We can start “packing our bags” in Libya, despite the intense efforts by our ambassador, Giuseppe Buccino Grimaldi, to engage in talks with General Khalifa Haftar. The euro-Arab summit in Sharm el Sheik had a number of clear outcomes:
1) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was assigned the role of “guardian” of the southern Mediterranean shores and of Libya, somewhat similar to Erdogan’s role regarding the refugees from Syria.
2) The Elysee Palace has scheduled two summits with Haftar and Sarraj, in the Emirates and in Paris.
And to this one must add the final, crucial point:
3) Haftar, an ally of France, Russia and Egypt, has control of ENI’s El Feel field. In a nutshell, in Libya we have been shut out of having any influence.
The coup-installed Egyptian leader, General el-Sisi—the military arm of Saudi Arabia, an ally of Israel in Sinai and the main sponsor of General Haftar in Libya—was the clear winner at this summit, as well as at his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who needed to acquiesce to el-Sisi’s prominent role on the Libyan issue. Conte was given the run-around once again on the Giulio Regeni case, which was a foregone conclusion, even when nobody had yet heard of Conte; real justice will never be done. At least, this is how things will be if the current balance of power remains unchanged, and if the complete lack of solidarity from both the Europeans and the Americans in the Regeni case continues as before.
However, Italy seems unable to learn from its mistakes: our allies are none other than our most dedicated competitors. “For Italy, Regeni is an open wound,” Conte said to el-Sisi, but he didn’t manage to get as much as a band aid from the general.
Then again, even for us, business is business and we can’t afford to bother el-Sisi too much. He is the main stakeholder in the giant offshore oil field at Deir el Zohr, exploited by ENI, and, most importantly, the loyal guardian of Saudi interests. The murderous Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is an important customer for our arms industry, which is already committed to supplying weapons made by Fincantieri and Leonardo to the Saudis to wage war in Qatar, the monarchy of the Al Thani and Al Jazeera, which is hated and shunned by both Riyadh and Cairo for its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Qatar was present at the Sharm el Sheikh summit with a low-level delegation, and even the official invitation to the summit was not delivered to them directly, but through the Greek Embassy in Doha. This was a clear signal that the Saudis and the Egyptians, with General Haftar, intend to remove the Brotherhood from Libya, including from Tripoli if possible, and only after that they may be willing to talk to its sponsors, Qatar and Turkey.
Without saying so explicitly, Europe is preparing to recognize el-Sisi’s role of policeman of the southern Mediterranean and overseer of the flows of migrants from Africa and Sudan, where President Omar al Bashir has just proclaimed a state of emergency and given new powers to the armed forces to suppress the demonstrations of the opposition. As Chiara Cruciati wrote in il manifesto, we are witnessing the triumph of militarization. And, just like Erdogan is being paid by the EU to keep three million Syrian refugees in Turkey, el-Sisi will also be rewarded with the expansion of his influence in Haftar’s Libya.
France seems to be in favor of these developments. It is pressuring the UN envoy, Ghassam Salamé, to organize two summits in the near future between Haftar and Sarraj, the vulnerable leader in Tripoli who is being sponsored by Italy: the first summit in Abu Dhabi, then another another in Paris. The French consider Haftar a sort of “Libyan De Gaulle,” but at the same time, they haven’t abandoned the relations with the Gaddhafi clan and with the ex-dictator’s son, Seif al Islam.
Thus, Paris is playing both sides of the fence. Haftar now controls the important Libyan El Feel oilfield, which is being exploited by ENI together with the Libyan National Oil Company. Haftar took control over it as part of his campaign to conquer the country’s southwest, in which he managed to get control of the Sharara wells, the most important in Libya. His recent successes are rapidly changing the balance of power in Libya, and France might be preparing to negotiate some type of surrender or armistice on the part of the Sarraj government.
“For Tripoli, Haftar has become an existential threat,” says the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Hopefully, we will also realize this sometime soon.