Marzouki accused Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE of comprising an “axis of evil” whose involvement in Libya may lead to Tripoli’s destruction.
Rabat – Former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki commented this weekend on the attack on Tripoli by Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, saying it is a final attempt to destroy the spirit of the Arab Spring and a threat not only to the security of Libya, but to Tunisia and Algeria as well.
Haftar’s advance on Tripoli is the latest installment in Libya’s ongoing crisis. Libya has been plagued by instability since 2011 when the Arab Spring sparked a civil war and the death of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi created a power vacuum.
On April 4, Haftar announced his intention to take over Tripoli in a voice recording circulated online. The Libyan National Army (LNA), which Haftar commands, advanced on the capital of Libya that day.
Tripoli is the seat of the internationally-recognized government, the Government of National Accord (GNA). The GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj accused Haftar of launching a coup and scrambled to mobilize militias under GNA to launch a counterattack.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Marzouki expressed his concern for the people of Libya and fear that Haftar would destroy Tripoli. He said the attack on Tripoli targets not only the internationally-recognized GNA but also the very spirit of the Arab Spring.
According to Marzouki, Haftar’s actions threaten both Tunisia and Algeria by destabilizing the region and threatening the uprising in Algeria.
Algeria is currently in the midst of country-wide protests which have succeeded in forcing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign and are now calling for the removal of all symbols of his regime.
Marzouki’s fears may be based on Haftar’s previous comments. In September 2018, Al Jazeera published a video of Haftar threatening to “spread war” to Algeria, increasing tensions between Algeria and Haftar’s forces.
But Marzouki does not believe that the threat comes from Haftar alone. The world’s great powers are conspiring with the “Arab axis of evil,” led by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to encourage Haftar’s attack on Tripoli, Marzouki told Al Jazeera. He emphasized the need for Arab people to rely only on themselves to retain their rights, saying the Western powers have no concern for Arab freedoms.
Haftar’s rise to prominence
Khalifa Haftar, commander marshall of the LNA, holds significant influence in Libya, with his base of power in the east of Libya.
The 75-year-old military man has presented himself as a solution to Libya’s violence and instability. But, many within and outside Libya fear that if he takes power, Libya will quickly become an authoritarian state.
Haftar, who returned to Libya from exile in 2011 after the fall of Gaddafi, kept a relatively low profile until 2014 when he launched Operation Dignity. The military operation sought to cleanse the country of terrorist militias. He quickly became popular in Benghazi, eastern Libya, for his role in driving out Islamist groups, in particular the Al Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia.
After a bloody three-year battle, Haftar’s forces took full control of Benghazi in July 2017. Following this success, he rapidly expanded his sphere of control in eastern Libya. The LNA seized control of Derna, the last foothold of opposition in the east, in 2018 and Fezzan, an oil-rich city in the southwest, in January 2019.
The UN, taken aback by the LNA’s rapid movement south, mediated a meeting between Haftar and Prime Minister al-Sarraj in Abu Dhabi in February. At the meeting, both parties agreed to hold elections before the end of the year as well as a national conference from April 14 to 16 to discuss a timetable for elections and move toward the unification of the country.
However, Clingendael Institute researcher Jalel Harchaoui said that it is likely that Haftar only agreed to the proposed elections in order to buy time for his long-planned attack on Tripoli.
Just before the launch of this most recent military campaign, Haftar met with King Salman in Saudi Arabia. Egypt and the UAE have also been named as backers of Hafter.
France has also provided tacit support for Haftar and the LNA, while Italy backs the GNA, leaving the two European countries at odds. Both see Libya as the key to stopping waves of migration coming into Europe from sub-Saharan Africa.
Haftar understands that migration is key to his international recognition, and, according to the European Council on Foreign Relations’ senior policy fellow Mattia Toaldo, Haftar intends to play on the issue to garner support and legitimacy.
In response to the invasion of Tripoli, the UK called an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Friday. The meeting resulted in a statement which called on Haftar to “halt all military movements,” expressed concerns about the escalation of violence throughout the country, and promised that those responsible for the conflict will be held accountable.
Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Bourita has previously expressed Morocco’s support for a Libya-led solution moderated by the UN. According to Bourita, a stable Libya is essential to the security of the Maghreb.