It didn’t take Egypt very long to revert back to a military oligarchy with elections. That oligarchy wasn’t brought back by an armed coup in the dead of night, but by popular protests.
The Arab Spring was trumpeted by liberals as a new era in the history of the Middle East. But the Middle East is better at undoing history than the media is at writing it.
In Egypt, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi brushed away the effects of the Arab Spring. Now in Libya, General Khalifa Hifter is set to undo Obama’s military intervention which put the Muslim Brotherhood on the road to taking over Libya, as they had taken over Egypt.
Forty-five years ago a group of officers led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seized control of Libya. Gaddafi enjoyed support from the military and Federalist opponents of a central government. And the rest is history, except that history in the Middle East repeats like a broken record.
Now Khalifa Hifter, a former Colonel (his post-Gaddafi rank is higher and disputed), is leading another military coup while vowing to free Libya of chaos, instability and corruption. Like Gaddafi, Hifter focused on Benghazi and Tripoli. His forces pounded Islamic militias in Benghazi, including those responsible for the murder of four Americans, and seized the parliament in Tripoli.
Hifter, who has spent a long time living in the United States, claims to have American support, but his real support probably comes from the east.
Like Gaddafi, Hifter is supported by the military and the Federalists. However he isn’t fighting a weak monarchy, but the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and other Islamist militias. But like Gaddafi, his takeover was probably inspired by Egypt and possibly even planned out by Egypt.
Egypt’s new government, which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, can’t risk allowing the group to control a bordering country and one of the largest oil reserves in Africa. Gaddafi used Libya’s oil wealth to fuel his insanity and fund terrorism. The Muslim Brotherhood would funnel it into pursuing its program of regional and global takeovers and the Islamic militias that control much of Libya would become a problem for Egypt.
Egypt’s immediate security agenda is to control border instability fed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza and Sinai. It would only be natural for Egypt’s new rulers to turn their attention to their country’s large western border with Libya.
When he released a video calling for a change of power, General Hifter appeared marginalized and isolated. Now he has powerful financial, military and tribal allies. And many ordinary Libyans see him as a possible alternative to the random brutality of militia rule, of which the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans was just one example, the collapsing governments and the threat that the simmering civil war which never really ended might heat up until the bloodshed becomes as extreme as anything in Syria.
The Syrian Civil War is also Hifter’s best asset and greatest threat. The conflict called away many Jihadis who had originally fought in Libya, but if that unholy war collapses and there isn’t a more appealing conflict waiting in the wings, they may drift back to Libya to fight its military.