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Sun, 17 Nov 2019 14:38 GMT

Libyan Crisis: Italy and France’s Role


Roberto Tumbarello - 7Dnews Rome

Thu, 06 Sep 2018 14:13 GMT

Because it has economic interests close to the Libyan government, which is recognised by the UN and led by Libyan Premier Farez Sarraj, Italy is playing a leading role in the search for a compromise with the armed forces of Cyrenaica. These forces are under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, whose "Seventh Brigade "is fighting with rival militias in southern Tripoli. An upcoming peace conference is scheduled in Rome and will discuss the rights of the official government and those of the rebels.

As a result of the ongoing fighting in Tripoli, Italy took the precaution of recalling diplomats and technicians. However the Italian embassy, though attacked in the recent fighting, remains open.  

It will be regretted that Europe has been unable to develop a common policy towards Libya. Italy and France, the two countries historically most involved in the Libyan scenario, are unable to work together or work out a peaceful solution. Each supports an opposing faction, tending to augment the crisis rather than solve it. Italy supports the interests of the official government whilst France supports those of the rebels. This is very problematic, since the Libyan crisis affects the frictions existing in neighbouring countries and the perennial Middle East crisis.  

In comparison with civil wars caused by religious conflicts in countries such as Syria and Yemen, the Libyan war should be easier to resolve as, apart from small inconsistent fringes, it has only Sunni Muslims. However, tribal fragmentation in Libya is encouraged by foreign, Arab and European multinationals, with each protecting a tribe with the aim of controlling oil flow.

Libyan oil is of high quality and very sought after as well as being easy to extract and close to the European market. Other countries, instead of feeding tensions would do well to try to reconstitute the national energy company, dissolved at the end of Gaddafi’s rule.

It is not possible to rebuild Libya without the Cyrenaica region, which has the largest number of wells. Italy, which has a strong link with Libya, both from a cultural and linguistic point of view, could do much more. But it needs to protect the interests of ENI, an Italian multinational energy company which has strong roots in Libya, whilst France needs to protect Total, the French multinational energy company and an ENI competitor.

These frictions have grown since the League is now in government in Italy and is in opposition to French President Macron, both from a political and an ideological point of view.  

Italian Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, openly accuses France of responsibility for the crisis in Libya. However, according to Gilles Kepel, French political scientist and expert in the Muslim Arab world, neither country is responsible for the long-standing crisis. But in an effort to gain more benefits from oil extraction, they both encouraged it rather than trying to sedate it.

Rivalries have increased with the outbreak of civil war in Tripoli on August 25th. Now, thanks to the mediation of the UN and of Italy, there has been a ceasefire but it has already been violated and the rebels do not intend to withdraw from their positions, saying they will not retreat until their demands have been met. 

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