Here's a quick guide on who controls what in Libya with many actors emerging and competing with one another for power and hegemony.
The Arab Spring uprising in 2011 led to the ousting and subsequent killing of Libya's dictator Muammar Gaddafi, engulfing the country in a bloody civil war. Now various groups are fighting each other to gain power, even targeting the UN-recognised government in Tripoli.
As a result, Libya has become a battleground for both local and regional aspirations, with foreign powers such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Russia jostling for influence.
Warlord commander Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by the UAE, has waged war against the internationally-recognised government led by Fayez al Sarraj, making desperate attempts to invade Tripoli and remove Sarraj from power. The UAE’s main goal is to promote Aref al Nayed, an ‘old friend’ of the Vatican, if Haftar succeeds in capturing Tripoli.
Here's a quick look at the powerful figures and their supporters who're involved in the Libyan conflict.
Aref al Nayed
Aref al Nayed has the blessing of the Vatican, the US and the UAE. Often referred to as the UAE's asset in Libya, Nayed was an ambassador to the UAE and has had multiple meetings with the US administration as well.
Despite his previous claims to return to Libya only for preaching and teaching and not with an eye on any position of power, his recent actions suggest that he sees himself as an enabler of post-war government in Libya, where he would lead the country, an idea he has even presented to the US government.
He portrays himself as a close ally of warlord commander Khalifa Haftar, who he claims has given him personal assurances about holding national elections after toppling the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
He recently announced that he'll run for Libya's presidency, ridiculing the UN-backed and internationally-recognised government. He makes tall claims that he has the ability to bring all parties together under a so-called “National Unity Government”.
Nayed grew up in Tripoli, studied in the United States and Canada, and did business in Italy. He returned to Libya in the 1990s, pursuing business interests in the country and abroad.
His main critics grumble about his family’s contacts with Gaddafi. His father, Ali Nayed owned a large business and worked in various sectors from military installations to construction businesses for the government until his property was confiscated by Gaddafi in 1978.
When the revolt against Gaddafi started in 2011, Nayed as a so-called Islamic scholar issued a fatwa and called on Libyans to resist Gaddafi. After a few days, he fled to the UAE where he manages the Kalam Research & Media.
In the following period, anti-Gaddafi leaders assigned him as an ambassador to the UAE. Afterwards, as he was named a member of the stabilisation team it provided reassurance for many in the West. The Vatican described him as its “old friend”.
Also the former US National Safety Council Official described Nayed’s meeting with American officials as “unusual” and likened Nayed’s pitch to the case of Ahmed Chalabi, who was an exiled Iraqi politician whose later-debunked claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction helped propel the Bush administration into invading Iraq in 2003.
Like Chalabi, the former official said Nayed and his team “are very Western, very connected, businesspeople" who don’t have "the backing of people on the ground, who would vote for him, so he’s looking for the West to make him into a leader.”
Warlord Khalifa Haftar
Born in 1943, Haftar rose to prominence after taking part in the 1969 military coup, toppling Libya's King Idris. Once the king was ousted by Gaddafi, Haftar became his top military officer in the following period.
Gaddafi tasked him with invading Chad in the 1980s, where he was captured in 1987 along with hundreds of his Libyan soldiers. Gaddafi was quick to disown him and his troops, denying he had ever sent any soldiers to the region.
Haftar was released, thanks to US intervention, and Washington offered him political asylum in Virginia. He spent the next 20 years there, living close to the CIA headquarters.
In order to support the anti-Gaddafi revolt in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya and contributed to the end of the infamous Libyan dictator.
According to many experts, the UAE has been one of the main supporters of Haftar. The oil-rich Gulf nation, which is fuelling unrest in Yemen as well, has been arming Haftar with advanced weapon systems, a move that directly violates the UN's arms embargo.
Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) has relied heavily on UAE air support, which includes the suspected deployment of Chinese-made Wing Loong II drones during its months-long offensive against the Government of National Accord (GNA).
As the UAE considers Haftar a trusted partner, he also enjoys the support of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Some reports revealed that he met several times with Israeli intelligence agents. Also some reports revealed that Haftar asked for Israel’s support in exchange for oil in case he took control of the country and toppled the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Following Turkey and Russia’s effort to reach a ceasefire amid the ongoing turmoil in Libya, a potential fragile ceasefire brokered by these countries came to no effect as the warlord left the meeting without signing the deal.
On Tuesday, Haftar’s army of mercenaries shared a video on Facebook in which they said that they are ready to seize the capital from the GNA.
Feyyaz al Sarraj
Prime Minister Sarraj came to power following the UN-backed political deal in 2015. A man with education in architecture, Sarraj navigated the political and economic crises Libya has been gripped in for years and devoted his life to rebuilding the North African country.
Sarraj entered parliament in 2014, but two months after he fled to eastern Libya as an alliance of militias took control of Tripoli. Sarraj went to Tobruk where the parliament continued to function, while sending his family abroad.
Following in the footsteps of his father Mostafa, who played a crucial role in founding modern Libya after independence in 1951, Sarraj appeared as a prominent figure in international arena as he was chosen to lead the UN-backed government.
He was tasked with organising the reconciliation process and given a mandate to put all state institutions in order.
With foreign intervention propping up several militia, Sarraj's reconciliation process took a battering as Haftar's forces and other militias waged a war against the fragile Libyan state.
A rival government was set up in eastern Libya, which has strong links with Haftar. His forces took control of Benghazi and Derna fromAl Qaeda-linked militias. Haftar did not stop there but moved further to extend his control over the rest of the country, particularly the areas where oil fields exist.
The National Oil Corporation (NOC)
The corporation was founded in 1970 to oversee operations within the oil sector. It mainly focuses on developing innovative plans to grow petroleum production in the region and monitoring operations and investment opportunities for the reserves of petroleum extracted.
Fully-owned companies by the NOC include Sirte Oil Company, Arabian Gulf Oil Company, and Brega Petroleum Marketing Company.
However, since 2011, the NOC has become more political as all stakeholders in Libya needed to support it in order to survive.
In 2018, Haftar made an attempt to sell Libyan oil but the US was quick to intervene, warning him of the consequences. Haftar then restored control of the oil resources to the NOC ensuring that the revenues collected from oil business went to the country's Central Bank. All warring factions accept both the NOC and Central Bank and any attack on the two institutions would mean an attack on the US.
Recently, the US reaffirmed its support for NOC saying that it must remain neutral, well resourced and secure in order to fulfill its vital mandate on behalf of all Libyans.
“Libya’s oil resources must remain under the exclusive control of the NOC,” the US said.
The Tripoli-based NOC has also struggled to secure funds to repair aging infrastructure and its facilities have suffered from regular power outages amid the political turmoil.
Once Africa’s third-largest producer of oil, with 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd) before the revolution, Libya’s oil output declined to just 150,000 bpd in May 2014. That figure has since increased, and the output is now about 1.1 million bpd, according to Reuters estimates.
The oil economy has been Libya's cornerstone and also at the core of unrest that followed Gaddafi’s overthrow, a smouldering conflict with periodic flare-ups of intense fighting.
The warring and political factions have used oil facilities as bargaining chips to press their demands.
In 2016, Haftar seized most facilities in Libya’s east and this year his forces swept through the south, taking control of the major El Sharara and El Feel oil fields.
The NOC in Tripoli strives to maintain its neutrality. But the eastern government, allied to Haftar's LNA, has set up a parallel NOC in Benghazi that has repeatedly tried and failed to wrest control over some of Libya’s oil exports.