The Three-Stage Berlin Process

BERLIN/TRIPOLI (Own report) - Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is intervening in Libya, calling for an "end to foreign intervention." On the occasion of his trip to Turkey and North Africa he arrived last Sunday for a brief visit in the country, to prepare an international conference on Libya, which the German government intends to convene soon. With this conference the German government seeks to possibly pacify the country and distinguish itself as a "regulatory force" in North Africa. Maas then traveled on to Egypt, which also is involved in the Libyan war. While the German minister is declaring that the Egyptians should be able "to breathe the air of liberty," Cairo is continuing its brutal repression. Since the military coup in July 2013, more than 1,500 people have disappeared from state custody. While seeking to pacify Libya, Berlin is increasing its "regulatory" activities in an "arch of crisis" extending from North Africa and the Middle East to Central Asia. However, until now, without success.

The Libyan War

The war in Libya, which has not abated since 2014, again flared up last April on a large scale. The militias of warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has his power base in eastern Libya, are fighting militias, supporting the so-called Government of National Accord in the country's capital Tripoli. Both sides are receiving aid from foreign countries. Whereas Haftar can rely on help from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates among others, the "Government of National Accord" and its loyal armed groups can count on steady support from Turkey. According to Wolfram Lacher, an expert on Libya at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), the aid also includes arms from foreign states, particularly from the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.[1] Meanwhile German weapons systems are also being used in Libya. ( reported.[2])

Western-Shared Responsibility

The German government shares responsibility for Libya's desolate situation in several respects. On the one hand, German soldiers participated on NATO's staffs during the 2011 war. NATO powers not only caused immense human and material damage in Libya but also significantly contributed to the destruction of the country's state and social fabric. The German government also played a leading role in setting up the so-called Libyan Government of National Accord under Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj in early 2016 - however, mainly to use it as a cover for its own projects for warding off refugees. Lacking an independent power base, Libya's Government of National Accord quickly "has become a mere façade, behind which the armed groups and their associated interests are calling the shots," SWP expert Lacher explained already last year. A network of heavily armed groups is in fact dominating Tripoli, "straddling business, politics, and the administration." As Lacher stated, "Western governments and the UN share responsibility for the state of affairs in Tripoli."[3]

Germany's Part

This is the German government's third attempt - since 2011 and again in 2016 - to bring the situation in Libya somewhat under control and strengthen German influence in the country. Already back in September, Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in the Bundestag that the armed conflicts in Libya threaten to escalate into an outright proxy war, like in Syria. To prevent this, an immediate intervention is needed, "Germany will do its part."[4] This refers particularly to the restoration of state structures. The West had essentially destroyed them in 2011. The German ambassador in Tripoli, Oliver Owcza, announced on September 11 that the German government wants to convene an international Libyan conference, still this fall. The preparatory talks with the "key countries" have already begun. "With sufficient preparation" the efforts could "lead to an international meeting this fall," twittered the diplomat.[5] In the meantime, the initiative is being referred to as the "Three-Stage Berlin Process," meaning "a ceasefire, an international Libyan Conference in Berlin" and "a meeting of the parties to the conflict in Libya."[6]

Foreign Influence

To advance the "Three-Stage Berlin Process," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrived in Libya at the beginning of the week, where he held talks with Libyan head of government al Sarraj in the coastal city Zuwara, to the west of Tripoli. Maas made himself conspicuous with his very true assessment that Libya's "fundamental problem" is "foreign influence," however, he was, of course, not referring to his own efforts.[7] The concrete results of his brief visit remain unknown. The German minister had to hastily leave the country, due to rumors of an immanent enemy air raid. Berlin's protégé Government of National Accord has demonstrated that it could neither prove that the rumor was false nor that it would have the capacity to defend itself against the air raid.[8] Shortly before Maas' arrival, three Libyan ships, presumably from the country's coast guard, had seriously harassed the German "Alan Kurdi" rescue vessel, from the Sea Eye aid organization, and threatened refugees in boats with warning shots and submachine guns. Libya's Coast Guard is supported by the EU. During his visit, Germany's foreign minister made no mention of the attack on the German rescue vessel.

The Air of Liberty

Over the past few days, his trip to the Libyan Unity Government had not been the only place Maas had paid a brief visit, to prepare for the planned Libyan conference in Berlin. Prior to the Libyan stopover, he had conferred with his Turkish colleague, whose country is furnishing arms to one of the parties to the Libyan conflict,[9] then on to Egypt, the supporter of another conflict party. Ankara is currently under harsh criticism because of its invasion of Syria, Cairo, because of its brutal domestic repression. In Egypt, since the military putsch in July 2013, more than 1,500 people have disappeared from state custody. Around a month ago, according the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) more than 4,300 people had been arrested in the course of mass protests.[10] In the Egyptian capital, Maas, whose self-styling also includes the alleged commitment to human rights, declared that although "the expression of the expectation in terms of the citizens and their civil rights and liberties" must be emphasized, "dialogue with Egypt" is a necessity.[11] Addressing the local public, following his meeting with Egypt's President Abd al Fattah al Sisi, responsible for torture and murder in Cairo, Maas said that the Egyptians should be able to "breathe the air of liberty." The foreign minister's lyrical phrases aside, Berlin has been consistently expanding cooperation with Egypt's regime of torture. ( reported.[12])

The "Arch of Crisis"

A successful pacification of Libya is, above all, aimed at presenting Germany as a "regulatory power" in an "arch of crisis," extending from North Africa, the Middle East, to Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Politicians and experts in Berlin have repeatedly expressed this ambition. ( reported.[13]) Of course, until now, the German government has hardly made headway in its realization. The war in Mali, where the Bundeswehr has been engaged for the past six years has long since spread from the north to its center of the country.[14] In Syria, Germany's defense minister's initiative to establish a zone of occupation in the north of the country has stagnated - not least of all, because Maas publicly disavowed her in Ankara.[15] in Afghanistan, where the Bundeswehr has been active for nearly 18 years, the situation is desolate. Berlin has not even been able to come closer to resolving the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. This makes success in Libya all the more urgent. However, this too has not really appeared on the horizon.


[1] Wolfram Lacher: Who is Fighting Whom in Tripoli? How the 2019 Civil War is Transforming Libya's Military Landscape. SANA Briefing Paper. August 2019.

[2] See also Arab Brothers in Arms.

[3] Wolfram Lacher: Das Milizenkartell von Tripolis. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 28. Mai 2018. See also Die nächste Runde im libyschen Krieg.

[4], [5] Deutschland will im Herbst Libyen-Konferenz ausrichten. 11.09.2019.

[6] Mirco Keilberth: Maas von Ufo zur Abreise bewogen. 29.10.2019.

[7] Schrecksekunde bei Überraschungsbesuch von Maas in Libyen. 27.10.2019.

[8] Mirco Keilberth: Maas von Ufo zur Abreise bewogen. 29.10.2019.

[9] See also Krieg um Nordsyrien (IV).

[10], [11] Maas fordert "Luft der Freiheit" für Menschen in Ägypten. 29.10.2019.

[12] See also Mubarak 2.0 (II).

[13] See also Krieg um Nordsyrien (III).

[14] See also A Third Attempt in the Sahel.

[15] See also Krieg um Nordsyrien (IV).