New Libya government slowly assumes control
TUNIS - Libya’s internationally recognised government of Faiez al-Sarraj extended its influence in Tripoli by peacefully taking control of a few ministries one month after it sailed into the Libyan capital.
The Foreign Ministry in Tripoli on April 25th became the latest government department to be formally handed over to Sarraj’s authority.
The control of the ministries gives the government a platform to reach out to Libyans yearning for normality as the new authority struggles to win endorsement from the internationally recognised parliament in the eastern city of Tobruk.
The government progress in Tripoli came amid sustained support of the international community highlighted by a flurry of visits of European ministers and diplomats to Tripoli to press the message that Sarraj’s government is the only legitimate authority.
As Sarraj’s government slowly gains authority in Tripoli, the country’s rump army led by former general Khalifa Haftar moved to take control of eastern Libyan positions from the Islamic State (ISIS) and other radical Islamists.
As a result, ISIS has been retreating from some locations, including Derna, to its stronghold in Sirte.
Sarraj’s government hailed the military advance against ISIS and promised support to the army and local population but it was not clear whether this would translate into a reconciliation between powers in the east and in Tripoli.
Haftar-led Libyan forces have recaptured key areas in the eastern city of Benghazi, building on advances made during weeks of clashes with ISIS and other Islamist opponents. The troops took over a camp near the University of Benghazi, which has been one of the most bitterly contested sites in the city since Haftar launched Operation Dignity in May 2014.
ISIS retreated from Derna, also in the east, after it came under assault from rival Islamists and Haftar forces.
Many Libyans fear the country is beginning to splinter as they look at military progress of the Haftar forces coupled with the attempt by an eastern rogue energy company to export oil while the House of Representatives (HoR) — also in the east — has yet to endorse Sarraj’s UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA).
Several HoR members and other Haftar backers brand Sarraj’s government as a tool of Islamist rivals in Tripoli and elsewhere.
Many Libyans also worry that Sarraj’s political advance in Tripoli might lead his supporters to forgo the search for support by the HoR, seeing it as not crucial for the legitimacy of his government.
“We are in a peculiar situation of a man who has the international legitimacy but he has none in Libya,” said Moncef Djaziri, a political scientist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
“That does mean that Sarraj’s backers — the whole EU and in some way the USA — are implicated in a process to defend his government if it were to be threatened, which is not far from happening,” he added.
Libyan political analyst Omar Kodi said: “Most signals point to the difficulty of entente between the Libyan factions because they are not able to do that as they put personalities before principles and stick to their stubbornness.”
“If the Libyans fail to forge compromise and consensus, the international community will not wait for them forever while the country is being turned into [an ISIS] refuge and a springboard for migrants seeking to reach Europe,” he added.
Even if the Libyans were to quiet the concerns of the European Union and the United States about the fight against ISIS, the flow of migrants could be more testing for them as good weather will likely to trigger new waves of migration across the Mediterranean.
EU officials have warned that 450,000 migrants could attempt to reach Europe this summer as a result of the crisis in Libya.
“In Libya there are a million potential migrants,” General Paolo Serra, a military adviser for UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler, told a committee at the Italian parliament.
The rapid deterioration of Libya’s oil-dependent economy is threatening the objectives of the country’s new government, political and security analysts say.
“Libya is on the verge of economic and financial collapse,” said Claudia Gazzini, senior Libya analyst for the International Crisis Group.
Instability has sharply reduced production levels as armed factions have taken over oil and gas regions. If the government fails to exert control, the contest for energy resources could deepen political fissures and trigger more violence, preventing the unified front that Washington and its allies seek against ISIS, analysts say.
Resurrecting Libya’s oil production is crucial to preventing economic ruin, which could force the country to become heavily dependent on Western aid and propel more Libyans to flee to Europe, adding to the refugee crisis there. It is also vital for the government’s survival.
The Libyan economy has long relied almost entirely on oil and gas extraction, which accounts for 95% of its export earnings and 99% of government income, according to UN statistics.
Five years ago, before the NATO-backed uprising that ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi, Libya was producing 1.6 million barrels of oil a day. Libya’s oil production currently stands at about 360,000 barrels a day.