The recent conflict in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, at the end of August 2022, represented the most violent chapter of the ongoing conflict between forces loyal to the Government of National Unity headed by Abdel Hamid Dbeibah and others loyal to Fathi Bashagha.
The initiative to go into offensive by Dbeibah forces against pockets loyal to Bashagha in the capital, contributed to achieving a rapid progress and disrupting forces loyal to Bashagha, forcing them to retreat.
The latest clashes, the third attempt by forces loyal to Bashagha to enter the capital, again raise questions about the prospects of the political and security scene in Libya, and ways to emerge from the ongoing political crisis witnessed by the country.
Tripoli’s recent war
The Bashagha led coup, which has recently been witnessed in Tripoli, differs from its predecessors. The state of military mobilization was large, the statements and communiques that preceded it were intense, including international and UN statements that warned against military build-up around and inside the capital.
Hence, its results seemed almost decisive and final, the first of which is a devastating defeat for Bashagha’s party, and he may not be able to repeat his attempt again. The outcome also came in favour of Dbeibah, who has consolidated his power, after the failure of all attempts to uproot him.
The state of ambiguity that Libya is experiencing today seems nothing more than a re-calculation process by the parties to position themselves following the situation created by the Tripoli war. Among these parties is Haftar, who pre-empted everything and confirmed, in the words of Al-Mismari, that whoever would be positioned in the capital “will be able to represent the Libyan government.”
In addition to what the statement entails in terms of renouncing the decisions of the House of Representatives regarding the legitimacy of the Bashagha government, indeed, the statement represents a declaration of new rapprochement with Dbeibah, especially since this rapprochement is not the first.
This was preceded by their rapprochement through the window of the National Oil Corporation, when Dbeibah appointed a person close to Haftar, Farhat Ben Qadara, to head the Corporation, which is considered the most important and critical Libyan institution.
It seems that Haftar has learned from the previous military lesson, with his humiliating defeat in the battle over Tripoli, turning to play the political card. Therefore, one cannot rule out an open alliance with Dbeibah, as the latter is the one who have control over the capital.
Failure to enter the capital
It is clear that the coup planned by Bashagha and his military allies was not well-thought-out. Perhaps Bashagha and his allies realized that entering and controlling the capital is not an easy affair.
Bashagha probably already aware of that and it seems his goal was to implode the situation to drive internal and external forces to contain the situation by launching a political process that brings the government dispute to the negotiation table, as this was delayed in favour of consensus on the constitutional and legal bases.
The failure of plans of Bashagha and his allies could have a very negative impact on him. On the one hand, he will lose some of his allies within the eastern front, and the statement of the spokesman for Haftar’s militia that the army’s command did not participate in the military operation, and was not a party in the operation, can be read in the context of the negative impact on Bashagha and his government.
On the other hand, Dbeibah breathed a sigh of relief after his victory in this third round of entering the capital. As a result, he will gain more strength within the political, social, community and military setting in the western region.
It will also boost his position with the regional and international parties that are interfering in the Libyan affairs, especially that he is ready to cooperate with all, and he has neither political nor ideological position as far as Libya’s external relations are concerned. However, the challenge before him is how to extend his influence over the entire Libyan soil as a condition for supervising the elections, a matter that cannot be certain.
The self-expressed rapprochement through the National Oil Corporation deal, which led to the appointment of a pro-Haftar, Farhat Ben Qadara, as chairperson of the National Oil Corporation, in exchange for the opening of oil fields and ports in July 2022, can be reinforced after Bashagha’s latest failure to enter the capital, and if the rapprochement between Dbeibah and Haftar is strengthened, the actors in the House of Representatives, especially those loyal to Haftar, could push towards a new approach that would contribute to the breaking down of the conflict over the government in favour of Dbeibah, rather than Bashagha.
The repercussions of the recent military operation
After his latest failure to enter Tripoli, Fathi Bashagha worked to absorb the negative repercussions of the failure of the military operation, but he needs many moves to mitigate the negative effects of his failure to impose a status quo in the country.
Given his boldness, which is close to recklessness, it can be concluded that he will do it again when the opportunity arises, but the opportunity may be delayed or perhaps will never come, in the sense that the deterrence faced by the forces allied to Bashagha will make it more unlikely they will resort to that, once again.
Even, if he takes this move, there is no guarantee that he will achieve different results from what happened in the last confrontation. Hence, it is likely that his bet will turn to political action.
The argument and the motive used by Bashagha’s supporters to come into his side is that his government is able to move east, west and south, and therefore it is qualified to supervise the elections unlike the Dbeibah government, which is confined to the western region.
Developments in the past few days rendered Bashagha incapable of moving in the capital; where about a third of the country’s population resides. Moreover, Bashagha became personally wanted by the military prosecutor and the security services.
The pressure that Dbeibah began to exercise, including directing the public prosecutor and the security services to arrest politicians and civilians who were behind the military operation, and the issuance of a list of names in this regard, may indicate a firm resolve in dealing with any attempt to undermine his authority.
On the other hand, it could be an unenforced measure and could turn into a bargaining chip, Dbeibah is expected to back down in this matter, with the increase of mediation efforts from both inside and outside, in exchange Bashagha will cease threatening his government, thus rendering Dbeibah’s negotiating position stronger.
The international position over the conflict
It can be said that the two regional poles of the conflict over the government in Libya are Cairo and Ankara, the former was pro-Bashagha government. Indeed, observers of Libyan affairs believe that the idea of government change is fundamentally an Egyptian one, and that an advanced role for the Egyptian intelligence was within the new direction of the House of Representatives and the General Command which concluded by assigning the Bashagha government supported by Haftar.
Ankara, on the other hand, which seeks rapprochement with the eastern front for reasons related to its economic interests, especially in the area of maritime economic influence, it seems that it saw the Egyptian approach of domination still exists; Cairo was strongly behind Haftar in his attack on the capital three years ago, and it is still dealing with the Libyan file with this logic.
According to several sources, Ankara has conveyed to its ally in the west of Libya, its concern over the formation of the government headed by Bashagha, which the eastern front, backed by Egypt, gained its key ministerial portfolio.
What has leaked from a meeting that included the deputy head of the Turkish intelligence with Libyan parties from the western region opposing the Bashagha government, before the recent attack on Tripoli, was that: “The capital is a red line”, confirming that Ankara has reservations over the capital’s control by Bashagha’s and his allies in the western part of Libya and his eastern supporters, foremost Haftar, and that it is ready to stop any movement in this direction, and to activate drone flights, which were decisive in ending the conflict, and clearly revealed the Turkish position.
In conclusion, it is clear that the main responsibility lies with Bashagha, who agreed to be a mere tool used by Aqila Saleh and Khalifa Haftar; to create such turmoil in the western region. Having failed, through the power of arms, to control the western region, they are now trying to cause sedition, and Bashagha is their obedient tool, because he wanted to realize ambitions far greater than his abilities.
However, the question that may reveal the future situation that is not less dangerous than the recent developments, relates to the fate of the elections to shift the political situation, and the ability of the current political bodies, including the Parliament, the High Council of State, and the Presidential Council to remain under a military leadership that imposes the two men.
Zuhir Atouf, academic and strategic studies specialist.