Libyans agreed on peace, but did not forget the past

Menfi and Dbeibah have sidestepped the landmine of the military parade planned by Haftar Saturday by each making an overseas visit.
Friday 28/05/2021
Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar salutes troops during Independence Day celebrations in Benghazi, Libya December 24, 2020. (REUTERS)
Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar salutes troops during Independence Day celebrations in Benghazi, Libya December 24, 2020. (REUTERS)

BENGHAZI (Libya) – The Libyans have agreed to end the fighting and form a new government and presidency council, but they did not agree to turn the page on the past and overcome the pain of war and division, including the chapter about Operation Dignity launched in 2014 by the Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Even though the aim of the operation was to fight terrorism, many Libyans still view what happened in Benghazi and Derna as a civil war between Arab tribes and urban dwellers of Tripolitanian and Misratan origins.

It is expected that the Benina military base in the city of Benghazi will host a military parade Saturday to mark the seventh anniversary of the launch of Operation Dignity.

Haftar chose to send an invitation to the government and its head, Abdelhamid Dbeibah, in addition to the Presidency Council and its president, Mohammed al-Menfi. Some analysts believed the aim of the invitations was to embarrass the interim government, which would have  found itself faced with two difficult options.

The first option would have been to attend the parade, which would have meant recognising Haftar’s campaign and possibly  provoking the reaction of armed factions in the western region that are loyal to political Islam. The second option, was to have turned down the invitation, thus giving the impression that the government and Dbeibah denied the sacrifices made by Barqa’s youth in confronting terrorism.

This invitation was delivered at a time when the relationship between Haftar and the Government of National Unity (GNU) is going through tensions, which came out into the open after the authorities in the east prevented a plane carrying ministers and guards from disembarking at Benina Airport at the end of last month. This caused the cancellation of the first cabinet meeting in the city that Dbeibah had been planning to hold there.

Reports circulated at the time said the reason for stopping the plane passengers from disembarking was a statement made by Dbeibah in Tripoli on the sidelines of a meeting with young people who were displaced from the city of Benghazi. The interim prime minister was quoted as saying that he would make sure Benghazi returns to the fold of the homeland. His words were interpreted as reflecting a biased attitude in favour of the displaced who migrated from the city after the launch of Operation Dignity.

When he later received tribal and local delegations from Cyrenaica back in Tripoli, Dbeibah seemed to be sending a message to Haftar that preventing delegations from visiting Benghazi did not mean blocking Dbeibah from meeting political and social groups from Benghazi.

However, Menfi and Dbeibah have sidestepped the landmine of  the military parade planned by Haftar Saturday by each making an overseas visit the same day. Menfi is due in Tunis where he will see Tunisian president Kais Saied and Dbeibah is heading for meetings in Algiers. It is being claimed by GNU sources that both visits had been scheduled before Haftar’s invitation.

What worries observers is that Haftar’s parade sends messages that contradict the mood of the peace process and deepen Libyans’ fears of a return to war.

What adds to these concerns is that political and military parties affiliated with the Dbeibah government have not stopped making controversial statements indicating that the page of division has not yet been turned.

The most recent was made by Mohammed Ali Abdallah Addarrat, the special envoy of the Dbeibah government to the United States, who in an interview with the US website “Axios” talked about the existence of an “elephant in the room” that posed a major dilemma that no one wants to raise.

According to the website, the Dbeibah aide was referring to Haftar with this expression. In fact, Addarrat described the field marshal as ” the rogue general who attempted to overthrow the Tripoli government but his attempt was thwarted last year when Turkey intervened on behalf of the Tripoli government and he remains a force in eastern Libya.”

In addition to Addarrat, military leaders in the Operation Volcano of Anger do not stop using words that are disparaging to Haftar, such as describing him as a “coup plotter” and “the Rajma general”, after the location of his headquarters.

According to ibya watchers, such expressions are in conflict with the spirit of peace that has prevailed in the country since the parliament approved the new government and the handover of power by the Abdullah al-Thinni’s government, in addition to the visit of new cabinet ministers to the eastern region, an uncommon occurrence during the past few years.