Non-State Actors

A Middle Eastern Tug-of-War in Africa : The Anti-Brotherhood Bloc in Libya and Sudan

June 20, 2019

Fredrik Hellem



The Anti-Islamist Coalition in Libya


Under Qaddafi’s rule and his Jamahiriya vision in Libya, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB) suffered and was, according to Qaddafi, more dangerous than AIDS. With the 2011 uprisings in the country, LMB was able to manoeuvre from being vilified and disenfranchised to becoming an actor of influence. In the post-Qaddafi vacuum, the LMB established the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) in 2012, which served as an autonomous political wing of the LMB while the group later registered as an NGO in Libya to improve its Qaddafi-institutionalized image. By 2018, the LMB had grown its influence to become a political force to be reckoned with in the post-Qaddafi Libya.


They have previously been connected with central Libyan actors such as the Governor of the Central Bank of Libya Sadiq al-Kabir and the head of Libya’s Supreme Council of State Khalid al-Mishri until January 2019, indicating a high level of influence on the Western-based political scene in Libya. In May 2019, the Tobruk-based government designated the MB a terrorist organisation, aligned with its external partners.


The Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar has been seizing territory in Libya since he launched Operation Dignity in 2014. One of his main objectives is to drive out all Islamist organisations considered terrorists from Libya, one of which is the LMB which he has stated that he seeks to dismantle every branch of.


Egypt has supported Haftar since he initiated his siege on Benghazi, conducted airstrikes in Libya and shipped arms, supplies, rations, and blankets. Previous shipments have included Mi-8 and Mi-25 helicopters. Egypt is further interested in destroying the MB elements in Libya to avoid spill-over, as well as to prohibit MB individuals that escaped el-Sisi’s 2013 crackdown into Libya to acquire power or influence there. El-Sisi seeks a stable and controlled Libya without any MB influence to reinforce Egyptian security as well as his regime’s security.


The UAE got heavily involved in Libya rapidly. They conducted airstrikes against Islamist targets in Tripoli in tandem with Egyptian airstrikes in 2014. Shortly after, the UAE began donating armoured personnel carriers and military pickup trucks to the Haftar-backing Tobruk-based government. The UAE also invested lavishly for media and internet campaigns along with political, financial, and intelligence support for Haftar.


More recently in the fight over Tripoli, reports are claiming the UAE conducted strikes to support Haftar forces using Chinese drones and are now being investigated by the UN. For the UAE, Haftar is the protector of UAE’s financial interests in Libya as well as a mean to prevent Libyan oil money from falling into the hands of political Islamists. The UAE seeks to prevent any MB or political Islamist influence in Libya and is looking to implement a 2013-Egypt inspired model aimed at installing military rule, bypassing democracy, fighting off Islamist influence, and keeping Libya dependent on the UAE. This is aligned with the UAE’s regional ambition for greater hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).


Equally self-inspired by the 2013-Egyptian model is Saudi Arabia who, like the UAE, seek a new el-Sisi in Libya. When Haftar launched his campaign on western Libya and Tripoli on the 4thof April 2019, his forces charged with Egyptian, UAE, and Saudi arms and equipment. Just days prior to the offensive, Haftar was in Riyadh where he met with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) as well as the foreign minister and intelligence chief.


In this meeting, Haftar, was reportedly offered millions of dollars to fund the offensive as well as the approval to see it through. Saudi’s ambitions are largely shared with those of the UAE and the two along with Egypt, in pursuit of these ambitions, attempted to lobby the Trump administration to change their Libya policy in favour of Haftar after his Tripoli-campaign began. Subsequently, reports started emerging stating that the administration was working on designating the MB as a terrorist group officially, indicating that the lobbying attempt was successful.




Opportunity in Sudan


In Sudan, the National Islamic Front (NIF) was established in 1976 and emerged from MB activism. The group later split, and one of the two divisions created was the National Congress Party (NCP). As al-Bashir seized more power in Sudan after the 1989 coup, he subsequently outlawed all political parties except for the NCP, leaving it to dominate the parliament with many of its members being affiliated with the MB or members of the MB. However, with the revolution in Sudan, an opportunity emerged to attempt to purge the Sudanese leadership from MB elements.


The Transitional Military Council (TMC) in Sudan is hanging on to power as best they can as negotiations with its revolutionaries continue. Meanwhile, the anti-MB bloc is heavily invested in keeping elements of the TMC in power permanently. The head of the TMC and his deputy, the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) who conducted the 3 June crackdowns, first meeting with foreign partners were with el-Sisi, MBS, and the UAE crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ).


Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have financial interests in Sudanese agriculture and telecommunications, while it is reported that Sudan has contributed with as many as 10 000 soldiers and servicemen plus equipment and weapon systems to fight for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition in Yemen. Naturally, the foreign parties want these arrangements to be kept intact, however, an additional motivational factor is to deny fair democratic elections in Sudan. By supporting the TMC and ensuring that elements of the TMC stay in power, arrangements can be kept as they were, while political Islam’s influence on Sudanese politics can be reduced greatly. Additionally, the lack of a fair democratic result from the revolution is assumed to deter possible spill-over effects to other countries in the region as the autocratic regimes still have nightmares of a possible “Arab Spring 2.0.”


The commitment of the three is evident as the UAE and Saudi Arabia pledged a $3 billion aid package to the TMC, similar to the support offered to el-Sisi in 2013. Meanwhile, el-Sisi has reportedly offered unconditional support militarily and politically with lobbying in the African Union likely to be expected to be a form of support. In return, the TMC has been given a list with 405 MB leaders and affiliates residing in Sudan which the trio are demanding to be handed over to Egypt. Additionally, the trio has reportedly demanded the suspension of the Suakin agreement signed with Turkey in 2017 where Turkey is tasked with restoring the island and Qatar to develop and modernise the port system.


Both Turkey and Qatar are pro-MB and the Suakin agreement would grant greater influence in the Red Sea region for the two while some has voiced that a military presence of the two on the island when restored is possible. Qatar is also one of the largest foreign investors in Sudan, they are particularly involved in the agriculture, banking, and mining sector. By supporting the TMC, Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia can thus preserve their financial and security interests, purge the Sudanese political leadership of MB influence, and further reduce pro-MB foreign influence in Sudan. Moreover, by supporting the TMC, the trio can achieve what they seek in Libya to preserve their regimes and remain regional hegemons; install military rule, bypass democracy, fight off political Islam, and keep Sudan and its new regime dependent on them.





Image: Sharq Forum (link)

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