Saturday,23 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Saturday,23 February, 2019
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Tripoli turmoil

Political alliances continue to shift in Libya with implementation of the Skhirat accord nowhere in sight

Tripoli turmoil
Tripoli turmoil

For the past three weeks, the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli has been working to put in place political, security and economic arrangements intended to bolster itself against the sudden fluctuations in political conditions and alignments in Libya that had remained stagnant for most of 2016. The rival camp in the eastern city of Tobruk is clearly in a state of disarray and the positions of the House of Representatives in Tobruk and the general commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) appear unbendable and unable to accommodate to shifting conditions.

In March, the Tripoli-based Presidency Council began to implement the security arrangements stipulated under the UN-brokered Libyan Political Accord (LPA) signed by Libyan factions in Skhirat, Morocco, on 17 December 2015. In this framework, it gave the green light to militias affiliated with the GNA to drive out the rival militia groups associated with the self-declared National Salvation Government (NSG) headed by Khalifa Al-Ghweil. In October 2016, the latter militia grouping stormed and seized control of a number of government buildings in Tripoli, which they occupied until February this year.

In the course of recent weeks, the pro-GNA forces have succeeded in recapturing most of those buildings and expelling the NSG militias. Among those buildings is the headquarters of General National Congress (GNC) which are located in the Rexos hotel and conference centre complex in Tripoli. Following the signing of the Skhirat accord, the GNC was renamed the Supreme Council of State, which is one of the institutions created in accordance with the LPA. However, the GNC ruptured at this point, and a powerful faction consisting of the former GNC speaker formed the NSG, allied with certain militia groups and forced the Supreme Council of State to hold its meetings elsewhere.

Currently, the general situation in the Libyan capital is still tense and uncertain as rival camps continue to lock horns and test each others’ wills. On the one side there is the Presidency Council of the GNA and the Supreme Council of State (formerly GNC), on the other is the NSG, the remnants of the GNC leader by former GNC speaker Nuri Abu Sahmain, and the office of the Mufti headed by Sheikh Al-Sadek Al-Gharyani.

The Presidency Council also tried to consolidate its position in the capital by assigning mediating roles to former GNC members who support the LPA. However, these efforts have met with little success due to the lack of trust between the rival parties. Even the Misrata camp, which had spearheaded efforts to promote the LPA, is now divided between supporters and opponents to the accord. The latter have recently staged demonstrations in front of the Misrata municipality building demanding the dismissal of the current municipal board and the election of a new one.

The Presidency Council has also attempted to address the deteriorating state of the economy. There is a severe shortage in liquidity in the country. Banks are unable to meet Libyans’ needs for local currency, in good part because businessmen and entrepreneurs are unwilling to put their money in banks for fear that it will merely go to paying the expenses of rival governments. The lack of serious measures to counter rampant corruption has also aggravated the economic climate and reduced confidence in the banks.

Nevertheless, in the hope of improving its standing in the eyes of international partners, the Presidency Council, on 25 March, initiated action to reorganise jurisdiction over the petroleum sector, placing it under the dual authority of the GNA and the National Petroleum Authority. On 2 April, a three-member committee was announced for this purpose. Chaired by Mohamed Emhamed Aoun, it also consisted of the directors of financial and administrative affairs in the National Petroleum Authority and the Ministry of Oil and Gas.

The Presidency Council quickly came under attack from various quarters, not least of which was the National Petroleum Authority. The chairman of the board of directors of this authority, Mustafa Sanallah, called on the Presidency Council to revoke its decision on the grounds that only the legislature has the authority to take such a measure.

Observers believe that the Presidency Council moved to assert its control over the petroleum sector in light of an impending tug-of-war with the Petroleum Authority over contracts and international positions towards the Libyan crisis. Fayez Al-Sarraj, chairman of the Presidency Council and prime minister of the GNA, is particularly keen to enhance his profile in the eyes of international backers, most notably Western powers such as the US, Britain, France and Italy.

Meanwhile, in Cyrenaica to the east, confusion continues to reign in the House of Representatives and the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of General Khalifa Haftar. The two are both allies and rivals in their separate bids to strengthen their political positions with respect to their adversaries in Tripoli to the west.

Confusion grew particularly acute in the east following the surprise attack launched by the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB) against the petroleum crescent area in north central region. Although Haftar’s forces recaptured the area, including two major oil terminals, the attack cast a shadow over his ability to control security affairs in the country. The eastern strongman’s regional supporters have been trying to market Haftar’s military qualities among international powers in the hope that they will give him a green light to establish a form of military rule until the situation stabilises in Libya. The recent incidents involving the desecration of graves and the mutilation of corpses by forces affiliated with Haftar’s campaign in Benghazi, which have incurred widespread condemnation regionally and internationally, also called into question Haftar’s control over his forces and the strength of the chain of command in what the media refers to as the national army.

In the sharply divided House of Representatives, speaker of the house Aguila Saleh continues to hold the reins in spite of the opposition of the majority of MPs who support the LPA and who have been boycotting the assembly’s sessions because they are dominated by a minority that opposes the LPA who, for over a year, have obstructed a democratic vote of confidence in the GNA.

More recently, in an angry reaction against the BDB attack against the petroleum crescent, Saleh retracted the House of Representatives’ recognition of the Skhirat accord. He subsequently relented, but insisted on abolishing the first annex of the accord, which pertains to the Presidency Council. Eventually, however, the house relented further and announced that it would resume consultative sessions to promote a national consensus project aimed at identifying points of disagreement over the accord so that the relevant provisions in the accord could be amended on the basis of negotiated solutions worked out by the various parties.

As though to compound the confusion in the House of Representatives, on 15 March Aguila appointed Mohamed Belgasem Al-Zawi adviser to the speaker of the House of Representatives on North African affairs. The appointment, which was only announced last Sunday, raised many eyebrows, especially among those close to Aguila. Al-Zawi was the former secretary-general of the General People’s Congress (the parliament in the Gaddafi era). He was recently released from prison out of consideration for his age, but he still faces charges related to the suppression of demonstrations during the 17 February 2011 Revolution. In spite of the questionable legality of this appointment, it is believed that Aguila seeks to benefit from Al-Zawi’s connections and his political expertise. The latter may not be as extensive as Aguila hopes given Al-Zawi’s failure to bolster Gaddafi after uprisings broke out in 2011.

Hiftar, too, has just appointed a former Gaddafi-era figure. He put Colonel Al-Mabrouk Sahban, a prominent commander of one of Gaddafi’s brigades, in charge of military operations in Sirte. The appointment encountered angry criticism from some of Haftar’s allies, including officials in Al-Zintan who asked him to rescind the appointment and not to include military commanders from the former regime among his forces.

Evidently, both Aguila Saleh and Khalifa Haftar have turned to former Gaddafi regime officials as a means to compensate for the military and political weaknesses in their own ranks and those of their allies and to strengthen their hand against their political adversaries in Tripoli and elsewhere in the west.

In a related development surrounding the Libyan Political Accord and the ambitions of the leaders of rival factions, the EU Council announced Friday, 1 April, that it had added three names to the list of people subject to EU restrictive measures against Libya. “Agila Saleh, president of the Libyan Council of Deputies in the House of Representatives; Khalifa Ghweil, prime minister and defence minister of the internationally unrecognised General National Congress; and Nuri Abu Sahmain, president of the internationally unrecognised General National Congress, are viewed as obstructing the implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement of 17 December 2015 and the formation of a Government of National Accord in Libya,” the council stated in a press release. The measures include freezes on these individuals’ assets in Europe and travel bans to the same.

The EU Council statement noted that, “the council remains concerned about the situation in Libya, and in particular about acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of the country, and that impede or undermine the successful completion of Libya’s political transition.” It also reiterated the council’s position that “only a political solution can provide a sustainable way forward and contribute to peace and stability in Libya.”

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