By Jamie Prentis.
Tunis, 5 July 2017:
The Beida-based government has cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, following the lead of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt. The latter two are key allies of the eastern administration.
Qatar is accused of supporting terrorist groups, both directly or indirectly. Interim foreign minister Mohamed Al-Dayri announced the decision, accusing Qatar of “repeated attacks on the dignity of the Libyan people after the February 17 revolution”.
It was subsequently confirmed by House of Representatives (HoR) President Ageela Saleh.
In a statement, the HoR accused Qatar of destabilising the country and supporting terrorist groups there “with money and weapons”. The International Criminal Court had to investigate what it said were Qatar’s crimes in Libya.
The move comes as no surprise, given the Saudi and Egyptian move. The eastern political establishment has regularly accused Qatar of backing Libyan Islamists. The head of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Hafter, again did so a week ago.
But even before the Thinni administration was forced to flee Tripoli and base itself in Beida in mid-2014, Qatar was accused of pursuing an Islamist agenda in Libya – supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups in their hopes of taking power. In particular, it was accused of backing Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and other members of the former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.
In 2013, accusations that Qatar was interfering in Libya’s affairs resulted in armed gunmen, first in Benghazi then in Tripoli, closing down Qatar Airways’ operations.
Between the 2014 flight of the Thinni government to Beida and the UN Security Council’s approval of the Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015, Qatar became one of the top foreign supporters of the Libya Dawn regime in Tripoli.
Today’s eastern break in diplomatic relations, however, is entirely symbolic: there have been no relations between the Beida government and Qatar.
The UN-backed government in Tripoli is unlikely to endorse the move. It has maintained a warm relationship with Doha, with Faiez Serraj again visiting it most recently in March. Although it withdrew its ambassador to Doha last month and has not yet announced a replacement, this was not linked to any rejection of Qatar. It was for internal foreign ministry purposes.
There is no Qatar embassy in Tripoli. It withdrew in 2014.