Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Power divisions plague Libya

The UN-sponsored Libyan national dialogue is due to resume, but the chances of it leading to a consensus government ahead of October appear slim as on-the-ground political tussles escalate, writesKamel Abdallah


Al-Ahram Weekly

Even as UN Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon announced the dialogue between rival Libyan factions would resume this week in the Moroccan resort town of Skhirat, cracks and fissures rippled through the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the interim government headed by Abdullah Al-Thinni  the bodies that constitute the internationally recognised authorities in Libya. The discord threatened to further complicate the efforts of the UN envoy, who has been working to persuade the factions to agree on a political settlement to end the crisis that has been tearing their country apart and exposing it to a proliferation of terrorism.

The House of Representatives, which is approaching the end of its constitutional term on 21 October, erupted into bitter wrangling between different quarters of its assembly whose acrimonious cries were echoed in the streets. The chief subject of controversy was the Libyan Army Commander General Khalifa Haftar’s proposal to create a military council, a project for which he is backed by some of his supporters in the army, deputies in parliament and some portions of the public, but which is nevertheless encountering considerable resistance.

This controversy is part of a greater problem which is the House of Representatives’ inability, since it first convened on 4 August 2014, to set its priorities and define its duties, some of which overlap with the functions of the interim government headed by Al-Thinni while others relate to the army general command. The result has been nothing less than a muddle in which it is difficult to draw a line between the executive and the legislature, and in which each side ultimately does what it likes. The situation, if it continues, will only contribute to propelling the country further toward partition, and perhaps more quickly than some imagine.

As tempers flared, prospective candidates for the national unity government that Leon seeks to help forge through the dialogue rounds that began last year in September submitted their curricula vitae to the House of Representatives. This appears to contradict the agreement regarding the submission of candidates for the prime minister and deputy prime minister positions in the national unity government. Leon, who also serves as the head of the UN Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL), had asked the House of Representatives to submit at least six names, so as to give the dialogue participants the chance to choose the most appropriate candidates. The House of Representatives current action can only be seen as a bid to obstruct the creation of a national unity government that Leon hopes to create before October.

Although the number of possible House of Representative candidates for the premiership exceeded 20 (they include former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and Libyan Ambassador to the UAE Aref Ali Nayed), leaks from the House suggest that Nayed is the frontrunner. According to these sources, he has managed to persuade most of the representatives from the western and southern regions to vote in his favour. He is also the UAE’s man in Libya, which means that the idea of creating a military council headed by General Haftar to steer the fourth interim phase is unlikely.

Meanwhile, parliamentary deputies from the eastern region known as Cyrenaica are still divided over the priorities of the current phase, torn between calls opposed to the continuation of parliament and the creation of a national consensus government, and the creation of a military council headed by Haftar.

It appears that the idea of creating a military council headed by Haftar faces a range of challenges throughout the country. Not least is the general’s failure to secure control of Benghazi. Still, he continues to press for another military intervention so as to tip the scales in favour of his forces on the ground, even though there is nothing to substantiate his claims that he has achieved victories. Secondly, there is the problem of the rampant corruption in the armed forces command under Haftar’s leadership. The question was the subject of heated arguments between this body and parliament, especially MPs in favour of the federal system, during a hearing with Chief of Staffs Abdel Razeq Al-Nazouri.

In a telephone interview with the UAE-financed Libya HD TV channel last Thursday, Benghazi MP Ziad Daghim, one of the pro-federalist MPs, claimed that Haftar received more than 750 million dinars and that he is constantly and regularly receiving shipments of arms and equipment from countries that back him because the speaker of parliament puts him in direct contact with those states. He added that pleas to lift the arms embargo on Libya were merely a way to justify Haftar’s failure to secure control over Benghazi.

Daghim held that the army had 54,000 troops in the eastern region, “which are sufficient to liberate an entire country let alone a city”. He added that the troops were not paid regularly and that parliament has been kept in the dark about them. He then claimed, during the interview, that the office of the chief of staffs was under a cloud of suspicion for major financial corruption and that this office had forcefully prevented the House of Representatives auditing department from reviewing the army’s expense accounts. He also charged that a friendly government, which he did not name, had given the Libyan army 35,000 complete military uniforms, which have vanished while the army command never informed the House where the uniforms went.

The pro-federalist MP also accused Haftar of refusing to present himself before parliament for questioning because “he thinks himself superior to all others”. Daghim also said that the House of Representatives had no knowledge regarding Haftar’s launching of the military operation in Benghazi in May 2014, or why he decided to bring the war into the city as of October with the aid of civilians. Haftar also refuses to inform the House about his military plans and the results he achieves on the ground, Daghim said, adding that Haftar and the army command bore full responsibility for the hardships visited on a large number of Benghazi inhabitants, especially in the quarters where hostilities are taking place.

The barrage of criticisms fired by Daghim against Haftar focus attention on the man who has been trying to dominate the general scene in the country, especially in the divided east.

Proponents of the federalist drive strongly reject the arguments cited by the pro-Haftar camp in favour of forming a military council to administer affairs in the country after the term of the House of Representatives comes to an end 21 October. Haftar has not succeeded in bringing Benghazi under control, therefore he will not be able to restore safety and security elsewhere in the country, they argue. They also believe that Haftar threatens their own ambitions.

Haftar enjoys little support in the west and south, meanwhile  areas where conflicts tend to more tribal than political. Some parties in these areas see him as a cause of the conflicts between them on the grounds that he supplies arms and ammunition to groups that declare their support for the army, so that these groups can turn these weapons against others that Haftar brands as terrorists. The phenomenon occurred in the conflict between the southern Tabu and Tuareg tribes. Haftar supports the former as some Tabu forces fight alongside him in Benghazi. In the west, the forces allied with Haftar came out against his leadership and declared their support for Brigadier General Masoud Erhuma as minister of defence. Haftar opposes such an appointment and accuses Erhuma of being financially corrupted, alongside suspended Interior Minister Omar Al-Sinki, who had also frequently criticised Haftar’s style of managing the army.

The House of Representatives will soon be deciding the fate of Al-Thinni’s government and especially the ministers of defence and interior. Most MPs support Al-Sinki’s continuation as interior minister and the appointment of Erhuma to the defence portfolio. In addition to Haftar, the speaker of parliament has threatened to suspend his membership in the House in protest against Erhuma’s appointment. Erhuma and Al-Sinki are among the Libyan political figures that enjoy support from the UAE, which in turn illustrates the influence that country has over decision-making in the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, observers fear that the recent Arab League resolution on Libya will further complicate the situation as it grants governments backing the warring factions the freedom to support this side or that behind the guise of fighting terrorism. At the same time, reports from Libya speak of arms smuggling operations inside Libya carried out by parties that are backing local militias. The reports air fears that this trade will increase the arms flow to terrorist groups.

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