Bashagha seeks French support in quest to be next PM

In Paris, the current Libyan Minister of the Interior reaches out security companies and wants to reassure the French that he is not Erdogan’s candidate.
Thursday 19/11/2020
A file picture shows Libya’s interior minister Fathi Bashagha speaking during a press interview in March 2020. (REUTERS)
A file picture shows Libya’s interior minister Fathi Bashagha speaking during a press interview in March 2020. (REUTERS)

TUNIS – The Minister of the Interior of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Fathi Bashagha, is betting on French security companies to be his key to a real rapprochement with Paris.

Bashagha flew to Paris only a few days the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunis failed to agree on a new executive authority, in which Bashagha was slated to head.

According to the Libyan Ministry of the Interior’s posts on social media, Bashagha will meet during his visit with “security and political leaderships in France and a group of companies specialized in security fields.”

Recently, there have been signs of improvement in relations between Paris and Bashagha, who last year had launched a strongly-worded campaign against France, accusing it of fuelling the war in his country. His scathing attack came after his government’s militias had discovered, in a camp in the town of Gharyan evacuated by the retreating Libyan National Army (LNA), American-made Javelin missiles purchased by France.

Last month, France congratulated Bashagha for capturing and arresting the notorious human trafficker Abd al-Rahman Milad, nicknamed “Bija”. The French embassy congratulated the Libyan Ministry of Interior, in a sign of the beginning of a rapprochement between the two parties.

Bashagha, who is close to Turkey, realises that security companies at this stage are the institutions with the greatest influence on governments, since major countries have assigned to these companies all the tasks they want to perform, whether security or logistical.

Blackwater has distinguished itself in Iraq as the largest security company and the second “largest army” during the US occupation of that country, while the Wagner Group acts as the strong arm of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies in more than one place in the world. Although Turkey presented the Syrian mercenaries it brought to Libya as security contractors, they were nonetheless ex-jihadists brought over from the heart of the Syrian sectarian conflict. Other countries prefer to resort to military “contractors” from different nationalities.

These security companies are run by executives who usually are retired military veterans and politicians and who act as the link between the state and the companies.

It is unlikely that Bashagha will use such companies to secure cities in Libya, but it is very likely that they will be tasked with securing vital strategic areas, such as oil installations or ports and airports.

Bashagha arrived on Wednesday morning at Le Bourget airport, about ten kilometres northeast of the French capital, Paris, in a visit described as official by his supporters, while his opponents described it as a “visit of last resort to polish his image in France.”

Bashagha’s visit to Paris comes after his bets on obtaining a consensus in the Tunis meeting about his candidacy to head the Libyan government during the new transitional period collapsed.

Libyan political activist Kamel al-Meraash said that Fathi Bashagha’s visit to Paris “comes at a time when he is looking for support to assume the presidency of the next Libyan government, and to reassure the French that he is not Erdogan’s favourite candidate.”

Meraash revealed by phone from Paris to The Arab Weekly that Bashagha had previously requested to visit Paris more than once, and that he had indeed landed in Paris on one occasion in March, but was not officially received. He then left Paris for the French city of Lyon, where he held meetings with officials of the International Criminal Police Organisation, Interpol.

Meraash expected that Bashagha will be able this time to hold important meetings with a number of senior French officials, and attributed that to “France’s efforts to find a way out of its isolation in the Libyan file, after this file had been captured by the US and Turkey. Thus, it seems that Bashagha’s visit meets the desires of both parties: Bashagha wants to tell the French that he is not Turkey’s man, and France wants through him to return to influencing the course of the Libyan file.”

Bashagha’s visit comes before the second round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum is scheduled to take place next week via videoconferencing. Libyan media said that Bashagha will be discussing during his Paris visit a number of issues related to security coordination and exchanging information with the French security authorities, in addition to addressing a number of political issues.

They quoted unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that Bashagha will be asking during this visit for French endorsement of his candidacy for the presidency of the new Libyan government during the transition period leading up to the general elections on December 24 of next year.

Bashagha’s move at this particular time towards France was driven by his great desire to seize the leading executive position. His campaign began with his visit to Egypt, which coincided with news of a deal that he might have concluded with the Libyan Parliament Speaker in Tobruk Aguila Saleh, based on the sharing of executive positions between them, wherein he takes the position of prime minister and Aguila Saleh the position of president of the Presidential Council.

Fathi Bashagha was unable to produce a consensus around him during the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunis. His efforts—in which various financial and political pressure cards, and even overt and covert security threats were used—failed to bring about this consensus, through which he wanted to fulfil his political ambitions that have governed his moves since 2014 when he launched Operation “Dawn of Libya”.