On 1 July violent protests against all of Libya’s incumbent institutions broke out in Tripoli and Tobruk, before spreading nationwide to other urban areas including Misrata, Benghazi, al-Bayda, Beni Walid, Sebha, and some of the coastal towns to the west of the capital. In Tobruk the House of Representatives’ parliament was torched after protestors — some reportedly waving the green flags of the former Qadhafi regime — smashed into the grounds using a bulldozer. In Tripoli it was mainly youth groups that took part in the protests.
They were fomented by the increasing power cuts — which in recent weeks have been up to 18 hours long in the midst of summer heat — which have been greatly exacerbated by the east’s politically orchestrated blockade of the oil sector. Besides demands to resolve the power crisis and the rising cost of food — caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian cereal exports to the MENA region — there are also political demands. The protestors want: the speeding up of presidential and parliamentary elections; the dissolution of all incumbent political bodies, including the parallel Government of National Unity (GNU) and Government of National Stability (GNS); the House and the High Council of State (HCS); a declaration of a State of Emergency; as well as the restoration of fuel and bread subsidies.
Many fear that the protests could be met with militia violence as occurred in summer 2020 when similar protests broke out around the country. At that time unidentified armed men suddenly began firing without any warnings at protestors in the capital as they were peacefully marching. These events were quickly seized upon by politicians to advance their own agendas. The then Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez Serraj unsuccessfully attempted to oust his power interior minister, Fathi Bashagha, who now heads the GNS). Similar political jockeying would almost certainly occur again if this was repeated again.
Last week’s demonstrations have implications for the GNU’s Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah who responded by insisting that he supported protestors’ demands, including to change all governing institutions, and that the only solution is to hold elections as soon as possible. However, the protests also highlighted the GNU’s inability to alleviate the power cuts which had been one of his central promises when he took office in March 2021. Last week he had said that he would reshuffling the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL) board to deal with the cuts (Libya Politics & Security – 27.06.22), but has now reversed this decision. By itself, however, it is meaningless unless the oil and gas blockade is lifted but that can probably only be achieved by Khalifa Haftar whose self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) and its Russian allies control the areas in and around most of the country’s major oil fields and export terminals. It is also unlikely, however, that these demonstrations will force Dbeibah out, given his ability to hang on until now, despite the mounting challenges.
Similarly, the House, which condemned the violence and reiterated the need for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections — a sequencing which would favour eastern interests — remains determined to continue to cling onto power as it has since the 2014 elections. The widespread protests reflect the fact that the vast majority of the wider Libyan population know that the incumbents are the main obstacles to peace, stability and better living standards. If the intransigent powerbrokers continue to oppose peaceful change there is a danger of further widespread protests as the people’s frustration continues to grow.This excerpt is taken from Libya Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on Libya. Click here to receive a free sample copy.