The Rise of the Stability Support Apparatus as Hegemon

Adam Hakan

The political economy of Abu Salim’s SSA

The political economy of the Abu Salim neighbourhood has significantly morphed over the course of the evolution, consolidation, and eventual emergence of the SSA in its contemporary form. Most striking is the fact that the contours of Abu Salim’s local political economy have largely mirrored the expansion and consolidation of Ghaniwa’s group.

As the group expanded to dominate the neighbourhood, it also tightened its grip over economic assets, state institutions, and infrastructure within its areas of control. The centrality of Ghaniwa as an individual to this ecosystem cannot be understated. Moreover, the transformation of his ASCSD into the SSA marked a turning point in the group’s economic capital and the breadth of its financing strategies.

As the head of the SSA, Ghaniwa’s increased political clout and expanded state networks have secured him influence on political economies well beyond the geographic confines of his Abu Salim stronghold. Nevertheless, even this new-found quasi-national stature was leveraged to become part and parcel of the group’s consolidation strategies in Tripoli’s Abu Salim.

Humble beginnings and dependence

In the immediate post-revolutionary era, Ghaniwa and his modest Abu Salim-based group were almost entirely financially dependent on state funding. They also relied heavily on military support through the local military council headed by Burki. Securing an affiliation with the SSC through Bishr was an important milestone for the group as it allowed it to cover its cadre’s baseline salaries.

The group’s equipment was basic, made up of war booty in the form of light weaponry from the Um Durman headquarters Ghaniwa had captured in Abu Salim, as well as a small number of technicals and anti-aircraft guns supplied to the group by the SSC. Relative to its small footprint in Abu Salim and its modest size, however, Ghaniwa’s group was well-equipped.

Nevertheless, it lacked the political, institutional, and social networks to expand, and had virtually no impact on Abu Salim’s political economy. This changed within the context of the Fajr Libya operation and its aftermath, with the subsequent rise of the quartet in Tripoli. During the GNA era, Ghaniwa sought to convert his new-found legitimacy and increased military footprint into more diverse funding streams.

His successful transition from the SSC to the Ministry of Interior’s Central Security Apparatus allowed him to secure a salary baseline for his cadre, freshly recruited from Kikla’s displaced.69 He also benefited from an influx of new weaponry provided to him as one of the only Fajr Libya-aligned units that mobilized to Kikla. Austerity measures imposed by Libya’s Central Bank then meant, however, that direct state funding in the form of salaries would not be forthcoming.

The quartet’s honeymoon era

As part of the Tripoli quartet, the ASCSD leveraged its influence to benefit from Libya’s economic crisis. In the years 2016–18, the Tripoli quartet adapted to austerity by seeking indirect state funding, predominantly by coercing or conspiring with state officials to issue letters of credit to quartet-linked companies to import goods.

They then imported less than the amount declared, or nothing at all, profiting from the then widening disparity between the official and black market exchange rates of LYD to USD. Although on a lesser scale than the TRB and the Nawasi, Ghaniwa’s ASCSD benefited from this scheme. He also threatened and kidnapped multiple state officials, many within the Audit Bureau, to limit oversight on this practice.

The ASCSD also monetized physical access to banks in Abu Salim, which allowed it to tap into other revenue generation schemes—including lucrative credit enrichment by profiting from the black market exchange rate gap. Another scheme included converting cash-strapped citizens’ cheques into cash for a substantial fee. With banking officials fearing kidnappings and extortion, protection rackets became a new revenue stream for armed groups in Tripoli.

Unlike other Tripoli-based groups, which accepted banking officials independently hiring their cadre as ‘guards’ at local branches in exchange for protection, Ghaniwa centralized this funding stream. To avoid ASCSD cadre independently enriching themselves, he solicited lump-sum payments from Abu Salim-based banks to accounts he independently oversaw.

The ASCSD’s most distinctive funding streams came about as the group consolidated control over Abu Salim and its vicinity. Other Tripoli-based groups controlled territory that housed multiple state institutions or companies, ports of entry, or infrastructure that could be easily leveraged to infiltrate the state or derive revenue.

Despite being a strategic neighbourhood and housing some assets, Abu Salim lacked the same qualities. Instead, Ghaniwa opted to build influence within the local municipality, all with the intent to mould Abu Salim’s local political economy. His ASCSD imposed taxes on local businessmen and markets, chiefly the local garment market.

Ghaniwa also took control over the local strategic scrap yard, taxing a portion of its profits to the group. Members of the ASCSD were also deployed with employees of GECOL, imposing the payment of electricity bills on businesses, and enforcing the dismantlement of illegal electricity connections.

Funds collected by the ASCSD supported the group’s expansion, but a portion was also diverted with the help of Abu Salim’s municipal council, and reinvested into local development projects. This included, among others, the maintenance and paving of roads in Abu Salim, as well as the provision of equipment to the local hospital.

This ‘Abu Salim Trust Fund’, controlled almost unilaterally by Ghaniwa, boosted the commander’s social legitimacy in the neighbourhood. Unlike many of the groups outside Tripoli, the ASCSD did not rely heavily on illicit activities, such as fuel, human smuggling, or drug trafficking, to build revenue.

A significant proportion of the group’s funds were—and still are—directly or indirectly raised through the Libyan state; however, with migration management and the detention of migrants becoming more lucrative and politically salient as a by-product of European foreign policy priorities and funding, the ASCSD sought to monetize the Abu Salim migrant detention centre, located in its area of control.

While migrant detention centres generally fall within the de jure authority of the DCIM, the department generally engages with armed groups that de facto control the detention centres. This was the case with the Abu Salim detention centre, with the ASCSD-linked cadre within the centre having become notorious by 2020 for abusing and extorting migrants for profit, as well as diverting international humanitarian assistance material, meant for Abu Salim’s detained migrants, for profit.


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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