IN DEPTH: Libya – Has Russia Allied with Al Qaeda? Here’s Why Not
By P. Antonopoulos, J. Flores, & V. Gujanicic
By P. Antonopoulos, J. Flores, & V. Gujanicic
TRIPOLI – Some protesters donning the infamous yellow vests were seen in the center of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but unlike the demonstrations in France they have received little international attention. Are they a reflection of the rejection of ‘French support’ that General Khalifa Haftar receives from Macron, that has awakened ire in the area controlled by the so-called internationally recognized government?
Or is this a concocted hi-jacking of the yellow vest trope, being used for ends entirely different from those of the yellow vests in France? Certainly putting yellow vests into an article, photo, and connecting it to France will help in receiving international attention.
The Russia-France Axis on Media and the sidelining of the Yellow Vests
What we understand to be the case is that Russia and France have entered into a tactical alliance of sorts over the question of Libya, and this is no minor question.
France is itself a weak post-colonial power suffering both economic stagnation, and a population replacement crisis instigated by global capitalism and the greed of French elites seeking a union-busting source of cheap labor under the guise of humanitarian liberalism. The Yellow vests seek to topple Macron’s government, but not for reasons connected to Libya – and moreover, until now we have seen that media which general covers anti-hegemonic forces in a friendly way, including media which covers Russian activities in a positive light, have also covered the yellow vest phenomenon in a positive light.
Is the picture becoming clearer? Perhaps not yet. Russia’s RT, an integral part of its media-intelligence project within the information war, has been giving some increased positive spin to Macron, covering less on the subject of the yellow vests from the perspective of their demands, and more on Macron’s – now apparently promising – policy changes. Russian media has decreased the ‘instability’ factor and has even dropped allusions to foul play in the Notre-Dame fire.
Macron is in a fight to retain legitimacy, and has rolled out an increasing line of policy changes meant to improve his image in the eyes of the French public. He was previously the least popular elected French leader in living memory, and his numbers still stagnate. Nevertheless, Russian media has began to align their subjectivity with his own, reporting that Macron is ‘seriously looking at shrinking’ the Schengen Zone. This is an obvious and direct appeal to the yellow vests, among whom migration and the ‘great replacement’ question looms strongly; alongside this are questions of banking regulation, taxes on fuel, increased rents, the home ownership crisis, deteriorating labor conditions, the weakened position of the labor syndicates, and a general erosion of a popular civil society.
The Russia-France Axis on Libya: Pro Haftar’s LNA meets Saudi and Green Support
The offensive of the Libyan National Army (LNA) over the capital Tripoli began more than three weeks ago and the GNA government (Government of National Accord) which the LNA seeks to topple, claims the death toll is increasing every day – it has surpassed more than 250 people they claim.
But for the supporters of the former leader of the country, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi , the attack on Tripoli is a positive development which aims to end the political and military impasse that the country is experiencing, devoid of stable institutions and divided in two. GNA forces had controlled Misurata and Sirte, and this was felt as an occupation by the same forces that removed Gaddafi, in areas which had strongly supported the Green Jamihiriya.
And so oddly, the multipolar world has created an alliance of convenience, which at first glance betrays the common narrative, which sees Gaddafi supporters working in tandem with ‘Saudi assets in Libya’, which we must cautiously and yet with journalistic integrity remind readers that these could include elements previously associated with the very same Wahhabist elements involved in the overthrow of Gaddafi (as was the French).
France is now drawing criticism from other European capitals for its support for Khalifah Haftar , who even escaped a direct condemnation in a communiqué prepared by the European Union.
The role of Paris in the Libyan crisis is considered ambiguous, even by French analysts. Emmanuel Macron officially supports the decisions of the UN in Libya, meaning the GNA government, but for years he has not wanted to lose the possibility of having Haftar’s favor embodied in the LNA.
After the jihadist attacks that bloodied Paris in 2015, France, then presided over by the so-called socialist Francois Hollande, opted for the strong man of the Libyan East, embark on an all-out war against the jihadist groups that sought to fill the power vacuum with the inestimable help outside of the usual sponsors of radical Islamism. But to be clear, this meant indeed a clear division of jihadist forces, splitting them along both ideological and geopolitical lines – Muslim Brotherhood forces and its backers (Turkey, Qatar, much of the EU) supporting the GNA; and Wahhabist elements and their backers (France, Saudi-Arabia) finding common cause with secular Egypt under Al Sisi along with Russia.
Many view ‘Salafism’ as a single phenomenon, but there are massive ideological and geopolitical divisions that separate the ideological trajectory of the Muslim Brotherhood from Wahhabism. The Muslim Brotherhood is influenced greatly by the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb Ibrahim Husayn Shadhili, the author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and a leading member of the Egyptian MB.
Meanwhile Wahhabists, growing first from Saudi Arabia and part of the legitimating ideology of Saudi Arabia (despite factions of radical Wahhabi clerics denouncing the monarchy), show general disdain for the term and prefer Muwahhidun (Unitarians), or simply ‘pure Muslims’. While nominally allied to the Muslim Brotherhood for a time in Syria and other theatres towards the common goals which were also in line with the then U.S policy of creating ‘failed states’, their view on questions of elections, revolutions, participation in civil society, greatly differs from the MB. To make a Marxist analogy (wherein Marxism is Salafism) in regards to those questions, the MB have historically acted like ‘social democrats’ who at times can defer to revolutionary actions when opportune, and conversely the Wahhabists as thorough revolutionary communists who always abstain from the corrupting influence of reformism or participation in a pre-revolutionary society and its civil society institutions. All this, of course, greatly generalizes a terrain which is rife with examples to the contrary, and it is not unheard of for a Wahhabist to simultaneously find great utility in the ideas of Qutb.
But with all this said and done, the vast majority of actual ‘fighters on the ground‘ nominally representing these various geopolitical and ideological forces, were themselves not tremendously religious nor ideological – for the vast majority, these were understood by combatants as simply ‘just fights’ in very basic terms, and moreover, what recruited them to becoming combatants was the element of the regular salaries and wages paid to these fighters within the context of massive poverty and unemployment that has plagued the MENA region since the global market collapse. This collapse was intentionally instigated by the U.S, towards precisely the results of the Arab Spring phenomenon, in the 2007 period, which left many men few options other than to become economic migrants to Europe, war refugees refusing to take a side, or salaried fighters earning a median wage of $100-$200 a month.
And so with this we can understand the various divisions and regroupments under way in Libya. Therefore, it must be clarified that neither Egypt nor Russia are involved in some ‘ideological alignment’ with Wahhabism; only that structures and forces which were essentially economic in nature, previously deployed under that Wahhabist banner, have been regrouped by Haftar and are being used against similarly secular forces of the GNA which share the same phenomenon of having inherited elements of structure and geopolitical support from those which dealt in the world of Salafism – but rather than Wahhabist built structures, they are Muslim Brotherhood built structures.
Therefore Egypt’s role is in part due to several factors. For one, the placement of Al Sisi and the removal of Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi – who himself had been supported by Turkey and Qatar, and helped into power by NGO’s organized and funded also through various UN supported NGO’s and the US-AID, NED and Soros structures – was a feat of mutual work between Russia and Saudi Arabia. This had a positive consequence on the outcome of the Syrian conflict in favor of the Damascus government of the Ba’ath party led by Assad.
For its part, France did not change its line with the arrival of Macron in the Elysee. The interests of Paris include halting armed Islamism in North Africa and the Sahel, defending its economic interests in the area, especially the exploitation of oil in eastern Libya, and contributing to the slowdown of immigration from the Mediterranean.
For this, Paris does not play a single horse. Officially, it is aligned with other powers in support of the government of Fayez Sarraj’s GNA, sponsored by the UN, but has done everything possible to equate, in diplomatic recognition, the two rivals, without the provision of intelligence and weapons, according to Tripoli.
Macron quoted Sarraj and Haftar in Paris, in May 2018, in a meeting in which France intended to end a conflict that harms their interests. However, until then, only Sarraj had the official international approval, a situation that France intended to balance. Haftar has justified his offensive with the need to eliminate the Islamist militias and the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, who, according to him, would keep Sarraj hostage.
There is a point here to be made: the structures that Haftar has inherited and built out of a strange combination of former Green (pro Gaddafi) and Wahhabi-organized elements, has been doubled-over with Haftar’s own understanding of integral Libyan ideology: while ultimately a traitor to Gaddafi’s Jamahiriya, he was one of the founders of Green Libya at an earlier time, and was once proponent of its Green Jamahiriya ideology and the Green Book.
Conversely, the GNA is more overtly a UN-western constructed holograph which only plasters over the veneer of secularism over very actively Salafist elements of the Muslim Brotherhood variety, which to his credit, Sarraj both requires and yet struggles against. Sarraj was himself a former housing minister under Green Libya, and like Haftar therefore has an intimate knowledge of how Libya ought to be properly organized.
It is accepted that Islamist Muslim Brotherhood factions survive in Tripoli, but some sources stress that the most radical groups were expelled in 2016. In any case, while the bombs continue to fall in the Libyan capital and its surroundings, European partners of France reiterate their criticism of Paris, including Italy , a former colonial power of the country and another of the many countries with interests in Libya, which has no doubts in blaming Macron for stirring up the conflict with his support for Haftar.
Haftar’s spokesmen have released several relatively ‘convincing’ pieces of leaked footage showing American mercenaries fighting on the side of the UN-backed GNA, which Haftar’s LNA – backed by KSA, Egypt, France, and Russia, all oppose.
— LNA Spox. (@LNASpox) April 26, 2019
— LNA Spox. (@LNASpox) April 25, 2019
Italy weighs in
Rome does not hide the commercial war with its French neighbor. The Italian hydrocarbons company ENI has been operating Libyan oil for decades in competition with the French company Total. Italy maintains 300 soldiers in Libyan territory, in addition to an indeterminate number of members of the intelligence service. The Government of Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini fear that the deterioration of the situation in Libya will provoke a new avalanche of immigrants towards Europe, with a stopover on the Italian islands.
Therefore, in recent days Sarraj warned that there were “800,000 emigrants ready to leave for Europe.”
And of course the other element of intrigue in this multipolar series of gordian knots, is that on the balance, Italy’s policy under di Maio and Salvini have been friendlier to Russia than that of France.
This is a desperate appeal, because the reality is that not only France trusts Haftar to take power, but in the rest of Europe the support for Sarraj is officially maintained based on respect for international institutions – but it is evident that they would settle for a regime of force that would put an end to the Libyan chaos. At the same time, for these governments to think about elections is more a forced declaration of good intentions than a real possibility.
Nevertheless, on the whole the summation of European policy, regardless of which faction in particular they believe can stabilize the country, and towards which benefits of which commercial interest group, is distinct from the (nominally former) U.S policy which was to create a failed state in Libya.
The Libyan failed state scenario has generally weakened the EU, both in terms of an artificially created refugee and humanitarian crisis, and in terms of Gaddafi’s Libya as a stable country which engaged productively and profitably for European countries.
Egypt is a main supporter of the head of the LNA, Haftar, which has the United Arab Emirates and now also Saudi Arabia as providers of funds, with Russia’s approving nod and an armaments transfer previously reported by FRN. On the opposition side to the interests of the countries mentioned, Qatar and Turkey – ardent backers of Muslim Brotherhood politics – seem to be losing their footing in the battle for strategic influence in the area.
Here are our conclusive points: