Despite the fact that there are no messages that would cause any alarm from Libyan media outlets in recent days, the situation in this country is still far from normal, but rather has only taken a temporary (and alarming) pause.
According to reports from Libya Al Ahrar TV channel, the split in Tripoli has become even more pronounced due to the talks being held directly with the East Libyan parliament, which supports the power of Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA). However, the negotiation process continues in the meantime through the military and law enforcement agencies in Libya’s eastern and western parts, who met behind closed doors in Hurghada under the auspices of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), and with Egypt actively playing the role of mediator, to discuss a ceasefire and how to initiate the political process. At these meetings in Hurghada, very important issues were raised: unifying the Libyan army and its command staff, and various law enforcement agencies, and how to ensure security for Sirte after reaching a political agreement concerning a transitional period during which this city could become the headquarters for a unified government.
But the process of holding talks is starting to spin its wheels. Furthermore, this is not only because of the political differences between the parties, but because it is now impossible to create a unified Libyan army and support overarching security. After all, the Government of National Accord (GNA) is undergirded by militants from terrorist organizations, and clearly does not want to dissolve its power base, since the highest posts in the structure that forms the Tripolitanian authorities are occupied by Islamists, who previously published a statement in which they promised to crack down on every supporter of a peaceful settlement of the situation in Libya. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organization (which is banned in the Russian Federation) also planned to disrupt the other recent talks to help resolve the crisis in Libya that took place in Berlin. Owing to this, the GNA has been terminating all ceasefire agreements and peace initiatives proposed via international platforms, and the UN-backed “5 + 5” equation is observed solely by the House of Representatives.
The process of reaching a political settlement successfully is hindered not only by the general conflict situation in what was formerly Jamahiriya, but also by any lack of unity within the Libyan factions.
GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, clearly tired of this continuous and futile struggle, announced his intention to resign by the end of October due to his standoff with Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha. Taking step, quite naturally, led to political speculation among other high-ranking figures in Tripoli, who have already initiated a struggle for the vacant seat, as well as in Ankara. Fayez al-Sarraj even arrived in Istanbul on October 4th for a personal meeting with Turkish President Erdogan to take about this step. There, Al-Araby al-Jadeed reports, Turkish officials requested that the head of the Libyan GNA abandon his decision to resign, and affirmed that they will provide all necessary assistance to F. al-Sarraj to try to resolve the internal crisis if he decides to keep working in his position. According to that publication, al-Sarraj initially insisted on his decision, but later promised Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to reconsider it, and maybe even change his mind, if he sees changes occurring within his camp of supporters.
However, the existence of factional disagreements is also something intrinsic to the authorities in eastern Libya, something that was shown by the meeting held in Cairo at the end of September between Saleh Issa, Haftar, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as well as criticism leveled at the unilateral negotiations between the Libyan military leader Haftar and US diplomats, following which the LNA decided to release its clamp on the vital work done by the oil industry in the areas that it controls. According to observers, by holding these negotiations with the Americans Haftar tried to preserve his position and reverse the negative trend that he faces, even if that meant bypassing Saleh Issa. However, it is obvious that the United States, which is pursuing its goal of announcing another foreign policy success by the Donald Trump administration before the November elections, was particularly active in helping release Haftar’s clamp on the Libyan oil industry. To achieve that result, the United States threatened Khalifa Haftar with sanctions, since it is believed that Haftar has both property in Virginia and American citizenship since he, being a member of the opposition to Muammar Gaddafi, has lived in the United States since the late 1980s – and having this kind of American “background” makes K. Haftar extremely vulnerable to US sanctions.
To consolidate its position in Libya, the United States has recently intensified the process of establishing contacts with North African countries adjacent to Jamahiriya, especially Tunisia and Algeria, where US Defense Secretary Mark Esper traveled in early October. At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that Washington’s active participation in a Liban settlement might diminish once again – if the United States loses interest in Libya after the November elections.
As far as the development of the situation in Libya itself is concerned, it should be admitted that the intrafactional divisions are becoming a fixture in the Libyan armed conflict, but they could entail a very high cost for all the parties involved. One of the manifestations of these intrafactional divisions is the ongoing rampages occurring in Tripoli following the actions taken by conflicting militant groups. For example, in Tajoura, controlled by the GNA, local gangs of terrorists that are officially part of the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” looted and burned houses belonging to the “allied” battalion “ad-Daman”, and also drove several civilian families from their homes.
The situation with the militants in Libya has been made more complicated by the latest actions taken by the GNA to establish a body under the “Ministry of Internal Affairs” that would legalize the presence of foreign militants inside the North African country, the Libyan Address Journal reports. For example, mercenaries recruited from Syria and other countries in Africa would now be able to obtain official permission to stay in Libya, and the committee created under the GNA’s “Ministry of Internal Affairs” would then issue new passports to militants from the terrorist organizations DAESH and al-Qaeda (both organizations are banned in Russia). In addition, those documents would be provided not only to those that have recently arrived, but also to those that have been in the North African state for a long time, and thanks to whom the terrorists have enjoyed the opportunity to officially get work in the Libyan security forces, thereby enjoying the right to further abuse ordinary citizens. At the same time, what stands out is the fact that it is the Minister of Internal Affairs under the GNA, Fathi Bashagha, who is the chief voice for Turkish policy in Libya, and back in February 2020 Ankara promised to provide Turkish passports to foreign mercenaries in Libya. However, it is now becoming apparent exactly how Ankara is keeping its promise.
By backing the militants arriving in Libya, Turkey – in addition to using them in this country – has begun, according to the American journalist Lindsey Snell, to transfer “experienced foreign mercenaries” from Libya to other countries, and specifically to Azerbaijan, given that in Libya itself the intensity of combat operations has diminished. And Turkey is redeploying new people to replace those “experienced mercenaries”. The United States also confirms that Turkey is transporting militants to the Caucasus. By doing so, besides helping support the armed confrontation in Libya, Turkey is clearly demonstrating today to the world community its ability to have a direct impact on armed conflicts in other regions.
The situation in Libya is complicated by ongoing – despite international sanctions – illegal weapons exports to the country. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in particular, drew attention to this issue during the Berlin International Conference on Libya that took place a few days ago. An investigation by The Guardian also corroborated that Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are committing regular, and increasingly flagrant, violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, thereby fueling the war in violation of the agreement to end the conflict.
In the conditions outlined above, at any moment Libya may yet again turn out to be a platform for heated military confrontation.
Valery Kulikov, a political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.