Can The UAE Help Libya End Its Civil War?

Questions remain as to whether and how the UAE will effectively exert its influence amid the prolonged conflict.

Co-authored by Dr. Theodore Karasik

The overthrow of Libya’s longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 plunged Libya into chaos almost three years before the North African country’s ongoing civil war erupted. The power vacuum left by the former regime’s fall subjected Libya to a power struggle among foreign states seeking to shape the country’s political landscape on their own terms.

On one side, Qatar and Turkey have sponsored Islamist militias, some of which are loyal to the internationally recognized ― albeit fragile ― Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. On the other side, Egypt, France, Jordan, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have backed the Libyan National Army (LNA), which General Khalifa Haftar leads and fights for the Tobruk-based government, the House of Representatives (HoR).

The UAE’s support for the secular-leaning LNA/HoR has factored into Abu Dhabi’s grander foreign policy goal of countering Islamists in the Arab world’s post-2011 political landscape. Making no distinction between “moderate” and “extremist” Islamists, the UAE designated the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a terrorist organization in 2014, and the MB’s ascendancy in several MENA countries following the “Arab Spring” unsettled the UAE. The Emirati MB’s branch is the UAE’s most influential non-state actor. The country’s leadership perceives it as an existential threat, and Abu Dhabi would prefer the Gulf to be a MB-free environment. The UAE sees the rise of Islamists in the Maghreb as threatening the Emirates’ domestic security given the history of MB members from North Africa spreading the group’s influence in the Gulf.