Libya has become a den of intrigue following the toppling of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. He ruled the country with an iron fist while managing to create a balance among the country’s long warring tribes. This balance was broken following his murder. Subsequently, Libya has become a scene of chaos, conflict, and civil war. The US, France, Italy, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and the UAE are all involved in the conflict. Libya is also entangled with issues dominating the East Mediterranean. Yet, Mohammed Dahlan’s role seems to have been confined to securing the positions of Gaddafi-like figures in the country and preventing the ascent of Islamists. This was his main role in the region, tasked by the UAE, which has been opposing any democratic transition in any post-Arab Spring country.
“Mohammed DAHLAN […] whose involvement with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Abdullah Al Senussi, and other individuals potentially most responsible for the most serious crimes under the Rome Statute […]”
International Criminal Court Investigation Report
In 2015, Libyan channel Panorama released an array of voice recordings of Egypt’s then-Defense Minister, incumbent President Sisi, and his chief-of-staff, Major General Abbas Kamel. Sisi and Kamel were discussing the situation in Libya. Kamel informed Sisi that Mohammed Dahlan had a secret role in Libya, instructed by Mohammed bin Zayed. Egypt had to facilitate his mission, which would be beneficial for Cairo. The two top Egyptian figures decided to allow Dahlan to travel to Libya via Egypt.
In another leaked voice recording, Kamel talks about Dahlan’s visit to Libya, accompanied by three people on a private jet. Kamel revealed another name: Mohammad Ismail Ahmad Ismail, who worked as a security advisor to Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the late Libyan leader. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi has recently been found eligible by a Libyan court to run for the presidency in the upcoming elections. In the conversation, military council member Mahmoud Hijazi is heard telling Sisi that “they want to remove the Muslim Brotherhood, so we will hear what he has to say and tell him nothing.”
The SisiLeaks also aired another voice recording in which Sissi and his men discuss Dahlan’s role in a counter-revolution in Libya, led by Ahmed Gaddafi al-Dam until putschist General Khalifa Haftar entered the scene. Allegedly, Egyptian officials arranged a meeting between Dahlan and al-Dam.
“They want to remove the Muslim Brotherhood, so we will hear what he has to say and tell him nothing.”
Mahmoud Hijazi to Sisi
In 2017, the International Criminal Court launched an investigation into Dahlan’s role in crimes committed in Libya. “In furtherance of this investigation, my office seeks the assistance of the Government of Palestine in relation to the alleged involvement of two Palestinian nationals, Mohammed DAHALAN and Mohamed Borhan RASHID, whose involvement with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Abdullah Al Senussi, and other individuals potentially most responsible for the most serious crimes under the Rome Statute, is of concern to the Office. My Office seeks your assistance in identifying details of their relation to such crimes, including potentially aiding and abetting their commission,” the ICC letter read. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi faced an arrest warrant in June 2011 for alleged crimes against humanity. A WikiLeaks cable showed that Dahlan’s relationship with Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was not new. They met in Spain in 2010.
This was not Dahlan’s first involvement in an investigation about Libya. His name also appeared in Palestinian documents. The Palestinian Authority began examining the allegations by the Libyan opposition groups that Dahlan was responsible for shipping Israeli weapons to Moammar Gaddafi.
“Dahlan is calling for putting an end to Turkish colonial aggression against Syria and Libya, and he supports Libya’s army in its quest to restore their territorial integrity.”
However, Dahlan’s efforts to instate al-Dam or the junior Gaddafi failed. Then, the warlord Khalifa Haftar appeared on the scene, becoming the UAE’s most favored figure in the country. Libyan sources claimed that the UAE mobilized Libya’s frozen assets, as much as $50 billion, through Dahlan to support Haftar’s cause against the internationally recognized and Turkey-backed government. A Libyan official said over $30 billion of Libyan frozen assets were sent to Haftar in funding venues and military support via accounts opened in countries and banks the UAE has shares in. He also added, “most of the money was sent through the Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan.” Indeed, in 2014, a Salafi-oriented Egyptian politician accused Dahlan of aiding Haftar. The politician, Ehab Sheha, claimed that the Dahlan-Haftar alliance was helping Israel realize its goals in the region. Putting aside the Islamists’ obsession with Israel, it was not a secret in the Arab world that Dahlan was instructed to assist Haftar.
Imad Mohsen, the spokesman for the Fatah Reformist Current, led by Dahlan, dismissed the allegations. “Dahlan is calling for putting an end to Turkish colonial aggression against Syria and Libya, and he supports Libya’s army in its quest to restore their territorial integrity. This is even though [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan sent terrorists to Libya,” he said in an interview with Al-Monitor.
Libya is significant for being a post-Arab Spring country with rich oil resources. It is a considerable player in the Mediterranean Sea and the country’s geostrategic position in terms of its proximity to Europe, has meant that the UAE would be destined to meddle in Libyan affairs. Yet, the same features proved that Libya was not an easy game to win through financial transactions and weapons transfers as other actors like Turkey, Russia, the US, and France also have strong interests.
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