Libya’s incumbent politicians ignore calls for national unity


Published on Monday, 2 October 2023 Back to articles

House of Represntatives’ intransigent speaker, Aguila Saleh

Libya’s two rival governments are both trying to assume responsibility for the post Storm Daniel reconstruction of Derna and the wider eastern region. Despite calls not to exploit the tragedy politically, their mutual mistrust mean that they are ignoring the need for a nationally agreed strategy for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The Central Bank of Libya (CBL), which controls state funds, has not yet indicated who gets what and which side’s reconstruction proposals will be financed. The factions are competing for the right to manage funds from the CBL or foreign aid in order to lead the reconstruction efforts (Libya Politics & Security – 25.09.23).

Given the scale of the destruction, the proposed amounts are wholly insufficient. Public opinion, and locals in particular, have voiced genuine concern that the rivalry is actually driven by the venal factions’ greed which, without control and transparency, will only entrench the endemic corruption.

Meanwhile, despite the Libyan peoples’ desperation for a peaceful resolution to the endless political turmoil, the incumbent leaders are refusing to show any flexibility in by altering their uncompromising and entrenched positions.

This week the House of Representatives (House) is scheduled to meet to discuss the political situation and focus on the electoral laws and the formation of a new interim government to oversee the elections. 

However, doubts are being raised as to what the parliament will actually debate and decide. On 28 September the powerful speaker, Aguila Saleh, insisted that it was necessary to form a mini-government to prepare for elections once the 6+6 Committee’s final draft laws are adopted. He claimed that this would fulfil the desire for national reconciliation to achieve political and economic stability and that such a mini government is also needed to supervise the rehabilitation efforts. He stressed that Libya needs consensus on all the remaining contentious issues, with a single head of state and one prime minister. 

Saleh said that a new government will be formed after the end of the current crisis and will heal the wounds resulting from the floods. It is very doubtful, however, that this attempt to replace the incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU) will ease political tensions. When the House proposed such a step — in accordance with the High Council of State (HCS) under its previous head, Khalid al-Mishri — it exacerbated the divisions because the GNU Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah refused to hand over power to yet another transitional executive. He had also done so in March 2022 when the parliament unilaterally announced the GNU’s replacement with its own parallel eastern-based Government of National Stability (GNS) headed by Fathi Bashagha. Dbeibah continues to insist that he will only hand over power to an elected government and that the polls should be supervised by his administration. Some argue that the current situation is different, however, because the agreement between the House and the UNSMIL suggests that the UN would recognise the proposed new government, so it would obtain international legitimacy. 

Meanwhile, at the end of a meeting in Tobruk, the eastern Harabi tribes — composed of the Al-Obeidat, Al-Fawayed, Al-Hassa, Awlad Hamad, Al-Darsa and Al-Barasa — demanded an end to the conflict and the dispute over legitimacy between the legislative, executive, security and military authorities. It is important to note that local eastern tribal politics plays an important role in Saleh’s political strategy because of his tribal affiliation to the region’s powerful Obeidat tribe and its interests. 

Recently there were unconfirmed rumours that Khalifa Haftar and his allies were attempting to remove Saleh because of his views on elections that run counter to the Haftar family’s objectives. The Egyptians reportedly intervened to reconcile the region’s two strongmen. The fact that Saleh succeeded in rallying tribal support behind him illustrates the fragility of his relationship with Haftar and especially after both were strongly criticised following the Derna disaster. 

This may also explain the Harabi tribes’ 30 September statement which pledged unequivocal support for Aguila Saleh. They stressed that the House, headed by its speaker, should resolve the crisis with a unified transitional government representing all Libyans being selected to end the division, supervise the electoral process, and make reconstruction its top priority. While they called upon the 6+6 Committee to complete the electoral laws and submit them to the House to be passed, they insisted that everyone should be allowed to put themselves forward for the election. 

This excerpt is taken from our Libya Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact for subscription details.

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