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Fathi Bashaga. Photo: Twitter

Fathi Bashagha: An ambitious radical seeking to seize power in Libya

France and the United States may want to support him, but the price will be a new round of escalation in the conflict.

Published: November 24, 2020, 7:29 pm

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    The three-day visit of the Minister of the Interior of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha to France, came to the attention of the world media. The Guardian noted that the main purpose of this visit was to gain the support of Paris in the struggle for power.

    Bashagha, considered one of the most influential leaders in the UN-recognized National Accord Government (GNA), is striving to take the seat of the Prime Minister of Libya. The country has been devastated by the civil war ignited by the NATO invasion in 2011 and has no unified government. The GNA forces oppose the Libyan National Army of general Khalifa Haftar, but in August a new attempt at reconciliation was launched.

    Fathi Bashagha, as the Guardian noted, “hopes to become Libya’s interim prime minister”. During his visit to France, the Libyan minister met not only with his French counterpart Gérald Darmanin, but also with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and French Defense Minister Florence Parly. Recent meetings demonstrate that Bashagha seeks to play a role that is clearly more significant than that of a mere interior minister.

    “If Bashagha, determined to present himself as a supporter of a democratic pluralist Libya, could gain French support, or at least reduce their objections, it would increase his chances of taking Libya to elections next year,” the Guardian’s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour concluded.

    The candidate for premier has already received at least some support from the French. Thus, Fathi Bashagha said on his official Twitter page that his Interior Ministry will soon receive 10 modern and fully equipped helicopters from a French company.

    However, this development will lead to the immediate destabilization of the situation in the country.

    First of all, Fathi Bashagha is a toxic figure for Tripoli itself. His supporters took part in clashes with a number of Tripoli-based groups united in the Tripoli Protection Force.

    As noted by the Guardian, many Libyans view Bashagha’s contact with the French as treason.

    Former Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan al-Saghir said on his Facebook page that there was evidence that the visit of Fathi Bashagha to France took place without the participation of the GNA ambassador and Libyan embassy in Paris. This confirms suspicions that his meetings had nothing to do with Libya, but were rather related to the personal ambitions of the minister.

    If Fathi Bashagha comes to power in Tripoli, he will have to face resistance from many groups that are already openly hostile to him. In addition, Tripoli’s conflict with the Libyan National Army of the Khalifa Haftar, which is at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood, will continue.

    In eastern Libya, which is the area on which Haftar predominantly relies, there are already calls to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from coming to power.

    This is primarily due to the second round of the UN-brokered Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which began on November 23. The first round ended on 15 November. The forum was held to elect a new government, but failed to do so. Its only achievement was the announcement of the date of new elections in Libya in December 2021.

    However, the forum participants have had to “agree on the election of the executive authority”. And there is a danger that radicals could be elected with the support of foreign governments.

    At that time, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and its head, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya Stephanie Williams (USA), were criticized for trying to impose Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Fathi Bashagha, on Libyans. The latter had previously tried to gain the trust of the United States by promising to build an American military base in Libya.

    The head of the office of the Supreme Council of Sheikhs and Notables of Libya, Muhammad al-Mesbahi, said that the Libyan tribes did not agree with the Muslim Brotherhood gaining power in Libya. He explained that the Libyan tribes had warned of the failure of LPDF. According to him, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood or those sympathetic to it, dominated the lists of participants of the forum.

    Libya24 sources said that observers had expressed concern about the failure of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. Media sources said there were suspicions of the Muslim Brotherhood’s desire to change the direction of the dialogue by handing out bribes to control the political stage in the next phase. Sources stressed that there were real fears among Libyans that Fathi Bashagha, supported by UNSMIL, Turkey and the USA, would be nominated to head the future government.

    If Fathi Bashagha is able to persuade France (for example, by promising to make concessions to French economic interests in Libya), external pressure on the LPDF participants to support the radical candidate will become even greater. Ultimately, the result may be the deterioration of the security situation in Libya and a growing terrorist threat.

    The developments related to the LPDF is an example of how the influence of external actors could become one of the factors hampering true reconciliation in Libya. Moreover, it is perilous when such actors are ready to support dangerous individuals like Fathi Bashagha. It is possible to try to level out this influence if negotiations are held in the country itself and not abroad, where the opportunities to exert pressure on dialogue participants are far fewer than in a foreign environment.

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