Libyan military chief Khalifa Haftar is erasing his political image ahead of the election after he was paralyzed by war and his aid was dwindling at home and abroad, investigators say.
Eastern troops in Haftar fought for more than a year to seize the capital Tripoli in the west, but their defeat last June sparked peace talks backed by the UN, a unity government, and national elections scheduled for December.
“He believes the election will give him a political victory after losing the war,” said Miloud el-Hajj, a professor of foreign affairs.
Haftar has been a key figure in a decade of violence following the 2011 coup d’état of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The leader fought wars with the militants and laid a solid foundation between the tribes in eastern Libya – as well as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia.
But two years after the Libyan army launched a plot to overthrow the Turkish-backed coalition government in Tripoli, the situation is very different.
Last October’s summit set the stage for a UN-led coalition that would form a coalition that would include the country’s divided organizations, set up rebuilding projects, and prepare for the December vote.
Haftar disappeared under all negotiations, but in recent weeks he has returned to public meetings and promises to build three new towns and thousands of homes for “martyrs” families.
“His speech and language have changed … He has thrown out his story of war” in support of promises of a better future, says El-Hajj.
‘Facing up ridicule and contempt’
Haftar built his stronghold around the second city of Benghazi in Libya, east of the 2011 NATO opposition party that overthrew and assassinated Gaddafi.
He found alliances among the region’s most powerful tribes, which supplied Haftar’s various troops with various weapons.
But today, Haftar has “lost its support base”, according to Libyan researcher Mahmoud Khalfallah.
“They are no longer happy with the support of the tribes, who are said to have involved their children in a war in which many died in vain,” Khalfallah said.
“They know they don’t trust her anymore and they won’t give up their sons to another war.”
Although he has met several times with tribal leaders to seek their help, Haftar is now facing “serious scandal”, according to Libyan scholar Jalel Harchaoui.
“His finances are dry and his hopes of growing in the West are closed,” Harchaoui added.
Even Haftar’s foreign allies were terrified of losing control of the lower government, Khalfallah.
“Foreign donors … understand that political means are the only solution” to protect their interests in Libya, “he said.
Haftar wants ‘political victory’
Haftar has played a key but significant role in Libya since it collapsed after Gaddafi was ousted.
Before launching a campaign to capture Tripoli, he launched a campaign in May 2018 to crack down on militants east of the city of Derna, then another in 2019 in the oil-rich desert south.
The leader, who served in Gaddafi’s military before stepping down after Libya’s defeat in 1987 in 1987, now wants to return to politics, El-Hajj said.
A European journalist warned that those involved in Haftar’s involvement in politics could be “destructive” and undermine efforts to rebuild the country.
Verisk Maplecroft analyst Hamish Kinnear said Haftar could run for president or a runner-up.
The presidential and parliamentary inquiry has been suspended since December, however, Haftar “could use this to pay the security government is unlimited and would consider returning to the war,” Kinnear said.
But, he added, Haftar “is no longer as strong as before”.