Member of Libya’s UN-backed leadership resigns, divisions deepen
Tunis - A prominent member of Libya’s internationally backed government’s collective leadership has stepped down, citing its inability to “resolve the political crisis” facing the country more than five years after dictator Muammar Qaddafi was toppled.
Musa al-Koni’s resignation showed the depth of Libya’s divisions at a time when militias shifted the theatres of fighting from the eastern oil basin to southern regions 250km from Tripoli.
“We failed to solve citizens’ everyday problems… and unsolved problems have accumulated,” Koni, a deputy prime minister and one of nine members of the Presidential Council, said of the reasons behind his resignation.
“I don’t think we are unaware of what the citizens are suffering but we are incapable,” he said at a January 2nd news conference in Tripoli.
Koni’s resignation exacerbates internal divisions in the council and raises the question of the Government of National Accord’s ability to function. Two other council members had put their participation in the leadership body on hold as part of a rift between eastern and western Libya over the country’s oil riches and control of the military.
Koni stepped down when council Chairman and Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj was in London for a daughter’s wedding.
Sarraj expressed hope that Koni would change his mind. He also overturned the decision of council member Fathi al-Mijabri to appoint one of his supporters as the head of the country’s intelligence services. That move had provoked the ire of other members of the council, who said it was illegal.
Libya’s internationally recognised House of Representatives is the only body legally entitled to fill an opening created by the resignation of a member of the council but it has yet to endorse the council and its right to govern.
Libyan political analyst Alaa Farouk painted a grim picture of the fallout plaguing the council and the country.
“Libyans inside the country live under power blackout for hours without running water and amid economic misery,” he said. “When electricity is back, they see their government leaders bickering on television, one casting doubt on others, another stepping down, while a third is fleeing while the head of the government is busy with the wedding of his daughter in London.”
Analysts were split on whether the council would continue muddling through or fall apart.
“I expect more resignations as they do not want to bear false witnesses about the council failure from inside,” said Libyan analyst Abu Baker Khalifa.
Faraj Farkash, a Libyan political activist, said: “Koni’s resignation had lent a moral victory to opponents of the entente.”
The country’s latest political problems surfaced when Libya had apparently been moving in a positive direction on other fronts. Islamist militias aligned with the council had uprooted the Islamic State (ISIS) from the eastern Libyan town of Sirte in December, the country’s oil output has been rising steadily and the budget for this year has been agreed to with the Central Bank.
Government spokesman Ashraf al-Thilthi said in a statement that the endorsement of the budget for 2017 would help resolve the cash crisis and bolster the dinar.
Meanwhile, a warplane from the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose forces control most of eastern Libya, including oil export outlets, bombed a landing plane carrying officials from the powerful Misrata militias on January 2nd at Jufra air base.
Misrata militias chief General Ibrahim al-Ainine was among several people wounded in the strike.
Misrata militias aligned with Sarraj’s government ousted ISIS from Sirte early in December with the help of US air strikes, British intelligence support and medical assistance from Italy.
Haftar’s spokesman Ahmed Mismari said: “Our warplane hit a gathering of terrorists.”
Jamal Turki, a Misrata military spokesman told a local television interviewer: “We came to the south to enforce security in the south. We told mediators from the region that forces backed by Haftar seek war, not us”.
Analysts said Haftar is trying to consolidate support in southern regions between Jufra and Sabha, which include arms and ammunition depots and unused air bases, to prepare his forces for the day when he begins to storm Tripoli from the south.
They argue that tribes like Qaddadfa, from which Qaddafi hailed, and Senoussi are at odds with Misrata militias and are ready to back Haftar.
Of more immediate concern is Western powers — Italy reopened its embassy in Tripoli on January 10th in what the Italian Foreign Ministry said was a show of support for Libya’s stabilisation process — and Libya’s neighbours backing Sarraj’s government despite domestic misgivings.
“The efforts of Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia are directed at strengthening the entente and compromise among Libyans rather than erasing everything and restart from zero as some in Libya think,” said Libyan political analyst Fadhil Amine.