Libya’s competing “governments”
The sad and at times bewildering political history of post-2011 Libya belies the fact that when all is said and done, Libya has been a failed state built upon a terrorist training camp from the moment the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was toppled by NATO. For the sake of argument, the condensed timeline of putative post-2001 Libyan governments is as follows:
1. Between late 2011 and 2012 the National Transitional Council was the de-facto government of Libya. The NATO appointed body had hardly any power during its period of existence as the country slid further into tribal warfare and terrorist rivalries throughout the once unified state.
2. In August of 2012, NATO helped to form the General National Congress (GNC), a government that was always largely impotent and eventually gave way to brutal infighting before being disbanded in 2014, although elements of the GNC continued to claim power up until 2016, as they refused to recognise the legitimacy of the House of Representatives (see below)
3. In 2014 the Libyan House of Representatives was also formed as a body initially designed to cooperate with the “official” political forces in Tripoli. In reality the House of Representatives continues to function as an independent force claiming to be the only legitimate government in Libya. It is currently based in the eastern city of Tobruk near the Egyptian border and operates with the support of President el-Sisi’s Egyptian government.
4. At the same time (2014), the so-called National Salvation Government, a hard-line group with Islamist leanings formed in Tripoli before eventually collapsing.
5. In 2016, the US convinced the UN to back the establishment of the Government of National Accord in Tripoli. It is currently led by Fayez al-Sarraj who claims to be the Prime Minister of Libya although in reality his power is far less than the Cairo backed House of Representatives.
6. Through most of this period a Qatar backed Muslim Brotherhood government in the city of Misrata continues to be a major factor in regions around the west/central-coastal city.
The situation today
While there remain multiple quasi-political, tribal and terrorist factions (including Daesh) who claim legitimacy in various parts of Libya, in 2018 the main rival political groups are the Sarraj led Government of National Accord based in Tripoli and the Tobruk based House of Representatives led by Aguila Saleh Issa. Although Aguila Saleh Issa is the putative leader of the Tobruk government, its de-facto/universally recognised leader is Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar was once a loyal officer in the Jamahiriya before falling out with the Jamahiriya’s revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi in 1988, in the aftermath of the Chadian–Libyan conflict. Haftar subsequently sought asylum in the United States where he later gained citizenship.
Today, Haftar commands the only meaningful military unit in Libya, the Libyan National Army and with the backing of Egypt, his secular forces have managed to score important battlefield victories against elements of al-Qaeda and Daesh, particularly in Libya’s ‘second city’ of Benghazi. While Russia technically acknowledges the western backed Tripoli government of Sarraj as the official Libyan regime, Haftar has visited Moscow on numerous occasions and in-line with the fact that Moscow now enjoys better relations with Egypt than at any time since the early 1970s, it is widely believed that the Russian government looks favourably on Egypt’s favoured aspiring Libyan leader.
Macron leaps in
French President Emmanuel Macon has today once again hosted both Sarraj and Haftar where the two have reportedly agreed to hold nation wide legislative and presidential elections on 10 December. Such elections are designed to once and for all settle the lack of a single legitimate Libyan government which has plagued the country ever since the illegal overthrow of the Jamahiriya. Thus far, Haftar looks to be the most competent and capable secular leader with the potential to be a unifying president, but this could possibly change in the very near future.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi emerges as a new leader
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is the second son of the late revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi. He was widely tipped to be Gaddafi’s successor in the event of Gaddafi’s natural death was tragically prevented by the revolutionary leader’s brutal assignation by NATO backed Takfiri terrorists in 2011.
While Takfiri forces captured Saif in 2011, in the chaos that is contemporary Libya, Saif was released from prison in 2017, while his captors refused to hand him to the International Criminal Court. Since his release, Saif has been visiting cities and villages throughout Libya where he has met with visible support from Libyans who seek a re-establishment of the Jamahiriya.
Through a family lawyer, Saif has announced his intention to run in presidential elections which will now apparently be held in December of this year.
While Saif has not made any appearances before international cameras since his release from prison, it is widely known that many Libyans would in fact back a Saif presidency. For the moment, his most strident opposition remains in the eastern city of Benghazi, the place where western regimes first helped Takfiri terrorists sneak into Libya to stage provocations against the Libyan government in 2011.
Now that Benghazi is in the hands of Haftar and his secular pro-Cairo forces, it remains a possibility that Saif could rally his supporters in Tripoli, central coastal areas and Libya’s vast interior while forming some sort of pact with Haftar and his forces in the country’s east.
Alternatively, the old Haftar-Gaddafi family feud from the 1980s could possibly resurface, thus pitting the only two viable secular/pan-Libyan presidential candidates in a battle that could worsen the already deeply unstable situation in the country.
Libya’s journey from the most prosperous nation in modern African history to a terrorist infested failed state is among the most tragic tales in the geopolitical history of the 21st century. The new elections may well only serve to exacerbate existing problems as previous attempts at elections have done. However, their remains a possibility that either Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, Khalifa Haftar or both might finally be able to create some sort of law, order and unity in a land that has been lacking all three since the downfall of its once stable and prosperous government in 2011.