Bashagha’s power grab exacerbates Libya tensions

Interior minister is now the de facto air traffic controller of western Libya’s skies.
Monday 13/07/2020
A file picture shows Libya’s GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R) speaking with Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha (L) in Tripoli. (AFP)
A file picture shows Libya’s GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R) speaking with Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha (L) in Tripoli. (AFP)

TUNIS--A military field parade, performed by militia forces aligned with Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA), has exacerbated tensions already existing with Fathi Bashagha, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood’s strongman in Tripoli and Misrata who reigns over the Interior Ministry in Fayez al-Sarraj’s GNA.

According to sources in Libya, tensions that have been brewing since Bashagha’s orders of disbanding rival militias and his ban on ministers in Sarraj’s cabinet from leaving Libya without his permission, are likely to explode in the face of the pro-Turkey political and military apparatus controlling western Libya. The Ankara-aligned apparatus is now facing a serious crisis, made worse by the Libyan National Army’s (LNA’s) decision to shut down oil terminals and oil fields.

Libyan sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that, despite the gravity of the situation, Bashagha is continuing his unprecedented power grab. He recently ordered his GNA colleague, Transportation Minister Miled Maatoug to stop approving take-offs, landings and passage of private aircrafts, as well as those of regularly scheduled commercial flights, without his prior permission.

In his official memo on July 8 to the transport minister, Bashagha stressed the “necessity of submitting a nominal flight manifest as well as the airports of departure and arrival in order for permission to be granted.”

Bashagha’s unprecedented move is producing a tense climate inside Libya that may impose a new reality on the GNA and its militias, one that is re-calibrated by the Brotherhood’s agenda as dictated by Turkish interests.

Bashagha’s instructions have induced silent panic within the GNA government as well as the Tripoli militia leaders who no longer hide their anger at the hegemony of Misrata militias. He, however, justified his orders by claiming that he had received “intelligence provided by the security services indicating that some terrorist elements intend to leave Libya through private aircraft and flights.”

Bashagha, who is now the de facto air traffic controller of western Libya’s skies, excluded from the new measures flights carrying GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj or his deputies Ahmed Maiteeg, Abdulsalam Kajman, Muhammad Ammari Zayed and Ahmed Hamza al-Mahdi.

Observers warn that the danger posed by these measures is that Bashagha now keeps a tight grip on every minister and official in the GNA’s institutions and military leadership, including militia leaders.

Meanwhile, the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade paraded its personnel and hardware in a show of force in downtown Tipoli, a move observers have described as a clear message to Bashagha in reaction to the controversial project to integrate the militias into a National Guard force that the GNA is intent on forming to bypass international and regional calls for the dissolution and dismantling of the militias.

Bashagha sought to placate some militia leaders by granting them new appointments and privileges. Abdal-Ghani al-Kakli, known as “Ghniwa,” was reportedly appointed Tripoli’s consul in a Maghrebi country as a reward for his willingness to disband the the so-called Central Security Battalion, a pro-Sarraj government militia he used to lead.

This decision was condemned in some Libyan circles which deplored al-Kakli’s transformation from “a militiaman to consul general.”

Muhammad Saeed al-Darsi, a militia leader of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council, attacked Bashagha and the militias loyal to him, accusing him of seeking to “dismantle the structure of the revolution.”

Darsi warned of a new wave of arrests that would target those he described as “revolutionaries,” while some Libyan forces expressed fear that these developments were a prelude to a second wave of armed clashes between the militias in Tripoli, similar to those witnessed last Thursday in the Janzour area, and last Saturday in the zone of the Nawras Resort in Misrata, resulting in three deaths.

In a measure that might exacerbate the quagmire bogging down the GNA and its militias, the LNA, led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, announced its decision to close and shut down once again all oil terminals and oil fields under its control. The army has set three demands to be met before reopening them. The first concerns the “opening of a special bank account in a foreign country where all oil revenues would be deposited, and setting up a clear mechanism with international guarantees for their equitable distribution to all the Libyan people in every city and region of Libya.”

The second demand concerns “setting transparent mechanisms, with international guarantees, to ensure that these revenues are not diverted to finance terrorism and mercenaries and that they are instead reserved only for the benefit of the Libyan people who are the rightful owners of their country’s riches.”

The third demand has to do with the “necessity to audit the accounts of Libya’s Central Bank in Tripoli to investigate how oil revenues from the past years were spent.”