The Rise of the Stability Support Apparatus as Hegemon

Adam Hakan

The SSA’s role in manufacturing political change

For Ghaniwa, the SSA’s set-up as a quasi-independent entity under the PC was a boon. It did not fall under the authority of any ministry, and the minimal oversight and weakness of the PC allowed Ghaniwa unfettered access to funding. The SSA’s vague mandate also made it easier to exploit opportunities for expansion.

In the SSA’s initial decree, Ghaniwa’s deputies included Ayoub Buras from Tripoli’s TRB, Hassan Buzriba from the coastal city of Zawiya, and Mousa Masmous from the National Mobile Force in Janzur. The coalition’s perceived clout made it a force to be reckoned with.

In addition, Ghaniwa convinced Serraj to appoint his ally from Kikla, Lutfi al-Hrari, as deputy head of the Internal Security Apparatus (ISA) in September 2020. He also leveraged his influence over the quartet-linked head of the Tripoli Military Zone, Abdelbaset Marwan, to create his own unit under the Ministry of Defence.

Dubbed the 22nd Infantry Battalion, the Ghaniwa-linked group was formally established in July 2020, staffed with cadre from the ASCSD, and endowed with the heavy weaponry—including tanks and cannons—that Ghaniwa had procured from supplies intended to counter Haftar’s offensive.

Serraj’s gambit to stay in power by empowering Tripoli-based militias failed, but Ghaniwa was courted by several of the aspiring candidates for the post of prime minister who took part in the UN-hosted Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF). The establishment of the SSA clearly marked a turning point in Ghaniwa’s levels of political influence and his modus operandi.

Abdulhamid Debaiba, appointed prime minister of the Government of National Unity (GNU) through a vote at the LPDF, directly negotiated his arrival in Tripoli with

Ghaniwa in March of 2021, vowing not to marginalize the SSA. Dabaiba also consulted Ghaniwa on the new executive’s cabinet, with the SSA leader blessing the appointment of Khaled Mazen as interior minister.

Backing the nomination of a weak figure at the helm of this vital ministry was a deliberate choice by Ghaniwa, who leveraged Mazen’s weakness by offering the minister personal protection in exchange for influence within his ministry. Converting most of his ministry-affiliated ASCSD into SSA units, Ghaniwa nonetheless retained links with the Interior Ministry through Mazen.

Having consolidated control within Abu Salim once more, Ghaniwa’s ambitions were now no longer local: he became invested in state capture and sought to project influence well beyond his neighbourhood stronghold. After elections anticipated for December 2021 were indefinitely postponed, Prime Minister Dabaiba was in a vulnerable position.

Bashagha had established a parallel government in eastern Libya in March 2022, and was threatening to enter Tripoli. Reliant on militia support to secure his footing in Tripoli, the GNU prime minister sought to secure the SSA commander’s support. He appointed Ghaniwa’s ally Mohamed al-Khoja—former field commander within the ASCSD’s ranks—at the helm of the Ministry of Interior’s Department for Combatting

Illegal Migration (DCIM) in December 2021.

In April 2022, Dabaiba followed by appointing Osama Tellish—Ghaniwa’s protégé and surrogate at the helm of the ASCSD—as the head of the Ministry of Interior’s Facilities and Installations Protection Authority. In addition, he showed support to the SSA leader by publicly appearing next to him in Abu Salim multiple times.

While Bashagha also sought to obtain Ghaniwa’s support, he had already conceded too many ministerial portfolios to Haftar and his allies in Zawiya for his advances to succeed. Ghaniwa backed Bashagha at first, but then turned against him when Bashagha named Zawiya’s Esam Buzriba at the helm of the Ministry of Interior. Bashagha also solicited the support of Ghaniwa’s long-time ally, Tajuri, as well as the Nawasi Battalion. Furthermore, he created a split within the SSA between Ghaniwa, who aligned with Dabaiba, and his deputy leaders Buras and Buzriba, who aligned with Bashagha.

A flashpoint erupted when Tajuri, whose then modest force made up of TRB remnants had found shelter in Ghaniwa’s territory, showed signs of intending to facilitate Bashagha’s arrival in Tripoli in late August 2022.

In a turn of events reminiscent of 2014, Ghaniwa’s SSA turned on Tajuri, crushing his units. Much like the post-LPA era, the main fault-line for the brief (but deadly) clashes that ensued was between supporters and opponents of the GNU in the capital. The SSA and the SDF, alongside some pro-Dabaiba units from Misrata as well as Zintan’s

General Security Apparatus under Emad Trabelsi, emerged victorious and had victed all pro-Bashagha groups from Tripoli by early September 2022.

Many of the remnants of the TRB who opted to remain in the capital were absorbed by

Ghaniwa’s SSA, while a minority of the Nawasi’s cadre were integrated into the SDF.

Adding insult to injury, Ghaniwa’s SSA put Tajuri’s custom-made armoured car on display in front of the Abu Salim zoo, sending a clear message of dominance: the Tripoli quartet was no longer.

The prevailing narrative of a Dabaiba victory in the 2022 August clashes masked the extent to which armed groups now manufactured, rather than adapted to, political change. Unlike the negotiated—and, arguably, internationally supported—security arrangements of the post-LPA era, armed groups’ alignments were now the main determinant for political change.

Ghaniwa, by now well-established as the hegemon of Abu Salim and its vicinity, was the linchpin whose alignment determined the contours of contemporary Libya. The baker

turned kingmaker significantly expanded his SSA by further recruiting in Abu Salim,

as well as establishing offshoots in several other cities inSmall Arms Survey western Libya.

The SSA has now emerged as one of the dominant actors in Tripolitania writ-large,

with Ghaniwa’s network of allies and SSA offshoots straddling several institutions,

including the ISA, multiple departments within the Ministry of Interior, and the

Ministry of Defence. His direct influence on politics also became overt, as he

emerged as one of the main interfaces for negotiating Libya’s political path forward; his SSA network, for example, was officially involved in negotiations brokered by the UN, regional organizations, and foreign states in dialogues with eastern Libyan counterparts affiliated with Haftar and his General Command.

Even the 5+5 Joint Military Commission—the body formed from five senior GNA-selected military officers and five senior Haftar-aligned officers and established to, among other things, support the reform of Libya’s security sector—offered the SSA an award in June 2023 for making its Tripoli meeting at Rixos a success.


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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