Libya Becomes the Latest Proxy Fight Between Regional Powers

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views From The Region


The events of the last few days, and indeed weeks, in Libya continue to underscore the complicated and multifaceted nature of the security challenge in the country. The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, has been accused of indiscriminate bombing in the country’s capital, Tripoli, resulting in the death of several civilians. Backed by the Egyptians and others in the region, General Haftar has made the capture of Tripoli his main objective, appearing to make significant progress until being pushed back by the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) military forces supplied by Turkish government-provided military equipment.

Sounding the alarm about the increased violence and instability in Libya, Arab News’ Maria Maalouf warns against becoming complacent amidst the COVID-19 pandemic since “major developments have been taking place in Libya that threaten the stability of the nation and represent serious new occurrences in its decade-long civil war…. The evolution of the civil war in Libya should not be neglected internationally. Based on recent reports of a new phase of activism by Daesh in Iraq and other parts of the Arab and Islamic worlds, the Trump administration and the West should pay attention to Libya and the fact it is part of the global war against terrorism…. it is time the whole world sided with Haftar and told Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan to curtail his dangerous ambitions in Libya.”

Maalouf’s comments come after a tenuous ceasefire between General Haftar’s forces and those of the UN-supported government came to an abrupt end, leading “Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) Foreign Minister Mohamed Siala [to] call on The Hague’s International Criminal Court (ICC) to take necessary measures to investigate rocket attacks on Mitiga International Airport. Labeling the attacks a war crime, Siala accused the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar of carrying them out. In a letter to the ICC, Siala accused LNA forces of violating international and human rights laws, killing and maiming prisoners and of attacking diplomatic missions.”

Recriminations between the various actors involved in the Libyan conflict have come at a fast pace over the last few days, due in large part to the ever-increasing number of such actors. Of particular interest has been Turkey’s growing role in the conflict, which according to a recent Asharq Alawsat report has been condemned by General Haftar’s “Libyan National Army (LNA) [which] questioned a recent statement by the Turkish foreign ministry that threatened to attack the military should it target Ankara’s interests in Libya. LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said the Turkish statement is ‘misleading because Ankara has been fighting the army since 2014 through its proxies in Libya’…. Mismari also expressed his concern over the growing number of Turkish and Qatari flights landing in regions close to Libyan-Tunisian border. He said that the activity is part of efforts to set up an administration for the Turks, Qataris and Muslim Brotherhood that are allied with Rached al-Ghannouchi, the Tunisian parliament speaker and founder of the Islamist Ennahda party.”

Turkish officials, for their part, have expressed outrage regarding a joint statement by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, Greece, and Cyprus (the ‘quintuple’) criticizing Turkish involvement in Libya. Writing for the Libya Observer, Abdulkader Assad notes that “The spokesman of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Hami Aksoy, said Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, France, Greece, and Cyprus had made a typical hypothetical statement regarding Libya and the eastern Mediterranean region. The Turkish official slammed the joint statement made by the foreign ministers… concerning Ankara’s stance on Libya and the eastern Mediterranean Sea, accusing them of ‘hypocrisy’ and of “seeking regional chaos and instability through the policies they pursue and seeing no harm in sacrificing the democratic aspirations of the peoples to the callous aggression of putschist dictators, and which have fallen into a delirium, as their agendas are being disrupted by Turkey’.”

Turkish observers, including Hurriyet Daily News’ Serkan Demirtas, have also pushed back against media narratives depicting Libya’s ‘renegade’ general as a legitimate leader and statesman, while also singling out countries in the region that have provided material support for General Haftar: “Reluctant to sign off on civil war, Haftar’s forces have immediately breached the Berlin conclusions and intensified its military campaign against the U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli, thanks to the military and political support he has long been receiving from a number of countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, Russia and etc…. Turkey has become the latest nation in intervening into Libyan affairs and it did it by signing a formal deal with the internationally recognized government of Libya. Turkish assistance has foiled Haftar’s plans to claim a military victory, as suggested by international experts who closely follow the course of the civil war in Libya.”

Commenting on Russia’s equally aggressive involvement in Libya, Daily Sabah’s Talha Kose expresses misgivings about the future of Libya fearing that “the best-case scenario for the future of Libya is a frozen conflict among the eastern and western poles of Libya with both Haftar and the GNA allowing the UAE, Egypt and France to play more significant roles in the country…. The Russian involvement is seen as a move that may prolong the frozen conflict in Libya. It may use Libya as a ground to expand its presence in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. This may also extend the span of the conflict. The equation and the power balance in the Libyan civil war is getting much more complicated.”

But ‘foreign meddling’, as Kamel Abdallah puts it in a recent op-ed for Al Ahram, is only half of the problem, with the other half resulting from Libya’s “regional power-sharing approach to the Libyan crisis that the international community has followed since 2011. This determination to distribute government positions and authorities on the basis of affiliation to Libya’s three historic regions (Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan), as opposed to on the basis of ideological/political affiliations as is commonly believed, has contributed to weakening government institutions because of the consequent tensions and rivalries within and between them.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Scroll to Top