Heavy international pressure seen behind Sarraj’s resignation in Libya
The resignation of the head of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, took the Libyans by surprise, even though several leaks in the press about a week ago should have prepared them for it.
The move constituted a surprise because not long ago before that, Sarraj was involved in a power struggle with his Interior Minister and rival Fathi Bashagha, who was leading an indirect incitement campaign against him by encouraging Libyans to take to the streets and protest against rampant corruption.
While some view Sarraj’s resignation as a procedural step to pave the way for the next government of national unity, others see it as reflecting the failure of his attempts to prevent his being excluded from the scene, especially when Bashagha was reinstated in his post of Minister of the Interior.
Despite the cautious welcome given to this step, there was still divergent opinions in Libya about its seriousness and about its implications. There were also serious questions raised about the fate of the controversial agreements Sarraj had signed with Turkey.
Many believe that Sarraj’s resignation was brought about by strong U.S. pressure with the purpose of appeasing international parties disturbed by the agreements he signed with Turkey, especially the maritime border demarcation agreement that angered the Europeans in general and France and Greece in particular.
Oliver Owcza, Germany’s ambassador to Libya, hastened to welcome the step. “President Sarraj’s decision deserves respect, given that the transfer of power represents a challenge to any country,” he wrote on Twitter.
Over the past few months, there were reports about France’s intention to present a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to withdraw the legitimacy of the GNA.
Statements by Amari Zayed, a member of the Libyan Presidential Council and a former leader in the Libyan Fighting Group and affiliated with the extremist movement known for its great loyalty to Turkey, confirm reports about Turkey’s concern over Sarraj’s resignation.
“The legitimacy that is relied upon is not linked to any person, regardless of his position, but rather to a political agreement that was the best in existence,” Zayed told the press, noting that this legitimacy was strengthened by the “revolutionaries” (referring to the militias) who had taken over the Presidential Council to preserve “the goals of the revolution,” and that these “revolutionaries” have the right to participate in the political decision and that nobody will be allowed to marginalise them.
Sarraj had announced on Wednesday evening, in a videotaped speech addressed to the Libyan people, his intention to formally resign from the presidency of the GNA at the end of next October. This remarkable development did not seem to be isolated from the equally sudden announcement only four days ago of the resignation of the parallel government in eastern Libya headed by Abdullah al-Thinni.
“I announce to everyone my sincere desire to hand over my duties to the next executive authority no later than next October, hoping that the Libyan Dialogue Committee will have completed its work by then, selected a new presidential council and chosen a head of government to whom to hand over the duties, according to the outcomes of the Berlin Conference that were approved by the U.N. Security Council,” Sarraj said in his speech.
Some observers went as far as to say that Sarraj wanted with this speech to pave the way for his exit from the Libyan scene with the least damage, yet Libyan parliamentarian, Ziad Daghim, did not hesitate to welcome Sarraj’s commitment to step down at the end of next month.
Daghim told The Arab Weekly by phone that Sarraj’s decision “is worthy of respect as it shows a consideration for the supreme public interest, and we should not also forget his other recent important national decisions, including declaring a ceasefire and refraining from escalating the war”.
He further considered the decision “a serious step by which he (Sarraj) dropped the ball in the others’ court, and it must be met with openness, and all of al-Sarraj’s sources of concern, if any, must be addressed”.
The mood was different, however, among the Islamists. Saad al-Jazwi, a member of the Libyan Advisory Council affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, was sceptical about Sarraj’s decision and tied it to external diktats. He considered Sarraj’s intended resignation “not the result of the terrible mismanagement conditions prevailing in the country during the past years, but rather came in line with the international project for Libya”.
Speaking this past Wednesday night on the Libya Panorama TV channel, Jawzi said that Sarraj’s televised speech “came as a result of international diktats that want to push Libya into another transitional stage”.
“We expected Sarraj to put in place practical measures for real remedies to the sufferings of the Libyan citizens, but instead he placed us in the international context by declaring that he will leave them (the practical measures) to the government that will be established through the dialogue committee, without adding anything new about the suffering of the Libyan people,” he added.
Most political interpretations of this particular development were almost all unanimous that Sarraj was subjected to strong pressures related to international arrangements being prepared in several Western capitals, especially in Washington, for a quick settlement in Libya through reshaping the political scene before the coming U.S. elections.
Such interpretations stemmed from American reports of about a week ago confirming Sarraj’s intention to announce his resignation soon, in coordination with Turkey, which is still controlling the balance of power between the political forces in western Libya, although all indications confirm that Ankara’s relations with Tripoli will definitely be seriously affected by this resignation, if it ever comes to pass.
(A version of this article was originally published by The Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)