In a webinar organized by the Emirates Policy Center (EPC) on Wednesday, 22 July 2020, entitled “The Fight for Libya”, a number of international experts and researchers underlined that despite the latest developments on the ground in favour of the forces of the Government of National Unity (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj, neither of the two belligerents in Libya can control the country and completely project its authority on it. Furthermore, there is no alternative to a political solution that ensures a formula of power sharing under international auspices.

During the webinar, which was allocated to discussing the reality of the rivalry between external powers over geopolitical and economic interests in Libya and exploring the prospects of the ongoing regional conflict on Libyan territory, Dr. Ebtesam al-Ketbi, EPC President, indicated that the past period has witnessed the emergence of the interactions of the geopolitical conflict on Libyan territory between the powers supportive of each of the parties to the conflict, namely Turkey on the one hand, and Egypt, France and Russia on the other, in addition to indirect interactions of other international and regional powers such as the US, the European Union (EU), the African Union (AU), Algeria, and Tunisia.

Dr. al-Ketbi: The peace and war decision in Libya has become more in the hands of external powers than in the hands of Libyans themselves

Dr. al-Ketbi said that three facts have emerged from the recent field and political developments in the Libyan conflict: first, the conflict is developing from a Libyan-Libyan conflict into a regional war; second, the “zero approach” does not govern the Libyan belligerents alone, it is also true for the external belligerents; and third, the decision of peace and war has apparently become more in the hands of external powers than in the hands of Libyans themselves.

On his part, Michael O’Hanlon, Director of Research and a Senior Fellow in Security and Strategic Affairs at the Brookings Institution in Washington, indicated that the belief that a decisive change exists in favour of a party in the Libyan conflict at the expense of the other party is highly exaggerated, adding that the Sarraj government and its backer, Turkey, would be mistaken to be obsessed by this belief and consequently act with an overconfidence that would prevent them from favouring the safer option of engaging in dialogue and exploring means of ending the war and sharing power.

O’Hanlon: The belief that a decisive change exists in favour of a party in the Libyan conflict at the expense of the other party is highly exaggerated

While O’Hanlon thinks it is unlikely that the months ahead would witness a focusing by the US administration in Washington on the situation in Libya, saying that the US does not have a strategy regarding that country, he expressed his conviction that Libya could constitute an opportunity for cooperation between the US and Russia, although the leaders of the two countries, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, have over the last few years wasted numerous favourable opportunities for cooperation on many issues.

In his contribution to the webinar, Peter Millet, former British Ambassador to Libya, attributed the failure of the agreements to end the war in Libya, particularly the Skhirat Agreement, to the fact that they do not represent the different parties, powers and sociopolitical components and lack large-scale security, political and economic arrangements, in addition to the inconsistency of the positions of some regional and international powers with the requirements of what they announce in terms of commitment to supporting a peaceful solution to the Libyan crisis.

Millet: While Europe needs a safe and stable Libya, it does not play a role in that direction

The British Ambassador strongly criticized the European position on the Libyan crisis, indicating that while Germany played a good role from a neutral standpoint and managed to bring together belligerents in the Berlin Conference, a country such as the UK has not supported this position, while France and Italy stand at two opposite ends. The Ambassador concluded that while Europe needs a safe and stable Libya, it does not play a role in that direction.

In his turn, Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and a prominent expert in Russian foreign policy affairs and contemporary international relations, indicated that it would be wrong to compare the Russian role in Syria, which is of a geopolitical nature, and the Russian role in Libya, which has economic dimensions, explaining that Syria is more important for Moscow than Libya.

Kortunov: Russia’s role in Libya remains limited compared to its role in Syria which is more important for Moscow

Dr. Kortunov expressed his belief that there is a possibility for the regional and international powers that support both sides of the conflict in Libya to de-escalate the situation. He underlined that while Russia’s role in Libya remains limited compared to its role in Syria, and that Moscow cannot ignore the positions of Rome and Paris in Libya, Russia continues to be somewhat hesitant with regard to explaining its real position on Libya. He added that perhaps after the upcoming US elections, Moscow would have a clearer position.

In his analysis of the Turkish position on Libya, Dr. Ömer Taşpınar, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and professor of national security strategy at the National War College in Washington D.C., said that while several factors stand behind the Turkish dash in Libya, some of which relating to the geopolitical influence and economic dimensions and others having ideological dimensions, an important role is played by the domestic dimension related to President Erdoğan’s desire to enhance his position in Turkey and divert attention away from the looming domestic problems.

Taşpınar: Turkey believes that through its control in Libya it can put Russia in a situation that would be easily manageable in Syria

Dr. Ömer Taşpınar indicated that Turkey believes that through its control in Libya, it can put Russia in a situation that would be easily manageable in Syria, and that, at the same time, it wants Libya to be a pressure card on the EU, adding that the outbreak of a confrontation between Egypt and Turkey would draw Washington’s attention and force it to interfere in Libya.

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