his intensive bombing of Tripoli and Mitiga International Airport, killing dozens of civilians, is a criminal escalation in an attempt to escape from his defeats, and strengthen his position with his local and international allies, a position which was shaken by his repeated failures.

Libya’s septuagenarian Don Quixote is not fighting windmills, he is fighting his people to realise his dream. He has started to panic, fearing that he will meet the same fate as Gaddafi, and is willing to burn down Libya and its people to stop that happening. The international community will not stand up to and stop this reckless criminal. I am counting on the heroic people of Libya to continue their struggle against him and to defeat his mercenaries. His eventual defeat will send an important message to all despots across the region and around the world.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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