The Rise of the Stability Support Apparatus as Hegemon

Adam Hakan


The Stability Support Apparatus (SSA), entrenched in the strategic neighbourhood of Abu Salim, has emerged as a pivotal player in Libya’s power dynamics. At the main southern gateway into the Libyan capital of Tripoli, Abu Salim has gone from a hotbed of pro-Qaddafi resistance during Libya’s uprising of 2011 to a stronghold dominated by Abdelghani al-Kikli (widely known as ‘Ghaniwa’) and his SSA.

Ghaniwa consolidated power over Abu Salim through processes marked by violence, the dynamics of which were often underpinned by national-level politics. In so doing, he reshaped the neighbourhood’s political economy. The hegemonic nature of this military consolidation allowed the SSA to take on an outsized role in Libya’s broader political and economic spheres. This Briefing Paper offers a political economy analysis of Abu Salim and a chronological account of the rise of the SSA as hegemon.

The paper shows how the SSA’s economic activities encompass revenue that leverage its geographic footprint and networks. It also demonstrates how the group shifted its modus operandi over time to serve the end goal of consolidation.

Key findings

  • Ghaniwa and his group’s rise to dominance in Abu Salim has been enabled by acting under various banners-based on contextual trends—from claiming revolutionary credentials post-2011 and brandishing the anti-crime mantle post-2014, to emphasizing stability post-2019.
  • In its quest to dominate Abu Salim’s political economy, the SSA, along with its leadership, has deliberately modified its modus operandi and involvement in governance to deepen co-dependence between the group and Abu Salim’s residents.
  • The aftermath of the 2019–20 Tripoli war marked a turning point that allowed the SSA leadership to expand its political and economic influence by transitioning from predation to state capture.
  • The SSA markedly differs from other counterparts in Tripoli in that it has had the most advanced and longest-running hegemonic control over one neighbourhood. Despite this playing a positive role in stabilizing Abu Salim, it has come at the cost of its militarization.


Over the past decade, Libya’s security landscape has undergone significant transformations, with the collapse of Qaddafi’s regime in 2011 inducing the fragmentation of its monopoly on violence. A plethora of armed groups emerged in the wake of this development, paving the way for the hybridization of Libya’s security sector. More than ten years later, a select number of these very groups have undergone processes of consolidation of their territorial control, while their peers have either been absorbed or vanquished, or vanished.

In tandem, these same powerful armed groups have established intricate and diverse mechanisms to sustain themselves financially, all while configuring and reconfiguring their relationships with local communities and government authorities. The consolidation methods adopted by these powerful groups have had significant impacts on shaping local political economies. Moreover, their networks now also exert sizeable influence over national-level politics, effectively interacting with high-profile national level stakeholders, as well as with foreign governments.

A microcosm of this process of consolidation has occurred in the famed neighbourhood of Abu Salim in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. The largest of Tripoli’s 12 municipalities, Abu Salim is considered the main southern gateway into the capital, and borders its strategic Airport Road and the capital’s coveted International Airport. Abu Salim is also Libya’s most densely populated area and is home to two of Tripoli’s largest hospitals, its largest garment market, and one of western Libya’s largest scrap yards.

Prior to 2011, the neighbourhood was notorious for having the largest political prison of the Qaddafi regime. During the August 2011 uprising battles, Abu Salim was the last holdout of Qaddafi’s forces, with hit-and-run battles between revolutionaries and regime forces persisting for weeks after the rest of Tripoli fell to the rebels. After 2011, Abu Salim was an area of competition for control and influence between multiple armed groups. Of these groups, only one —the faction known today as the SSA has emerged victorious, monopolizing territorial control over the neighbourhood as it consolidated power.

The group now referred to as the SSA has proven resilient, navigating multiple phases of Libyan developments, from uneasy peace to all-out internationalized civil war. Under the leadership of its enigmatic figurehead Ghaniwa, the group has transformed from a rag-tag, inconsequential militia in Abu Salim in 2011 to an organized armed group whose leader’s blessing is widely regarded as a prerequisite for any aspiring prime minister securing a foothold in Tripoli.

As recently as 2022, the alignment of Ghaniwa and his Tripoli-based SSA was the main deciding factor in the clashes between two rival prime ministers, effectively illustrating that the SSA’s — and particularly, its leader’s—influence extended far beyond the Abu Salim neighbourhood stronghold. The journey of Ghaniwa’s SSA is remarkable not only due to the group’s contemporary influence, but also because it offers valuable insights into the processes of local armed group consolidation over time. It shows how non-linear the path towards consolidation can be, how armed groups can employ different strategies based on contextual factors, and how military victories are not necessarily the main determinant in assessing a given group’s ability to consolidate influence.

Moreover, Ghaniwa’s SSA also serves as a case study in highlighting the trade-offs for localized stability. From the modestly sized and relatively stable neighbourhood of Abu Salim, Ghaniwa’s influence is no longer confined to the local military arena but rather extends explicitly to national-level politics and economics, as well as to Libya’s near future.

This Briefing Paper aims to explore different facets of the SSA’s evolution, and its consolidation of control in Libya’s most populous neighbourhood—Abu Salim—over time. Firstly, the brief will chronologically explore the group’s trajectory, tracing its establishment and subsequent development, as well as its different phases of expansion in Abu Salim. Secondly, it will examine the group’s economic activities, including some of the diverse revenue streams that the group has tapped into. Thirdly, it will consider the group’s relationship with local communities and constituencies.

Lastly, the brief will delve into the SSA’s distinctive features, notably how it shaped its relationships with other actors, particularly local communities and national authorities. By analysing these aspects, the aim is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the SSA’s distinctive trajectory. While this in-depth analysis presents only one case study of armed group consolidation in Libya, it concludes by considering the implications, as well as policy lessons applicable to the entirety of the country’s biggest, largest, and most hybrid groups.

This paper is primarily based on interviews conducted by the author in Tripoli in 2022 and 2023. It also draws on past interviews conducted during the Tripoli conflict of 2019, as well as the author’s broader research on Libya undertaken between 2011 and 2022. Interlocutors included Libyan security officials and bureaucrats, as well as academics, politicians, journalists, and local residents.


Adam Hakan is a researcher specializing in the study of armed groups in the Middle East and North Africa. His expertise includes analysing the role of rebel and armed factions in state politics, armed group governance and mobilization strategies, conflict economies, and the interplay between armed groups and international actors.


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