Sarraj move hinders smooth transition of power in Libya

The outgoing PM prevents members of his cabinet who want to prepare for transfer of power from dealing with Dbeibah government.
Friday 05/03/2021
Libya’s interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah (2nd R) meets with outgoing Government of National Accord (GNA) prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R),  on February 17, 2021 in Tripoli. (AFP)
Libya’s interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah (2nd R) meets with outgoing Government of National Accord (GNA) prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj (R), on February 17, 2021 in Tripoli. (AFP)

TUNIS--The news from Libya does not bode well for the transfer of power from the current government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj to the new executive authority led by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, which is supposed to manage the country’s affairs during the transitional phase that precedes general elections scheduled for December 24.

A new obstacle has begun to emerge, hindering a smooth transition that would allow Dbeibah’s to assume his role as head of government, to which he was elected February 5.

One of the first indications of obstacles ahead was Sarraj’s decision to order members of his cabinet to not deal or communicate with the new executive authority, despite being aware that his government has become a caretaker one since Dbeibah’s election.

In his decision, issued March 2 and made public March 3, Sarraj demanded from the members of his government and heads of public bodies and institutions not to deal with the leaders elected during the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) before they are granted full legitimacy.

Sarraj based his decision on seemingly legal considerations according to which the new executive authority has not yet been granted formal legitimacy since it has not received a vote of confidence in parliament.

In his decision, Sarraj stressed that the heads of bodies and institutions should not hold any meetings without prior permission from the leaders of the LPDF with  members of the elected presidential council headed by Muhammad al-Menfi, and the government headed by Dbeibah.

He also stressed “the need of adhering to working guidelines within public institutions.”

Sarraj attributed his decision to what he described as “the desire to distance public institutions and bodies from interference with the ongoing political process before the due scheduled dates.”

He noted the importance of “respecting the outcomes of the existing political process for the transfer and consolidation of power.”

Observers have linked this decision to meetings in recent days between members of the new executive authority and numerous senior officials in the Government of National Accord (GNA) and affiliated military leaders, including a meeting held between Dbeibah and Finance Minister Faraj Bumtari, and devoted to discussing the unification of the budget.

Dbeibah also met with the chairman of the board of directors of the General Electricity Company Wiam al-Abdali and discussed with him the issue of frequent power outages. Menfi also met with the commanders of the military regions and members of the GNA’s 5+5 military committee.

Libya’s new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya February 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Libya’s new Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh speaks during a news conference in Tripoli, Libya February 25, 2021. (Reuters)

The decision, however, triggered conflicting views and reactions, with many voices clearly denouncing it.

Some went so far as to describe the decision as a political manoeuvre by Sarraj aimed at delaying his departure from the political stage, especially given the fact that when he was picked to head the Libyan government in 2015, he carried out consultations himself and held similar meetings before assuming his duties.

In a telephone interview with The Arab Weekly from the city of Benghazi,  Libyan MP Ibrahim al-Dorsi said that Sarraj’s decision “throws a monkey wrench into the process, and increases pressure on the national unity government headed by Dbeibah, which is under other pressure from other MPs who are bargaining with it on ministerial portfolios and government positions.”

He added, “Sarraj was supposed to help overcome all the difficulties facing the Dbeibah government, which had been welcomed by the Libyan people.”

He concluded that “this decision shows that Sarraj and the people around him, especially the militias loyal to his government, do not want to leave the stage or pave the way for Dbeibah.”

For his part, MP Jibril Ouhaida said in a phone call with The Arab Weekly from western Libya that what Sarraj did “will have no bearing on the approval process of the new new executive authority, which will formally succeed to the Sarraj government and presidential council after receiving the  confidence vote of the House of Representatives in the coming days.”

But he added, “These actions are nothing more than a form of badgering or warning from the Sarraj government to the new executive authority before it is approved.”

Hassan al-Saghir, the former foreign ministry undersecretary, denounced Sarraj’s decision, which he viewed as an attempt to “deepen the Libyan crisis.”

Saghir pointed out in a Facebook post that “Sarraj, from October 2015 until the beginning of 2016, met in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco with dozens of Libyan ministers and officials in the interim government and the national salvation government, and oddly enough now he now asks (his government members) not to meet who will succeed him.”

He added, “This step would have been considered by Sarraj at that time as an obstructive move. Now he presents it as a desire to ensure the smooth running of government operations and to shield institutions from being influenced by the political process.”

Sarraj’s decision leaves no room for doubt that there is not yet a climate of consensus in Libya that can bridge the sharp differences between the Libyan factions and facilitate a smooth transfer of power to the Dbeibah government, which is still waiting to receive its formal legitimacy from parliament.