Rift inside Libya’s presidential council adds to Sarraj’s troubles

The PM’s circle of opponents has recently expanded to include his second deputy, Abdessalam Kajman, who recently sided with Sarraj’s first deputy, Ahmed Maitiq.
Sunday 09/08/2020
A file picture shows GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj holding a cabinet meeting in the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)
A file picture shows GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj holding a cabinet meeting in the Libyan capital Tripoli. (AFP)

TUNIS – Already struggling to deal with the fast evolving context and conditions of the Libyan conflict, The Government of National Accord’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has to contend with a new profound rift inside the Libyan Presidential Council. The council has been going through a particularly intense state of tension and confusion which is likely to become even more exacerbated in light of the growing public anger in the capital Tripoli and the rest of the cities of western Libya.

Sarraj’s troubles, in which internal factors overlap with external ones, are not likely to be over any time soon. The circle of his opponents has recently expanded to include his second deputy, Abdessalam Kajman, who recently sided with Sarraj’s first deputy, Ahmed Maitiq, and this in addition to his continuing open-ended struggle with his interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, who is besieging him from all sides.

The incessant flow of not-so-friendly memos and messages exchanged between al-Sarraj and Maitiq, an exchange of criticisms and accusations, reveals the depth of the serious crisis ravaging the Libyan Presidency Council, especially after Maitiq has intensified his political messages, which are characterized in many of their aspects by a remarkable escalation between both men that does not seem to be disconnected from the open conflict over powers and prerogatives that is fuelled by many external factors.

In a new escalation, Maitiq did not give Sarraj, who appears to be the weakest link in this conflict, time to catch his breath. He, Maitiq, took advantage of the pressure placed on Sarraj from all sides by popular tension and anger, to address directly his opponent, Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, in a message in which he stressed that demonstrating against the government is a legitimate right of citizens.

Addressing Bashagha last Thursday, Maitiq criticized what he described as “the monopoly of absolute power that has given rise to corruption and decisions that have led to poor levels of basic services,” noting at the same time that “one of the foundations for building a state of institutions and law is the right to demonstrate peacefully and express one’s opinion in accordance with applicable laws.”

Maitiq’s message was very much in tune with the position of a leader in the city of Misrata, Hassan Abdallah Ali Shabeh, who had earlier called on people to fill city squares and demonstrate against the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, accusing it of corruption and destroying services and facilities.

“O Libyans, it’s your duty to refuse the authority of corrupt people who had ruined the country and abandoned its citizens; No health services, nor electricity or water, because they plundered and stole… Down with the Presidential Council; it stinks to high heaven and the country must be cleansed. The time has come, so do not be complacent and do not miss out on attending … Enough is enough,” Shabeh wrote on Twitter.

Similarly, Maitiq, in his message, called on the Libyan people to express their opinion clearly, and to demand an “investigation into the money that was spent, where it was spent, and how it was spent,” explaining that “for citizens to demonstrate and express their anger against their government makes perfect sense, so that officials must come out and clarify the various aspects of the files they are handling, and be transparent about the reasons for defaulting (on their duties).”

Three days before that, Maitiq had confirmed in a memorandum he addressed to the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers of the Government of National Accord, that the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj, “does not possess the status of Prime Minister, and that this capacity devolves upon a council consisting of the President of the Presidential Council, his deputies, and two state ministers.”

“According to the Skhirat Agreement,” he added, “the premiership is represented by the Council of the Prime Ministry, which council is composed of the President of the Presidential Council, his deputies and state ministers, knowing that the president, according to the Skhirat Agreement, is the president of the Presidential Council, and the person holding that presidency does not have the status of a prime minister.”

This memorandum comes in the wake of disagreements with Sarraj about the decision-making mechanisms in the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord and the Council of Ministers. The latest incident in this context was al-Sarraj’sconvening a meeting of the board of trustees of the Libyan Investment Corporation. Sarraj went ahead with that decision even though it was opposed by his first deputy, Ahmed Maitiq, and his second deputy AbdessalamKajman.

Maitiq’s memo coincided with statements made by Fathi Bashagha regarding corruption. “We have a big problem,” he said, “which is the problem of a whole system of corruption; corruption has spread everywhere and has become present in all institutions and has gangs. There is compulsive corruption and voluntary corruption, and the ministry is trying to crack down on it and limit it.”

Observers believe that these developments, which come at a time when the frustration and anger of the members of the Libyan Presidential Council are at their maximum, will deepen Sarraj’s isolation and crisis. His situation has indeed become more than fragile and confused, thus contributing to the creation of an internal climate that may impose a new reality in which multiple stakes are involved, in light of the increasing calls for demonstrations in central Tripoli to reject the policies of al-Sarraj and his government.

In this context, Saeed Imghaieb, a member of the Libyan Parliament, wrote on his Facebook page that Fayez Sarraj “came to power against the will of the people, has no popular support and is rejected by the Libyan people for the crimes he has committed against all Libyans.”

He considered that the tribesmen in western Libya shoulder the responsibility of saving the country. “There is no longer a single reason preventing citizens from taking to the streets to demand better living conditions and reject the Turkish occupation… The sons of the Libyan tribes in western Libya bear the responsibility of freeing the country from Fayez al-Sarraj’s government and expelling Erdogan’s mercenaries, after the lies, deceit and ambitions of the two of them have become clear to the people,” Imghaieb wrote.

These developments and the open conflict accompanying them indicate that the situation in the capital, Tripoli, has entered a stage of new priorities in relation to the Presidential Council that takes into account the calculations of the political reality and its concomitant balances that are not isolated from the plans of the Turkish side, which is now in control of the strings of the political game in western Libya.