Mustafa Fetouri, Middle East Monitor - Proxy war in Libya complicated by third governing force

Mustafa Fetouri, Middle East Monitor
Proxy war in Libya complicated by third governing force


The United Nations, led by the NATO powers who led the charge to overthrow Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi, served up post-regime power in a single scoop to what has turned out to be an incoherent collection of militias called The Government of National Accord, known as the GNA, based in Tripoli in western Libya.  

It didn’t take long for Accord to slip away, and a second center of power to assert itself; a Parliament based in Benghazi in eastern Libya and backed by a slightly more coherent collection of militias called the Libyan National Army, known as the LNA.

Since 2011 when Qaddafi was overthrown and murdered, GNA and LNA militias have often killed one another, but without either side getting close to defeating the other. The addition of, if not takeover by, foreign allies – Turkey and Qatar backing the GNA; Egypt, the UAE and Russia backing the LNA – has only made the war more deadly and widely damaging, but it has not changed the balance of power.

Libya’s economy runs on income from oil. The LNA holds not only the oil-producing areas of the country, but most of the major refineries and oil ports. But the GNA, with its international recognition, controls the global marketing and sales of said oil. No one can make a buck, sell oil on legitimate markets unless the two sides cooperate.

Which, after spending most of 2020 attacking one another and refusing to work together, in the past few weeks some leaders on both sides have been talking about – about making peace and sharing oil revenues.

A conventional estimate of potential Libyan oil and gas revenues is roughly a billion dollars a month, so you can see why giving peace a chance would be profitable as well as popular. But Libyan interests and peace are in pawns to bigger international ambitions, particularly those of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  

These supposed allies are on opposite sides of three hot wars right now: in Syria, Libya and most-recently Nagorno-Karabakh. Maybe Putin and Erdogan feel two is enough, because after committing drones and planes and artillery and thousands of ground fighters and letting them bleed to a stalemate, they’ve joined the international chorus calling for a new national government.

According to those who’ve seen the plan, it calls for not two, but three centers of Libyan power, adding a government in Fezzan in Libya’s south to the contending forces from east and west.

Might it work? Do all or any of the sides really want war to end before they’ve reached their goals to control the whole country?  



Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize and write regularly for.




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