Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1202, (19 -25 June 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Haftar, talks and more strife

Libya continues to reel in political chaos ahead of parliamentary elections still scheduled for 25 June, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

Retired General Khalifa Haftar renewed his assaults Sunday morning against what he terms terrorist locations in Benghazi. Assaults targeted the districts of Al-Hawari, Sidi Faraj, Qaryounes, Bouatni and Al-Qawarsha. Most of the casualties were civilians who were hit by bullets and shrapnel during the fighting that saw combatants used heavy artillery and, on the side of troops fighting for Haftar, combat tanks.

As hostilities flared in the east, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) postponed its dialogue initiative in view of the objections lodged by various parties to proposed documents. The meeting had been originally scheduled for 18 and 19 June.

Medical sources in Benghazi told Al-Ahram Weekly that by Monday morning the number of dead had reached 10. Two of the victims were Sudanese who had worked as shepherds on a farm near areas of fighting. There were many wounded, but no official figures have been cited yet.

As he stepped up his campaign, Haftar, who served as commander of Libyan land forces in the 1980s under Gaddafi, declared that there could be no dialogue with extremists. He also explicitly accused Qatar of complicity in the assassination attempt against him last week. “We will give an answer to Qatar because it is responsible for the attempt to assassinate me through its agents in Libya,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference he held Sunday, the retired general said: “Benghazi is the crux of this battle. We need to focus on it in order to defeat the Ansar Al-Sharia militias and the groups connected with them.” He nevertheless stressed that he welcomed anything that would spare bloodshed and provide security to the Libyan people. “Notables, tribal leaders and activists have been in touch with the command of Operation Dignity in order to discuss solutions. We do not know what conclusions they have reached,” he said.

Haftar added that his forces would suspend all military operations 25 June, the date scheduled for parliamentary elections, in order to promote the success of the political process. He simultaneously warned of the danger of extremists taking advantage of this suspension in order to perpetuate violence.

“If those foreign elements do not leave the country we will bury them inside it,” he proclaimed in the press conference, adding that he was ten times stronger than when he began his operation against the extremists. He claimed that leaders of the Libyan Parliament (the General National Congress, GNC) had helped terrorist elements enter Libya using forged passports. He also revealed that Sudan was assisting terrorist elements in Libya. However, all of Libya’s other neighbours were cooperating with the Libyan national army in securing the country’s borders.

Haftar praised the President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. He said that the newly elected Egyptian president would steer Egypt to the status it merited in the region and the world. He described Al-Sisi as “the right man in the right place” and he lauded the Egyptian people and Al-Sisi for having exposed the designs of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A flurry of meetings were held in Benghazi in the hope of formulating an acceptable peaceful solution that would bring a halt to military operations. Among the participants were the Libyan Council of Notables headed by Mohamed Al-Mubasher, the Crisis Committee headed by Mabrouk Shunayib, and other mediators. During the talks, Haftar said that he was ready to discuss any proposal that would lead to the militias’ handover of arms, the closure of militia camps and the prosecution of those charged with murder.

Ansar Al-Sharia rejected the notion of dialogue with Haftar whom they called an apostate who should be killed. A power station was hit by a stray missile during the fighting earlier this week causing an electricity cut-off throughout most of Benghazi and its outskirts. The municipal electricity authority stated that a complete blackout prevailed in the eastern portion of the city and in parts of western Benghazi as the result of the hostilities that caused short circuits in the major distribution cables in the north Benghazi power station.

Elsewhere in Libya, a gunfight broke out in the southwest of the country, near the border with Algeria, between Arab and Tuareg tribes. This eruption of violence casts into relief, again, the highly volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions in a country deprived of an effective central authority that can assert its control over the entire territory.

The fighting, which began on Thursday last week, claimed several dead and at least 15 wounded over the weekend. Around 10 homes of local residents were burned down. The head of the prime minister’s office, Mustafa Konono, attempted to intervene in the dispute between the Arabs and Tuaregs which was sparked by competition over fuel supplies, which have been growing scarcer in view of crises at the petroleum exporting ports, the closure of oil fields and other problems.

Meanwhile, UNSMIL dialogue initiative, now postponed, was to have included a broad range of political players, although organisers have not yet identified whom these would be. The UNSMIL initiative contained a proposed declaration of principles and other documents that came under criticism from a number of parties who claimed that these documents were geared to ensuring the continued influential presence of a particular political force in the event that that force failed to succeed in the forthcoming general elections to be held on 25 June. The elections will create a new parliament to replace the GNC that was elected on 7 July 2012 and whose term was supposed to end on 7 February this year.

Libyan sources, speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly on condition of anonymity, said that UNSMIL head Tarek Mitri met with a barrage of heavy criticism in response to the initiative he proposed to Libyan political stakeholders, many of whom objected that the initiative would void the forthcoming elected parliament of its substance and its authority with respect to forming the next government.

Sources added that the major reservations aired by various Libyan parties forced Mitri to postpone the dialogue indefinitely. They also believed Mitri is now contemplating resigning from his post after having been accused of favouring certain Libyan political parties over others.

Political tensions in Tripoli remain high. In a development reminiscent of a situation connected with the judiciary in Egypt in 2012, the GNC, the highest governing authority in Libya, moved to compel chief public prosecutor Abdel-Qader Radwan to retire a month before schedule. It asked the current director of the investigations bureau in the public prosecutor’s office, Al-Sadiq Al-Sur, to assume Radwan’s duties. However, Al-Sur declined saying that he refused to be part of any political conflict.

The GNC’s actions suggest that this body is about to lock horns with the judiciary, as occurred in Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood regime clashed with the Egyptian judiciary. The GNC’s decision to compel Radwan to take early retirement comes almost immediately after the Supreme Court ruled that the procedures that led to the election of Ahmed Maetig as prime minister in May were unconstitutional. Political tensions peaked amid the controversy surrounding his election.

If observers expect the GNC to scuffle with the Libyan judiciary, they also note that the GNC itself is sharply divided as a result of demands from a large segment of the public calling for this body, whose term was officially to end 7 February 2014, to be dissolved immediately and replaced by a new legislative authority or — until such an authority is elected — by the Constituent Assembly that is charged with drafting the new Libyan constitution.

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