The Rise of the Stability Support Apparatus as Hegemon

Adam Hakan

Repression, wartime mobilization, and offshoots

The Tripoli militia quartet’s oligopoly was the defining feature of the 2017–18 security landscape in the Libyan capital. Ghaniwa’s hegemony over Abu Salim was, for the most part, territorially unchallenged, but he took measures to ‘coup-proof’ his force and consolidate command and control over his units through marginalization and violent repression.

Ghaniwa also sought to shore up his group’s social legitimacy within Abu Salim itself. One strategy he relied upon included launching recruitment campaigns within the neighbourhood itself, an effort meant to make his ASCSD’s make-up more reflective of the demo-graphics within his area of control. This also positioned Ghaniwa as an employer and provider in a time of economic malaise, particularly for youth. Another strategy, which Ghaniwa was famed across Tripoli for, was coercing the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL) and its staff to prevent load-shedding schemes from being applied in Abu Salim.

This significantly boosted Ghaniwa’s popularity in his neighbourhood, despite his group being part of the quartet that gained notoriety for illicit enrichment throughout their years dominating the capital. Haftar’s famed offensive on Tripoli in April of 2019 upended the quartet’s oligopoly, and threatened Ghaniwa’s hegemony over Abu Salim. Ghaniwa was not one of the Tripoli-based groups who Haftar had focused on negotiating with over the capture of the capital.

The Libyan Arab Armed Forces had instead focused on talks with the Kaniyat, from Tarhuna; Gheryani units, under Adel Daab; Zawiyan factions, under Mahmoud Ben Rajab and the Buzriba brothers; Naji Gneidi, the leader of Fursan Janzur; and the TRB’s Tajuri. Arrangements with Zawiyan factions, critical to Tripoli’s capture, fell apart on the same day Haftar launched his offensive—due to Ben Rajab reneging on an agreement to allow Haftar’s forces safe passage to Janzur. With prospects of a blitzkrieg on Tripoli visibly

collapsing, Haftar was clearly set on employing military means to seize the capital. Several groups from Tripoli’s outskirts mobilized quickly to counter Haftar’s offensive, notably units from Misrata, Zawiya, and Zintan. This put the onus on Tripoli-based groups to either militarily join the fight or openly admit their desire to negotiate with Haftar.

On 10 April, then PC President Serraj brought representatives of armed groups to Abu Sitta’s naval base in Tripoli to probe their stances on formalizing the establishment of a coalition with other western-based groups to defend Tripoli. The meeting, in which Tripoli’s groups opted to put their differences with other western groups aside and mobilize under the GNA’s umbrella, formalized the new alliance. The ASCSD—and broader quartet—sided with western armed groups that had mobilized to resist the offensive.

Despite the shared military goal, old grudges from the post-Fajr era, notably with Misratan groups mobilized at Tripoli’s outskirts that had had previous run-ins with Ghaniwa’s ASCSD, affected the mobilization process. Ghaniwa, whose Tripoli-based group lacked any meaningful combat experience compared with more experienced Misratan and Zintani units, was initially adamant not to allow the deployment of other forces towards the Hadhba front line via Abu Salim, as he worried they would never

leave.46 This led to the ASCSD suffering heavy losses in the early months of the offensive, including the loss of field commanders. Ghaniwa’s position on allowing other units’ deployment changed when his ASCSD became known as the Achilles heel in Tripoli’s defences, with Haftar’s coalition—and later, Wagner mercenaries —concentrating on penetrating Tripoli through Abu Salim and its vicinity as the war went on.

The official end of the offensive on Tripoli in June of 2020 represented another defining moment for Ghaniwa’s ASCSD. While the anti-Haftar ‘Volcano of Wrath’ coalition had emerged victorious thanks to an influx of Turkish support, Ghaniwa was left weakened and vulnerable. His ASCSD’s military performance during the war was lacklustre, and his ranks had suffered losses. Moreover, his group had not benefited significantly from Turkish security assistance, unlike other peers from western Libya.

In addition, many Volcano of Wrath-aligned units—predominantly Misratan—resented Ghaniwa and his ASCSD for their role in evicting revolutionary groups from the capital after the signing of the LPA. To make matters worse, the TRB—one of the ASCSD’s powerful allies in Tripoli—had also experienced significant fragmentation in the aftermath of the war. Therefore, despite gaining credit for helping to defend the capital, Ghaniwa was left isolated. Nevertheless, capitalizing once again on the political climate, Ghaniwa leveraged the weakness and international isolation of the GNA and its prime minister, Fayez al-Serraj, to reconsolidate once more.

Serraj had, by then, grown weary of the ambitions of then GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to replace him as prime minister. Against the backdrop of an impending political dialogue, under the aegis of the UN, aimed at replacing the GNA, Prime Minister al-Serraj became even more desperate. He sought to secure the support of Tripoli-based groups against the Misratan Bashagha, who had eyes on the presidency. Bashagha had campaigned on the promise to reform security, dismantle Tripoli’s cartel, and counter human smuggling groups west of Libya.

In a masterstroke of expedience, Ghaniwa brought figures targeted by Bashagha under one umbrella, convincing Serraj to institutionalize a new armed group, dubbed the SSA, under the PC. For Serraj, the rationale was simply to secure the support of Ghaniwa and other groups in order to thwart Bashagha’s attempts to replace him. But for Ghaniwa, the SSA was a vehicle to reconsolidate, rebrand, and project influence.


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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