Background to the US Congressional subcommittee hearing on the war in Tripoli – Al Marsad

Libya, 17 May 2019 – On 15 May, a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing to assess “The Conflict in Libya”.  The subcommittee – on North Africa, the Middle East and International Terrorism –  involved a small number of Libya analysts, including Frederic Wehrey  and Megan Doherty, who was with the US embassy to Libya during the time of former Ambassador Deborah Jones. Wehrey is known for his antipathy to Hafter and his support for the GNA in Tripoli. He is an academic at the Middle East Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, itself allegedly close to Qatar.

The hearing also involved US lawmakers as well as attracting a number of Libyans based in the US, some of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A congressional sub-committee may only submit proposals and recommendations to main committee, in this case the Foreign Affairs Committee, which then considers them and possibly submits them to Congress as a whole to be voted on.

At the event, the four speakers generally presented a one-sided case, such as suggesting that the current military operations in Tripoli by the LNA had exacerbated political divisions yet not taking into consideration that the resurgence of former Libya Dawn players in Tripoli had been a major cause of the crisis. Or ignoring the fact that terrorists and corrupt militias exist and operate in towns officially under the control of the Government of National Accord (GNA), such as Zawia and Misrata.

Two days before the subcommittee meeting, on 13 May, a militant who had pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in 2016, Safwan Abdelmajid Jaber, was killed in an LNA raid on the headquarters in Zawia of the extremist Farouk brigade, which backs the GNA. There was no mention of him or others like him. There was no mention, either, of the terrorist groups that existed in Benghazi and Derna, nor of the LNA’s role in securing Libya’s oil resources. Instead, the discussion focused purely on portraying Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar as someone motivated by a desire for power. There was no recognition of the efforts of the LNA to bring peace to Libya – an LNA which had been praised by the Security Council on more than one occasion.

As for the guests, they included prominent State Council member Ibrahim Sahad of the National Salvation Front, widely regarded as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Libyan-American Esam Omeish, the former president of the Muslim American Society, who is likewise viewed as a prominent Brotherhood supporter in the US.  His brother Mohamed is an adviser to the Presidency Council.

Circled from left to right: Frederic Wehrey, Ibrahim Sahad, Esam Omeish

Ironically, as the administration of President Donald Trump prepares to ban the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organisation, the Tripoli-based Presidency Council is increasingly involved with it. This will put the PC and its allies under scrutiny, especially in the United States. Omeish and his colleagues Emad El Din El Montaser, of the Libyan American Public Relations Council, and Aly Abuzaakouk, a former minister with the Libya Dawn regime, are also likely to come under the American spotlight as a result.

Omeish and Abuzaakouk were both included in the list of those allegedly cooperating with Qatar or involved in terrorism issued by Libya’s House of Representatives in June 2016 and which the HoR wanted to be added to the terror list published earlier by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.

After the sub-committee meeting in Washington was over, social media and a number of TV stations supporting the GNA portrayed it as a victory against Haftar and the LNA. Others, though, said it was a “pre-paid propaganda session”.

Two members of the subcommittee, Tom Malinowski and Gerald Connolly, both Democrats, received funding donations from Omeish, who sat close to Malinowski at the hearing. During it, Malinowski spoke strongly against Haftar and the LNA. So too did Conolly.

Congressmen Tom Malinowski and Gerald Connolly at the hearing, both of whom have received donations from Omeish

Omeish is a member of the Board of Directors of Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center in northern Virginia and previously served as president of the Muslim American Society (MAS). There are allegations that it was founded as the expression of Muslim Brotherhood in the US and that it will not survive sanctions if and when the Trump administration bans the movement as a global terrorist organisation.

Potentially another organisation in the firing line for links to the MB is the International Institute of Islamic Thought, also based in Virginia. It is reported that Omeish received material support from it in his election campaign when, in 2009, he unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for election to the Virginia House of Delegates.

Documents obtained by Al Marsad show that the FBI opened an investigation into the activities of it and other organisations such as the North American Islamic Trust, linking them to the Muslim Brotherhood in the US.

American suspicions about Omeish and Montasser were increased after the 9/11 attacks and of videos of him praising the mujahideen in Palestine, a reference to Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood offshoot.

Given the current bitter conflict in the US between the Democrats and the Trump administration, the sub-committee hearing appears to have been more an attempt to use the situation in Libya and fact that Trump is now sympathetic to Hafter to promote an anti-Trump agenda. It was also part of the campaign being waged internationally by Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain, and now Hafter who had joined the other four’s side.

Observers have said that Sarraj and his supporters felt that the hearing vindicated them, that they were the winners, although in the international stage their only supporters now are Qatar, Turkey, the UK and Italy. But they also say that in terms of real winners and losers, the big loser at present in the conflict is the Libyan people.