Libya has moved to center stage in a regional power struggle between the patrons of political Islam and their opponents. This week, U.S. officials briefed several media outlets that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had secretly conducted airstrikes in the capital, Tripoli, against Islamist-allied militias. This may not have been the first time that the Egyptians and Emiratis teamed up to target Libyan Islamists: The New York Times also quoted U.S. officials saying a special forces unit operating out of Egypt, but likely primarily comprised of Emiratis, had recently wiped out a militant camp in eastern Libya.
The regional struggle for influence in Libya has raged since the 2011 uprising against Muammar al-Qaddafi, during which Qatar backed several Islamist factions and the UAE supported more tribal-oriented and regional militias, particularly those from the conservative western mountain town of Zintan. The competition took on greater momentum after last’s year overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) — a move cheered by the UAE. Morsi’s ousting and the fierce crackdown on the Brotherhood that followed emboldened Libya’s anti-Islamist militia leaders, politicians, and activists, who have made no secret of their wish to see a similar scenario unfold at home.
The country’s Islamists, meanwhile, have started seeing Egyptian or Emirati plots around every corner. In April, many were taken aback when the UAE denied entry to Awad al-Barassi, a former deputy prime minister and member of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party (JCP).
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