Twelve years since the start of the revolution that has plunged Libya into an unfinished transition marred by infighting, lack of rule of law and widespread corruption, the international community is slowly trying to put the peace process back on track. In his remark to the UN Security Council on the 27th of February, the new UN Special Representatives (UNSRG) of the Secretary General Abdoulaye Bathily proposed the creation of a High-Level Steering Panel for Libya.
It is a hybrid solution halfway between the rigid form of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), that two years ago brought to the establishment of the Government of National Unity (GNU); and the national reconciliation conference that in 2019 was sabotaged by General Khalifa Haftar’s attack on Tripoli. The new organ is expected to pave the way for elections that would solve the legitimacy crisis of the main political institutions.
Heavily relying on the principle of reconciliation, Bathily’s initiative to break the political deadlock comes at a time of visible geopolitical realignment over Libya in particular and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in general. The visit of the GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah to Abu Dhabi, where he met with the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation on 15 February, is just an indication of the monumental shift in the Emirati’s policy in Libya. After years of military support for the Libyan National Army (LNA) of Haftar, the UAE is now on very good terms with the rival authorities in Tripoli, a conduct more in line with the pragmatic approach taken since the end of the Trump administration and the coming age of normalisation.
However, some reports also went further, suggesting that the UAE’s arms supply to a not yet pacified Libya have been diverted from the traditional backing of Haftar to the new partners in Tripolitania. Africa Intelligence in particular revealed how the GNU requested the UN Sanctions Committee on Libya to allow the delivery of 45 armoured vehicles from the UAE-based Streit Group for anti-migration purposes. Out of concerns that the new batch of armoured vehicles could be used in clashes, the Sanctions Committee had reportedly refrained from answering, but the report also made a parallel between the GNU’s request and the interception of ten armoured vehicles by EUNAVFOR MED off the coasts of Libya last October. The vehicles were BATT (Ballistic Armoured Tactical Transport) UMG manufactured by UAE-based The Armoured Group (TAG), which, together with Streit Group has already a history of supplying military equipment to the forces of Khalifa Haftar. The MV Meerdijk, intercepted by Operation IRINI, was apparently bound to eastern Libya, controlled by the LNA, but the report instils the doubt that the GNU was at the receiving end of the bargain, quoting unnamed UN officials.
Considering the crucial role that the UAE played last year in mediating for the replacement of the former head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) Mustafa Sanalla with a more palatable candidate for Haftar, a scenario in which the UAE warms ties to the GNU seems consistent with Abu Dhabi’s ongoing rapprochement with Turkey, still the main patron of the authorities in Tripoli. However, besides politics and business, hard power cooperation between the UAE and the GNU would be certainly surprising. Considering the previous arms flow towards the LNA, it would represent a 180° turn for the UAE, that would have inevitable consequences on the balance of power in Libya and will certainly deteriorate Abu Dhabi’s already strained relations with Egypt, actively engaged in a diplomatic boycott of the GNU.
Associate Fellow for the Conflict, Security and Development Programme at the IISS and Maghreb Analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, he regularly publishes on issues such as political developments, security and terrorism in the North Africa region