Libya’s changing game
The arrival of Faiez al-Sarraj and seven members of the Presidency Council (PC) of the Government of National Accord, established under the UN-brokered Libya Political Agreement (LPA), in Tripoli brought a new dynamic to Libyan politics.
Many in Tripoli were fed up with endless political quarrels, the dire economic situation, the crime rate and the slogans of the General National Congress (GNC), the Islamist-leaning rival parliament in Tripoli, and its “Salvation government”. This facilitated a widely positive attitude towards Sarraj.
However, the decisive element allowing the entry was the partially active, partially tacit support of most of the major militias in and around Tripoli. Some of them belong to the best-equipped and most efficient forces in Tripoli.
The breaking line between support and rejection of the Government of National Accord runs directly through the Libya Dawn coalition, the militia alliance behind the GNC. Misrata, whose militias play a key role within Libya Dawn, is also deeply divided. The city’s Islamists support the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council in its fight against General Khalifa Haftar, and several of Misrata’s most powerful militias remain the security backbone for the GNA and key to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).
The Sarraj government will establish itself under the protection of local militias. The international community will try to strengthen it, emphasising international recognition, and will probably lift the arms embargo. The Government of National Accord will act widely independent from the House of Representatives (HoR), Libya’s internationally recognised parliament, and try to establish facts on the ground, while consciously violating the LPA and Libya’s constitution.
All this will probably allow Sarraj to establish control over the Libyan Investment Authority, the National Oil Corporation and the Central Bank of Libya. This will give his government the ability to control the flow of funding.
However, as long as the Government of National Accord is not endorsed by the HoR its legal status is debatable.
The State Council, a consultative body foreseen in the LPA, had a constituent meeting April 5th.
According to the agreement, it should include 145 members elected during GNC elections in July 2012. Actually, it consists of 82 members of the GNC. Many of them are “replacements” for original GNC members. Abdulrahman Swehli, one of the most influential politicians from Misrata, was elected president of the State Council.
The GNC remnants will be ignored by Sarraj and disappear in irrelevance.
Most of the Islamists have realised the advantage of having the Government of National Accord dependent on their protection in Tripoli. Their influence on the new government will surface over time. This could lead to something similar to what happened in 2012-14 when every government was blackmailed by armed groups. If Sarraj manages to limit their influence, he will face an increasingly violent opposition.
Many of the HoR leaders and Haftar are convinced this will happen. Consequently, they try to prevent a full recognition of the Government of National Accord.
The HoR will act carefully not to lose its international recognition and its legislative status according to the LPA. HoR President Ageela Saleh, already subject to European sanctions, will insist that recognition by the HoR is a precondition for the Government of National Accord, as stated in the agreement. Haftar will lower his profile and argue that the HoR is the responsible authority to give him guidance.
As long as the HoR has not recognised the Government of National Accord, Haftar will not either. He has said he will work with any HoR-approved government.
The Cyrenaica federalists, including leading HoR member Abu Bakr Bueira, will derive momentum from these developments. The objective will be autonomy, not independence, staying within the framework of the country and to keep access to funding. It could well be that a local government will be established. The federalists will enjoy the support of Egypt, which has vital security interests in the Cyrenaica; from Russia and probably from the United Arab Emirates.
A military council is considered by the leadership in the east as a measure of a last resort. It is aware of the negative consequences. Obviously wide international rejection can be expected.
ISIS has been aggressively patrolling the territory near the Sirte basin but does not have sufficient forces for a permanent occupation. It will expand and probably target the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. Certainly, ISIS will prevent renewed oil exports from Gulf of Sidra terminals.