Late last week the Presidential Council of the Government of National Unity (GNU) of Libya suspended Najla al-Mangoush, the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and barred her from travelling. Najwa Wahiba, a spokeswoman for the presidential council, announced this on Saturday.
However, the decision was appealed by the Government of National Unity itself. The GNU said that the Presidential Council has no right to remove and appoint new ministers.
The conflict reveals dangerous tensions within the Libyan leadership.
The international factor
Najwa Wahiba said that the Council had decided to dismiss Libya’s foreign minister after she made foreign policy decisions without consulting the Council, which violates the rules. However, she did not provide further specific details.
The Egyptian newspaper Egypt Today suggests that the disagreement between the GNU and the Libyan presidential council is caused by the figure of former Libyan intelligence official, Abu Ajila Massoud, who has returned to the political arena. The U.S. is seeking his extradition, claiming he was allegedly involved in acts of terrorism, in particular in the Lockerbie bombing case.
Najla al-Mangoush promised to develop friendly relations with the U.S. and extradite Massoud. It is known that before her appointment as Libya’s interim foreign minister, she lived in the US and was an expert at USIP (United States Institute of Peace), a think tank funded by the US budget.
Najla al-Mangoush later denied that she had decided to extradite the Libyan national to the United States or the U.K. However, her enemies criticized her openly. Former Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Sayala said that the Lockerbie case had long been resolved and that any new concessions would lead to new demands for compensation from Libya.
Concerns about the situation with Libya’s foreign minister were expressed above all in the West. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias expressed particular concern.
The BBC reports that Najla al-Mangoush is currently out of the country and is expected to attend the Paris conference.
On November 12, an international conference on Libya will be held in Paris. The French and Italian governments are organizing it. The Vice President of the United States Kamala Harris will represent her country. But if a foreign minister, whose status is in doubt, represents Libya, then the results of the conference will be nullified.
Crisis in the West
Libya expert Emadeddin Badi, believes that another reason for the crisis surrounding the post of Libya’s foreign minister is the worsening of internal political contradictions as the election date approaches, reports Al Jazeera.
“Behind the scenes, there are increasingly hypertensions between political players … that are catalyzed by the impeding electoral deadline of the 24th of December,” he said.
According to the head of Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC), Imad al-Sayah, applications for the presidential election will be accepted from November 8 to 22 and for the House of Representatives from November 8 to December 7.
According to Al Jazeera journalists, the conflict over the post of Libya’s foreign minister is “likely to increase tensions between Libya’s rival factions as they try to work together after years of conflict.”
Libyan media is also reporting on the conflict between GNU Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and Chairman of the Presidential Council Mohamed Yunus al-Menfi. Allegedly these tensions, could be “the beginning of a dangerous conflict within the authorities in Tripoli.”
Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, intends to run for president, the media reported. By doing so, the interim prime minister, having gotten a taste of power, intends to establish himself as the permanent head of state.
“This tug-of-war at the top of the Libyan state is an alarming development, just days before the mega-conference in Paris on November 12, 2021, during which the major Western powers (France and the US in particular) will demand the effective departure of all foreign mercenaries and forces. This is a prerequisite for the next elections, scheduled for December 2021, to be organized under the best possible conditions and for the results to be credible,” the Tunisian daily Tunisie Numerique notes.
Political chaos in Tripoli
Contradictions among the centers of power in Tripoli are not limited to those between the head of the GNU and Libya’s Presidential Council. In early November, Abdallah al-Lafi, deputy chairman of Libya’s Presidential Council, proposed postponing general elections until March 2022. Al-Menfi, immediately rejected the initiative, once again voicing support for the timely conduct of the vote. Another vice-chairman, Musa Al-Koni, for his part, called it “a personal opinion that does not represent the Presidential Council.”
The initiative is only meant to prolong the transition period and keep the reins of power in the hands of the current government, the Government of National Unity (GNU) led by Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. The members of the GNU and Presidential Council each act in their own interest and there are constant disagreements and internal conflicts between them.
There are also remains of the old establishment of power, which make the situation in Libya extremely confusing. Thus, Khaled Mishri, the head of the High State Council (HSC) in Tripoli is challenging the holding of elections in the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court. Mishri was formerly close to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, although he is not now officially affiliated with it. His position also undermines the elections and their legitimacy.
Clashes between members of armed groups also continue in western Libya: on Wednesday, October 27, the al-Nawasi group stormed the headquarters of the Ministry of Sports. The militants attacked employees during working hours.
On the same day, unknown assailants attacked the house of Major General Abdel Basset Marwan, commander of the Military District of Tripoli.
The National Oil Corporation (NOC), Libya’s oil export monopoly, reported that in late October armed groups clashed at the Zawia Oil Refinery in western Libya, damaging equipment.
A nook of contradictions
A few days ago, on November 4, the Libya’s High National Election Commission (HNEC) announced that it had accepted all the technical amendments made to the laws passed by the House of Representatives in Tobruk to regulate the legislative and presidential elections. No amendments were received to Article 12 of the presidential election law. This is one of the most controversial articles, which requires presidential aspirants to leave their posts, both civilian and military, 90 days before the election date. This excludes the current interim prime minister, which creates new grounds for conflict between the West and the East of Libya. Previously, Libya’s parliament, sitting in the East, had already passed a vote of no confidence in the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. In turn, the West of Libya opposed the participation in the presidential elections of General Khalifa Haftar.
80 members of the House of Representatives, the eastern-based parliament, supported the suspension of Mangoush by Menfi (who is also from the Eastern part of the country).
Conflicts in Tripoli have become increasingly complex, intertwined with other domestic Libyan contradictions, complicating extremely the situation in the country.
In addition to Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, the Libyan elections could include Khalifa Haftar, the commander of eastern-based forces in the civil war; Saif Al Islam Qaddafi, the son of the Muammar Qaddafi; the head of parliament Aguila Saleh; and a former interior minister, Fathi Bashagha.
However, the disagreements between the West and the East, as well as the obvious contradictions between the various political, economic and other centers in Tripoli, create conditions in which it is unlikely to hold fully legitimate elections throughout the country on time.
The intensified political struggle is bringing more foreign powers with different political interests into the political process. This leads to potential destabilization in Libya.
So the other day, the head of the GNA Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh visited Turkey. As part of his official visit, Dbeibeh met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At the same time, the GNU head is lobbying for his interests in the US.
Even Israel is becoming more and more active. According to Haaretz, the Israeli intelligence is establishing connections with various political centers in Libya, both in the West and in the East. Allegedly Israel and the United Arab Emirates are negotiating with Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh and General Haftar and his son Saddam to establish a national unity and reconciliation government.
But this initiative, if true, can only lead to an expansion of the circle of powers involved in the conflict in Libya. It is clear that for Turkey, with Israel undermining Ankara’s rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, this is not acceptable. Israeli mediation, given Tel Aviv’s reputation in the Arab world, is more likely to lead to new tensions in Libya.
Under these circumstances, the only salvation for Libya can be to limit the foreign interference. For this purpose, as we have already written, it is necessary to reach an agreement between Turkey and Russia on the creation of security zones in Libya.
Turkey could take responsibility for the West, and Russia for the East of Libya. The influence of other actors would be blocked. Two sides, especially those that have learned to reconcile their interests, are better than a multitude of countries each fighting for itself. Reaching such a Turkish-Russian agreement would certainly improve the situation around Libya, which otherwise threatens to grow again into a serious conflict with the maximum involvement of both Libyan pressure groups and foreign powers with interests in the Mediterranean.