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Libya's Fayez al-Sarraj, former head of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). Screenshot from YouTube

Radicals among the radicals – Libya’s new leadership may even be more radical, Islamist

The UN-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) is often criticized for its links to radical political Islam.

Published: November 11, 2020, 7:04 pm

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    The commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, had launched an attack on Tripoli in April 2019, which began a new phase of civil war in Libya, under the very pretext of fighting Islamic radicals and illegal armed groups.

    In August, the opposing forces in Libya announced a ceasefire, which was consolidated in October. Negotiations are going on in various places. It would seem that the crisis has been overcome. However, the negotiation process opens the way for even more radical forces to gain power than those at the head of the GNA until recently.

    The head of the GNA Fayez Sarraj invited Turkish troops to Libya, along with mercenaries from Syria. But at least he is not a warlord. Currently however, Fathi Bashagha, the Interior Minister accused of torture, and Khaled al-Mishri, the head of Libya’s High Council of State, a representative of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, have claimed his place. Both of these individuals appear on the lists of possible leaders of Libya compiled by The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) that started on November 9 in Tunisia.

    The LPDF has been organized by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), or actually by the head of UNSMIL, Stephanie Williams, an American diplomat. She was the one who selected 49 out of 75 participants for the conference to appoint the new leadership of Libya. This leadership will govern the country until new elections are held throughout Libya.

    UNSMIL has also reserved the right to determine which candidates are suitable for positions in Libya’s new leadership “compromise” and which are not. As a result, the established mechanism allows the Americans to use the LPDF to appoint the new UN-recognized leadership of Libya.

    Who has the best chance of being elected in this case? Of course, first of all it is Fathi Bashagha. He is the only leader in Libya who has called for the American military to set up a base in the country. He is in close contact with Stephanie Williams and makes regular voyages to foreign capitals in an effort to gain external support.

    However, Bashaga has been plagued by his involvement in war crimes and torture since the storming of Tripoli Airport in 2014. He is closely associated with armed groups from Misrata. The US Department of State has claimed that the Libyan Interior Ministry under his leadership has been actively involved in human trafficking. The Salafi group RADA – controlled by him – runs an illegal prison in Migita.

    Bashagha’s rise to power will undoubtedly set in motion a fresh conflict. It may be against Haftar, who had launched an operation against Tripoli last year precisely to stop of people like Bashagha. Or there will be war between Bashagha and the Tripoli militia. The Tripoli Protection Force regularly opposes Bashaga. There have been numerous clashes between the Tripoli Protection Force militia and formations under Bashaga’s control already. If Bashaga is promoted to the head of government or Presidential Council, these groups will start a civil war in the Libyan capital itself.

    The same is true of Khaled al-Mishri, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia supporting Haftar, as quite a few people in Libya would not want a member of  the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm. As a result, there will be a new conflict. The appointment of any radical to a key post in Libya immediately signals a new war.

    Is there a way out of this situation? There is, and for that to happen, Libya’s transitional government ought to become technocratic. Libya needs those who will strike a compromise like the current head of the GNA, Fayez Sarraj. At least he has already managed to agree with the political leader of Libya’s East, Aguila Saleh, on initiating the current negotiation process in August.

    It is also worth taking a look at Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Ahmed Maiteeq. In September, he managed to close a lucrative deal with Khalifa Haftar, which unlocked Libyan oil exports. That is the sort of achievement the world community should be looking for: Technocrats like Maiteeq, acceptable to all external actors and someone with enough authority in Libya to help restore unity and hold general elections, in which the president and parliament could be elected.

    The USA, if they want peace in Libya, should support such conciliatory figures. No immediate benefits would ever be worth the catastrophic consequences of strengthening the role of Islamic radicals in Libya.

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