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Analysts: United Arab Emirates, Qatar must cease over-extended proxy war in Libya

09:11 | 25.12.2015 | Analytic

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25 December 2015. PenzaNews. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar must stop the devastating proxy war in Lybia, suggest Giorgio Cafiero, co-founder of Gulf State Analytics, and Daniel Wagner, CEO of Country Risk Solutions, in their joint article titled “The UAE and Qatar wage a proxy war in Libya” published in the foreign media.

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They remind that the ousting and murder of the Libyan Revolution leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 as a result of the civil war and foreign intervention led to dissipation of centralized power and chaos in the oil-rich country, which many armed groups conflicting with each other were quick to exploit.

“Several weeks after losing the July 2014 election, a Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition (‘Libya Dawn’) seized the capital city of Tripoli. The Libya Dawn fighters established an administration (the New General National Congress) pushing the nation’s UN-recognized government into Tobruk, situated along the Mediterranean coast near Egypt. Despite UN efforts to broker peace, forces loyal to Libya’s Tripoli- and Tobruk-based governments remain in conflict. The fact that both sides have foreign sponsors has unquestionably prolonged and intensified the country’s multitude of problems,” the authors write.

In their opinion, the civil war has been caused by the geopolitical spite of the UAE and Qatar that earlier had provided significant assistant to the rebels who brought down the Libyan Jamahiriya in 2011.

“At the heart of the Emirati-Qatari rivalry in Libya lie sensitive political issues for the Gulf monarchs. Specifically, how should the Council’s ruling families react to the rise of grassroots Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood [banned in Russia], which promote democratic institutions and espouse social justice concerns across the region?” the analysts ask.

From their point of view, the stance towards the rebel groups changed significantly after the Arab Spring when the Muslim Brotherhood came into power in several MENA countries.

The Arab Emirates has conducted a staunch policy against this Islamist movement for years as they see it as a threat to the country’s stability and sovereignty, the authors add.

“During the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt’s Arab nationalist president Gamal Abdel Nasser cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood; many of its members fled to the Gulf. After the UAE gained independence in 1971, many of these Brotherhood members, in their capacity as educated and upwardly mobile members of society, gained prominent positions of power in the Emirates’ public and private sectors. They also held influence in the nation’s judiciary and education system. In 1974 they established Al-Islah, an official NGO which is understood to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s Emirati branch. By the 1990s, UAE authorities grew unsettled by Al-Islah’s increasingly political activity and banned the group’s members from holding public office,” Giorgio Kafiero and Daniel Wagner write.

They remind that the Muslim Brotherhood, which was recognized by the UAE authorities as a terrorist organization in 2014, still maintains a support base in the poorer emirates.

At the same time, according to analysts, Qatar, who came to be known as the Arab World’s ‘wild card’ on the turn of the century, provides various kinds of support to the Muslim Brotherhood, including media backing using the Al-Jazeera channel available in numerous countries worldwide.

“By 2011 many hailed Al-Jazeera as a promoter of democratic change and popular revolution. Yet, certain autocratic regimes across the region viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as an existential threat, and soon saw Al-Jazeera as Doha’s political weapon, being used to stir up trouble. Qatar’s critics observed that Yusuf al-Qaradawi [Egypt-born spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has lived in Qatar since the 1960s] was a popular television host on Al-Jazeera,” the authors state.

The experts also cite the news source Egypt Independent, according to which an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood presidential nominee, Khairat al-Shater, traveled to Doha to address coordination between the Freedom and Justice Party and Qatar in the upcoming period, which led many to believe the results of the election could have been influenced.

However, according to the documents published by WikiLeaks, as early as in 2009 Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed accused Qatar of providing active support to the Muslim Brotherhood and urged Washington to examine the staff of Al-Jazeera.

Moreover, in November 2015, New York Times, using leaked secret e-mails, accused the UAE of shipping arms to certain Libyan militias in violation of the international arms embargo, and bribing Bernardino León, former UN mediator for Libya, with a well-paying position in a prestigious organization, which he accepted before leaving his previous post on 1 November 2015.

According the authors, Libya is not the only proxy war battlefield between Abu Dhabi and Doha, but the stakes there are particularly high for both parties.

“At the Camp David summit of Gulf Arab leaders [on 13-14 May 2015], President Barack Obama told the Emirati and Qatari leaders that he favored an inclusive political solution in Libya. The Gulf Arab officials present agreed not to publically criticize the ongoing peace process and concurred that, as is the case with so many of the region’s conflicts, there can be no military solution. Yet, since the summit, the UAE and Qatar have reportedly continued to compete for power in Libya,” the analyst stress.

From their point of view, the unprecedented measures taken by Abu Dhabi serve as a perfect illustration of the country’s level of commitment in the conflict. In particular, in March 2014, the UAE together with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Doha for six months, and in August, a group of Emirati planes based in Egypt conducted several airstrikes against Islamist militants who sought to conquer Tripoli.

“Although the UAE’s strikes were futile in terms of thwarting the Libya Dawn coalition from seizing control of the nation’s capital, the military operation signaled a watershed in Emirati foreign policy. This was the first time in which the UAE military waged strikes against a foreign country without international authorization. […] Libya is where Doha is fully committed to backing its Islamist allies, which have proven resilient in many battles, have stood their ground in strategically vital areas of the country, and currently carry their share of leverage at the roundtable. Last year, the BBC described the February 17 Martyrs Brigade (a militia in the Libya Dawn coalition) as the ‘biggest and best armed militia in eastern Libya’,” Giorgio Cafiero and Daniel Wagner write.

However, from their point of view, the best way out of the conflict for the UAE and Qatar is peace between the opposing groups.

“Doha and Abu Dhabi must recognize that neither will fully benefit from what Libya has to offer until a peaceful settlement is reached. By further militarizing the conflict, the prospects for stability in Libya will certainly diminish. If the UAE and Qatar can shift their focus in Libya from military issues to the diplomatic arena, and if both were to make ideological compromises in the process, the goal of securing peace in Libya could become more realistic. In the absence of that, the proxy war in Libya will likely continue for a long time to come, and neighboring states will continue to suffer from the destabilizing spillover effects,” the analysts think.

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