Four years of revolution have not left Libya in the state its people were expecting. Huge political division and armed conflict are tearing the country apart. Lives have been lost and Libya’s resources wasted. It is a situation that is worrying the international community, particularly Libya’s neighbouring North African countries.
We discussed the situation in Libya with politician, military leader and president of the nationalist Islamist Al-Watan (‘Homeland’) Party, Abdulhakim Belhadj.
Belhadj’s backround lies in Salafi-Jihadism. He fought in Afghanistan and was later imprisoned in the US and Libya for establishing the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Belhadj also participated in the downfall of the capital Tripoli during the 2011 uprising.
He now introduces himself as a politician and a moderate Islamist, calling for discussion and rejecting terrorism.
Mohammed Shaikhibrahim, euronews: “First of all, what is the current situation in Libya?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “The problem right now in Libya is totally political. This issue has resulted in Libya being divided into two parliaments: the ‘Libyan Parliament’ and the ‘National Congress’. This means there are two legislative bodies, two governments and even two armies.
“But, the reality we are witnessing on the ground plays the main role in what is happening in Libya these days.”
euronews: “So, you’re saying this conflict began as a political struggle, but turned into an armed conflict? Who started the battle? And how did it begin?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “It started when the retired General Khalifa Haftar came back onto the scene. He took part in a military coup on the ruling General National Congress (GNC), before forming the current parliament in Tobruk.
“So, General Haftar is the person who sparked this war. He contended that he was against terrorist organisations and groups working outside the boundaries of the law. But I would describe this general as an outlaw, because he began this war and failed to find a solution to the Libyan crisis.”
euronews: “Some reports say forces loyal to you started a war in the streets after you extended your control over Tripoli airport. They suggest you are the cause of this internal fighting. So, are you part of this armed conflict?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj “No, of course this is not true. And people observing the situation in Libya know who Abdulhakim Belhadj is. I resigned the presidency of the Tripoli Military Council, which comprised more than 23,000 fighters and my goal is not to cling on to this scene or position. Neither did I order any fighter to do so.
“I now lead a political party – the Al-Watan Party – and our main loyalty lies with the nation. We want to address the Libya question and put the interests of the country and its citizens first. This affiliation is now leading us to gather for discussion with all the Libyan factions.”
euronews: “Are you accusing certain countries of being behind General Khalifa Haftar?”
Abdelhakim Belhadj: “Yes, certainly. And they don’t deny that. The United Arab Emirates, for example. We hoped they would offer support for the stability of Libya, that they would help to restore security and establish Libyan institutions. But we notice now that the UAE sends aircraft, weapons, ammunition and armour to those who are killing the Libyan people.”
euronews: “If these countries are, as you say, supporting General Khalifa Haftar, which nations are supporting you?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “I want to reiterate that I am not one of those people who is armed, who is walking around with weapons. But, I can say that those who are leading the scene now and are carrying out the orders of the GNC are those who have had legitimacy from the beginning.
“For example, the military forces operating under the name of Fajr Libya – or Libyan Dawn – are valid. It has been in operation since the era of former Defence Minister Abdullah al-Thani, who gave the group authority. It took orders from Chief of Staff Abdul Salam Jadallah.”
euronews: “What is preventing you from meeting your opponents to negotiate an end to the crisis?”
Abdelhakim Belhadj: “We support this and we are calling for talks. We have sat down several times with international organisations, such as the United Nations, and we have introduced many initiatives to try to reach a solution. But, we don’t think that what the UN did recently at the conference in Geneva was effective.
“With due respect to all the international organisations supporting a resolution to this conflict, I would like to say: some of those who are invited to conferences such as the one in Geneva are far removed from what is influencing politics in Libya, especially the current ground operations.”
euronews: “As we understand, you are saying that you are just a political man, but what we do know is that you are in fact now ruling the city of Tripoli.”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “That’s not completely true. Our only comment on the confusing scene in Libya is as follows: due to a series of weak governments in our country following the uprising of February 17, 2011, plans to develop security and military institutions have not been carried out. So, Libya is awash with militia groups and armed entities, which do not have the official support needed to legitimise them.
“So, the scene remains as it is now. Divisions and conflicts have occurred because some political groups have allowed armed entities to increase their control on state institutions in Tripoli.”
euronews: “Are you now a fighter under the guise of a politician?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “I stand with my brothers, who are seeking to find a solution to the Libyan crisis regardless of their political affiliation. Because, democracy means accepting the principle that people have different points of view. We have taken this on board.
“But, what I would like to confirm here is this: today we are working to find a solution to end this crisis – a crisis we do not want to continue or to be repeated.”
euronews: “Your background lies in salafi-jihadism. You fought in Afghanistan and were imprisoned in the US, then in Libyan jails because you established the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. You also participated in the downfall of Tripoli during the 2011 uprising. But now you introduce yourself as a politician and a moderate Islamist, calling for discussion and rejecting terrorism. What is the secret behind this drastic change?”
Abdulhakim Belhadj: “You are going back to our roots and the war we fought against the Muammar Gaddafi dictatorship. That battle was linked to the spatial and temporal conditions at the time.
“Because we were fighting a dictatorial regime in Libya, it was necessary for us to use weapons in order to save the Libyan people from Gaddafi’s rule.
“This was the role of the Group in the past, but I would like to clearly affirm that the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has been terminated. It ceased to exist at the downfall of the Gaddafi regime.”
euronews: “You accused the British government of involvement in the torture you were subjected to at the hands of Libyan intelligence officials. Are you still filing legal action against them?”
Abdelhakim Belhadj: “Yes. I was tortured in Libyan prisons by Libyan intelligence officials, with the help of British intelligence. We discovered evidence of this after entering the security headquarters in Tripoli during the revolution. We found documents proving that the British Intelligence Agency MI-6 were involved, as well as some other people who handed me over to the Gaddafi regime.
“They put me at the mercy of a regime that does not respect human rights, and I would ask the British government to acknowledge this. It is proved by letters, which are signed by British agents. I ask them simply for an apology, then I will drop the matter.”