Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1284, (25 February - 2 March 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Libyan chaos continues

Divisions in the Libyan House of Representatives have prevented the swearing in of the country’s national-accord government, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The fate of the national-accord government stipulated in the agreement signed between Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, in mid-December continues to hang by a thread, as does the fragile agreement itself.

It appears that certain domestic and regional powers are bent on obstructing the formation of the new government, or at least on ensuring that it is plagued with the same deficiencies as its predecessors, further protracting the Libyan crisis.

Meanwhile, the presence of the Islamic State (IS) group in Libya, which has created a base for itself by taking advantage of the political vacuum in the country and the security void in a strategic part of north-central Libya, is being used politically and militarily by domestic parties supported from abroad.

The situation has stirred numerous questions regarding international and Western positions on the crisis, despite their repeated assertions that it threatens their countries’ interests and national security.

In a surprise move last week, the US launched an aerial strike against an IS location in Sabratha, to the west of Tripoli, killing more than 40 members of the terrorist organisation.

The operation was described as the most precisely targeted operation against IS since it proclaimed itself a self-styled “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. The terrorist organisation began to establish a foothold in Libya in 2014, expanding in various parts of the country while it secured a stronghold in Sirte, where it has been relatively safe from its opponents in Libya and abroad.

The terrorist organisation has not had to endure a test of its military capacities since the withdrawal of the Misrata militias on 29 May 2015.

Last Friday’s US raid was the third publicised military action against IS in less than six months. In spite of Western and US promises to prevent its expansion in Libya, the terrorist organisation has been expanding its hold in the centre of the country while rival Libyan factions have allowed it to move unimpeded in order to score political points against their adversaries.

 As a result, the true military capacities of the IS franchise in Libya have yet to be tested in its stronghold of Sirte, contrary to what has happened to the main organisation in Iraq and Syria.

 Although the current governmental bifurcation in Libya is one of the factors that have allowed IS to spread, the House of Representatives in Tobruk in eastern Libya does not appear to be capable of approving the proposed national-accord government headed by Prime Minister-designate Fayez Al-Sarraj.

While Western powers have repeatedly urged the House to give the government a vote of confidence so that it can set to work from the capital Tripoli, a number of politicians in the east, mainly those loyal to military leader Khalifa Haftar, are set against the political accord struck in Skhirat.

According to reports from Tobruk, last Saturday’s session of the House of Representatives erupted into acrimonious bickering over the proposed new cabinet between MPs from the eastern part of Libya known as Cyrenaica. On one side stood supporters of Haftar and on the other supporters of militia leader Ibrahim Al-Jadhran, who controls Libya’s major oil-exporting ports.

The pro-Haftar camp, led by MP Ali Al-Qatrani, a member of the Presidential Council formed in the framework of the Skhirat Agreement, rejects the proposed cabinet on the grounds that it is dominated by Islamists and includes a defence portfolio, something which could sideline Haftar.

The others camp insists on the inclusion of a defence minister in order to avoid reproducing the shortcomings of the Abdullah Al-Thani government.

However, the widely publicised quarrels do not reflect the depth of the differences that have surfaced in the divided east of the country. In particular, the controversy surrounding Haftar is expected to grow more intense against the backdrop of further deteriorations in the political and security situations.

Haftar instructed his supporters in parliament to obstruct the formation of a new government. At the same time, he intensified military operations with the aim of achieving political gains that could strengthen his hand before parliament bows to international pressure and gives a vote of confidence to the new government.

Last week, as the House was debating the line-up for the national-accord government submitted to it by the Presidential Council, Benghazi saw an escalation in fighting designed to stall the birth of the new government and to make Haftar a key player who cannot be ignored.

The latest military operations in the city are not expected to have a significant effect on subduing frictions in the east due to the complexity of the web of conflicting interests and vying parties in the conflict centring around Libya’s second-largest city.

In addition to Haftar’s forces, the rivals include federalists, people living in the city, and Islamists. This fact suggests that the conflict is now becoming ever more complex and that it may lead to unsatisfactory results for all parties.

Haftar is trying to obstruct the formation of the new government, or to ensure that if it is created in deference to international pressures it will be born defective, allowing him to remain in charge of security affairs in the east while attempting to extend his influence toward the west, even though that part of the country seems uncomfortable with him.

In Saturday’s parliamentary sessions, MPs from the east registered vague objections to the proposed slate of new ministers, revealing an intention to pounce on any faults even before the government begins its work.

The MPs are also trying to obstruct a vote of confidence by insisting that the Presidential Council change some of the names. Barely had the parliamentarians assembled before the session erupted into barrages of mutual recriminations, with MPs accusing each other of acting as proxies for foreign parties and of taking bribes.

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, the House of Representatives had still not been able to make up its mind on the proposed government. In addition, it appeared to be dragging its feet with regard to the required amendments to the Constitutional Declaration.

The international community is still on tenterhooks over the fate of the government and the fate of the political agreement as a whole. It also fears that its repeated appeals to the House to approve the proposed government may turn out to be in vain.

Unfortunately, the disparities in views between the regional and international parties and their opposing stances on the Libyan parties remain unchanged and will impact negatively on the future of the political process and the security of the country.

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