Al-Hayat: What do you mean by Arab interventions?
Mitri: I mean two types: the first is from the neighboring countries that are affected one way or another by what is going on, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, especially that [Egypt’s] border with Libya is infiltrated. It is trying to ward off the danger of the violence moving into it. Violence moved from Libya to Tunisia, and Tunisia has suffered a lot from Libyan violence. Algeria and Egypt are trying to keep this danger away from them. They did not directly interfere. This is apparent and nobody is debating that. However, both parties in [Libya] fear the intervention of the two big countries. Sometimes the fear of intervention is a factor exacerbating the contradictions.
There is another intervention: financial and political support from the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. One supports this group and the other supports the other one for reasons relating to their general Arab policies. UAE is waging a war against Islamists, while Qatar supports what it calls moderate Islamists and has relations with Misrata. The intervention is not military though, with the exception of the airstrikes conducted by the UAE. Libya has enough internal problems. It must not become an arena for conflict between states. This is what I always warn against. I call on Arab countries to help the Libyans reach an understanding rather than support one group against another, whatever the considerations may be.
Al-Hayat: Some say that Maj. Gen. Khalifa Hifter has failed and that some Arab countries supported him. What about that?
Mitri: Hifter is a controversial figure for the Libyans. Many Libyans do not trust him. Many Libyans who supported Operation Dignity — as an operation designed to hit the radical Islamists (Ansar al-Sharia), especially in Benghazi — supported the operation, but did not support Hifter himself. Some were enthusiastic about the operation because they thought that it might contribute to reviving the Libyan army, which used to be weak and marginalized during [leader Moammar al-] Gadhafi’s days; it became weaker during the revolution. Some hoped that Hifter would restore life to this army.
Al-Hayat: Does this mean that betting on Hifter was a mistake?
Mitri: I think that those who bet on him are reviewing their calculations. The other problem is that Hifter did not confront [only] Ansar al-Sharia, but expanded the circle of his opponents and confronted Islamists in general, as well as some rebel battalions allied with Islamists. That led to the army and the legitimate forces being pushed out of Benghazi, which is under the control of armed groups, except for the airport.
Al-Hayat: When you say armed groups, do you mean Islamists?
Mitri: They are a mixture, composed mainly of Islamists, but also rebel battalions who took part in the revolution and are allied with Islamists.
Al-Hayat: Some say that since [armed groups] got some locations, such as Benghazi, the fighting has stopped?
Mitri: The daily unrest has decreased. Normally, when one side controls a city, its situation somewhat improves, but everybody agrees that a fair share of Benghazi’s people are not happy seeing gunmen dominate life in the city. I think that Hifter’s movement exacerbated the problems. Did Khalifa Hifter receive support from Western or Arab countries? Nothing proves this. Some of my Libyan friends told me that they were waiting to see if Hifter was successful, [in which case] the Americans and others would support him, but if he failed then everyone would disown him. Perhaps this is true.
Al-Hayat: What about the government and the authorities?
Mitri: This is an extremely complicated situation. There is an elected parliament that did not find a safe place to meet except in Tobruk in the far east. This parliament is legitimate because it was elected by the people in free and fair elections. We, at the United Nations, are working closely with the Electoral Commission and we corroborate that. In Benghazi, a truce allowed the holding of the elections on June 25. Then the security situation exploded in Tripoli in mid-July. There is an elected parliament that only controls small parts of the country.
Al-Hayat: What about the Islamists in this parliament?
Mitri: They are a minority, and they are boycotting it anyway. They participated in the elections, but few of them won. They boycotted the parliament because, first, it is in Tobruk, an area controlled by Hifter; second, because the transfer of power from the General National Congress to parliament did not proceed according to the text of the Constitutional Declaration; and third and most important, because armed confrontations have led to Misrata and its allies, the Islamic battalions, controlling Tripoli, Benghazi, Misrata, Sirte and most coastal cities. This means that we now have a legitimate parliament, which endorsed a government, facing a large alliance controlling the greater part of the country. They have strength and they control the capital. This other force has formed a government and we now have two governments: one that enjoys legitimacy because an elected parliament appointed it and another that has strength and controls many Libyan cities.
Perhaps a dialogue between the two sides under UN auspices would help in the initial search for a way to an agreement. I tried several times. I have organized several dialogues between the political forces. The [dialogues] were held without difficulty. The goal was to reach some consensus. It was difficult, however. The failure happened in June, when I called for a dialogue because I knew what was about to happen, and it did happen. My invitation was misunderstood. In short, the nationalist non-Islamist forces considered themselves the winners and Islamists the losers. Why would the winner want to dialogue with the loser when dialogue would mean, from [the winners’] perspective, that they have to make concessions? I told them that the issue was not a matter of winner and loser, but it was about Libya’s national unity and peace, and that no party could eliminate the other. You could win an election, but not eliminate others. The two of you must meet to agree on the minimum in order to avoid the country’s collapse, which ended up happening.