Libyan protests deepen Sarraj’s isolation and expose Turkey’s role

Turkish intelligence said to be helping GNA contain demonstrations.
Wednesday 26/08/2020
Demonstrators march during an anti-government protest in Tripoli, Libya, August 25, 2020. (REUTERS)
Demonstrators march during an anti-government protest in Tripoli, Libya, August 25, 2020. (REUTERS)

TRIPOLI – Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Presidency Council of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), failed to contain the growing popular discontent and to absorb the anger of the demonstrators in the streets and squares of the capital, Tripoli.

His failure on that front coincided with his increasing troubles with a number of Misrata militias loyal to his Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashagha, especially the Al-Somoud militia led by Salah Badi, which has escalated its criticism of Sarraj, in a development threatening to worsen his political isolation.

Sarraj admitted that “several transgressions have occurred” during the Sunday demonstration, but he blamed the demonstrators who, he said, “did not complete the legal procedures and obtain the authorisations to demonstrate from the concerned authorities so that these authorities could ensure their safety and protect them from intruders, which was exactly what happened yesterday (Sunday).”

He claimed that outsiders “infiltrated the protesters.” The latter, he said, had “very legitimate” demands, but he claimed that some of the infiltrators “were armed and there was vandalism and damage to public and private property,” stressing that such behaviour “could not be tolerated.”

It was obvious that Sarraj was seeking to deflect the GNA’s responsibility for the attacks on the protesters and for the deterioration of the situation in Tripoli and the entire western region. That is why, barely had he finished his televised speech that the demonstrations ignited again and increased in frequency, acquiring this time the moniker of the “August 23 Hirak”.

The protesters reaffirmed their demands for al-Sarraj’s departure, chanting “Leave, leave, leave”. Soon, however, the protests evolved into a movement of civil disobedience throughout the streets of the capital, Tripoli, and Sarraj was given 24 hours to announce his resignation “out of respect for the Libyan people.”

Several other cities in western Libya, including Sabrata and Mazda, quickly joined in the protest movement, at a time when Libyan sources revealed the identity of those who shot at peaceful demonstrators in the capital, Tripoli.

These sources confirmed that it was the Al-Nawasi and Al-Radaa militias who were in charge of suppressing the peaceful demonstration that took place in the capital, Tripoli, by firing on the demonstrators and conducting a widespread arrest campaign, in addition to cordoning off the main streets in the centre of the capital.

Following Sarraj’s speech, Ihmida al-Jarou, the spokesman for the Al-Somoud militia, attacked Fayez al-Sarraj on Twitter. He called him “a liar” and “unfit to lead a municipality, let alone a country,” and described his speech as “meek and confused.”

Libyan security sources revealed that Fayez al-Sarraj sought the help of the Turkish intelligence stationed in Tripoli to have the spontaneous popular movement infiltrated by individuals loyal to him who would raise demands in line with Turkish interests, and to try and produce a leadership for this movement that would be loyal to Sarraj.

Libyan newspaper Al-Marsad Al-Libi quoted unnamed Libyan security sources as saying that the Turkish Intelligence Division in the capital, Tripoli, held a first meeting on Tuesday at the Maitiga base, followed by another one at the Abu Sitta base, with Libyan leaders of armed groups and instructed them to infiltrate the popular Hirak and change the course of its political and social demands.

The paper pointed out that Turkish intelligence “was very disturbed by the citizens’ slogans and chants against Turkey’s seizure of Libyan funds and siphoning them from the Government of National Accord, in addition to paying tens of millions to Syrian mercenaries.”

The paper further said that the Turkish directives to the militias included deflecting the chants and slogans against Sarraj, the Syrian mercenaries and the deterioration of living conditions, into ones demanding the immediate reopening of the oil terminals and going back to business as usual there.

Sarraj had announced his intention to carry out an urgent cabinet reshuffle, especially with regard to the service ministries, and said that the selection of the new ministers would be based on competence, capabilities and clean hands.

“We may resort to taking exceptional measures to overcome the problem of the quota system in order to implement the cabinet reshuffle,” he said.

He also called on the judicial institutions and the attorney general’s office to take firm measures against every public employee suspected of corruption.

Sarraj renewed his call for general elections next March, as defined in a statement he issued last Friday, according to which he decided a ceasefire on all Libyan lands.