Small Steps Towards Progress in Libya

If you’re like me, your knowledge of what’s been happening in Libya is limited to the fact that the country is in chaos. But that’s not simply because of the involvement of terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been fighting a proxy war in that country.

The Qatar-backed, Islamist-aligned Tripoli government controls most of western Libya, while the UAE-linked, internationally recognized Tobruk government dominates the east…

Qatar and its ally, the Islamist government of Turkey, have proved willing to back Islamist groups throughout the Muslim world in the wake of the Arab Spring. The UAE and its ally, Egypt, which often equate political Islam with extremism, have gone so far as to intervene directly to undermine Islamists, launching air strikes within Libya.

Apparently, President Obama put this issue on the table back in May when he hosted the Gulf States Summit at Camp David.

Obama was the first to bring up the Gulf states’ proxy war at the Camp David summit, according to a senior Gulf diplomat present at the meeting. “The president said people from this table are supporting each side in Libya,” the diplomat told HuffPost. Obama emphasized that he would like to see an “inclusive” political solution — implying he was unwilling to allow the UAE-backed Tobruk government to dominate other actors, specifically the Qatar-backed Islamists in Tripoli. The president’s comment prompted Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, to appeal to the top official present from the UAE, Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to agree to a political solution, according to the diplomat.

That is actually a pretty bold move by President Obama. He essentially said that he wasn’t willing to let the internationally-recognized government backed by UAE and Egypt dominate the Islamist government that is backed by Qatar and Turkey.

This is pretty similar to the President’s refusal to take sides in countries like Iraq and Syria on the ancient battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims. He consistently advocates for political solutions that are inclusive.

The result is that the two sides in Libya are at least talking.

The Gulf diplomat present at the meeting, who is familiar with the past few years of Qatari and UAE involvement in Libya, called that commitment a first-of-its-kind agreement. It is understood to have paved the way for the current talks, particularly because the two Gulf states agreed not to criticize the peace process publicly.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.