What if the Berlin conference becomes a reality in Libya?

by Imad Atoui
April 29, 2020


Neither immediate neighboring countries nor al-Sarraj`s bloc will end the Libyan dilemma. The future of Libya under the foreign Tobruk-alliance represented by Haftar, will design the future of Libyan politics.

Few months ago, the Berlin conference took place with the hope of bringing peace to Libya. As a result, the main influencing powers have given their commitments to enforce the military embargo towards the local enemy-brothers in the country.

Taken at face value, the diplomatic initiative enabled Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in gathering external actors with forced smiles, the geopolitical interests of each block came pre-decided on each country`s position in the Libyan arena. Though this diplomatic conference was one among many previous efforts, the question remains: what if the commitments of Berlin attendees actually occur and bring a glimmer of hope to Libya`s future? In fact, answering this question leads us to consider one of the long-term potential scenarios.

Despite the last rapprochement between the competing blocs in Libya through Turkey and Russia, the latter does not have the last word. In contrast to Turkey, Russia was previously in the Tripoli bloc, and the shift to recognize Tobruk bloc was necessary to maintain the Kremlin`s footholds and to preserve its traditionally geo-economic, geostrategic and geopolitical interests in Libya.

The Berlin conference is a diplomatic process to preserve Tobruk bloc`s geopolitical interests smoothly.  Assuming if the results of the Berlin process will find place among the two competing blocs, the local political game will be shaped by those who geostrategically/militarily were about to take over Tripoli recently. Calling for a round table dialogue by the most players will end up with the inclusion of both hostile parties in a peaceful political process.

However, though the political game settles for GNA wing, in the long-run the balance will swing in favor of the Tobruk party. Locally, the Tobruk wing stands for the majority of the strong tribes` hostile to the eastern wing. In addition, this bloc holds the gun now and in the past, for example, during the Senoussi dynasty up through the 42 years of Qadhafi rule, this bloc has been the base for the country`s military institution. That means, the Tobruk party will take the coercive apparatus that follows the political resolution.

The idea that “the holder of the gun is the winner” is not new in Libya or in the MENA region at large. Despite the loyalty of Senoussi to the west, the military coup by Qadhafi in 1969 reshaped the Libyan politics and endured the long span of the gun-state and formed an anti-western/rogue state. This situation is similar to other countries in the MENA region, most of the states are under the control of the one who holds hard power regardless of the system`s form: Assad in Syria, Military in Egypt, Saudi dynasty in Arabia…etc

A weak state in Libya with a relative stability is the common target of external powers in order to preserve their geopolitical interests. Thus, implementing and upholding an authoritarian system is the only strategy to achieve their goals. For the Tobruk alliances, relative political stability means creating a belt against threats emerging from the Sahel region, namely, illegal immigration and security threats to Europe. The lack of legitimacy inherent to authoritarian systems creates the space for external powers to put pressure on the ruling regime.

The second reason why the Tobruk alliance does not want democracy in Libya is that, democracy in the western narratives is equal to the rise of Islamists. The rise of Iran forms a paradigmatic example in which democratization constituted a big challenge for the western countries. Democratization also generated Muhammed Mursi in Egypt and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria in 1990s. Both threatened the geopolitical interests of the western. The rise of Mursi led Egypt to support the Palestinian resistance against Israel, while the rise of Islamists in Algeria led in a decade of terrorism in the eyes of the westerns.

In addition to the western states in the Tobruk alliance, regional players as well promote the same agenda. For Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE, democracy remains the biggest threat to their survival. The rise of democracy will play a domino effect on these dictatorial systems, while all these states are pro-Israeli in the region. Thus, those who are deemed Islamists are against the Israeli project in Palestine and the American agenda in the MENA region.

Despite the non-involvement of western states in the militarily disputes between Tobruk and Tripoli, their reactions were to support the triad-Arab alliance (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt) in doing so. After the counter-revolution actions that these players launched in the post Arab-uprising, some Arab states were and still are the main weapons, money, and logistics suppliers to Haftar. Just few days after the Berlin meeting, Tripoli has been still receiving Haftar`s rocket attacks led to more 50 killed civilians, while the city remains under siege with human casualties mounting daily.

Finally, the Berlin conference poses only a different path for the Tobruk alliance to preserve their interests smoothly. If the results of the Berlin conference materialize, the Tripoli partners will forcibly leave the space as Italy did in the post-World War II. And since the Tripoli wing presents different external partners, its disappearance from the political scene in Libya will diffidently bring down the partners` geopolitical interests that had been matched to its existence. Despite that, the scenario of the political resolution in Libya seems to have fallen through. The regional and international players still believe that the rise of any democratic system means the collapse of the authoritarian machine for the former, and the end of the geopolitical interests for the latter.