Spectre of Bashagha coup haunts Sarraj amid protest - Arab Weekly

The popular movement rejecting the Libyan Presidency Council, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, continues to expand to include most cities in western Libya. The movement threatens to evolve into a widespread social explosion amid a sharp escalation of the internal conflicts between the pillars of the Sarraj government, as the GNA’s prime minister is reportedly wary of an approaching coup by his rival, Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha.

Most Libyans question Sarraj's ability to overcome the obstacles of the new impasse he’s facing, as he lacks the necessary tools to deal with this exceptional period, a period that presupposes his internal readiness to ward off the potential repercussions of his unpredictable conflict with Bashagha.

Even though Sarraj is no longer hiding his fear that his rival Bashagha might turn against him with the support of Misrata militias and Turkish intelligence, he is nevertheless pushing to turn the eventual outcome of this conflict in his favour. Thus, he has multiplied his moves and movements to ward off the ghost of a probable coup.

Libyan media sources revealed that Sarraj decided to cancel his visit to Istanbul to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which was scheduled for Thursday. They linked this to his fear of a coup, which was evident in his televised speech about the protests in Tripoli.

“I fear that some will enter into a political dialogue and new presidential formation to disrupt the issue of the elections,” Sarraj said, in a clear reference to his rival Bashagha, who was in Turkey at the time.

This fear clearly manifested itself when Sarraj met with a number of military and security officers loyal to the GNA, including the head of the intelligence service, commanding officers of the military regions, the commander of the counterterrorism force, the deputy head of the internal security apparatus, the head of the public security apparatus, the commander of the security division in the Joint Forces and the security director of Tripoli.

The media office of the Presidential Council stated that the meeting, which was held on Wednesday, focused on “the riots that occurred in the capital, Tripoli, and the need to know all of their dimensions, and to implement security measures and ensure the safety of citizens.”

Libyan media sources, however, linked this meeting to Sarraj's fear of a coup against him, especially since it came one day after his meeting with the Undersecretary of the Interior Minister Brigadier General Khaled Mazen, without waiting for Bashagha to return to Libya.

Online Libyan publication "Alsaaa24" quoted "official" sources as saying that Sarraj was looking to appoint a new interior minister, on the condition that the candidate meets with the approval of the Misrata field leaders, to recruit other people from the armed groups and to dismantle the armed forces loyal to Bashagha in Tripoli.

Bashagha's response to these developments is unknown. The newspaper reported that he was supposed to have arrived in Libya on Thursday, coming from Ankara where he had been on a ten-day official visit meeting with a number of top level security officials.

The paper also quoted a security source as saying that after his arrival from Turkey, Bashagha will be holding meetings with a number of leaders of the armed brigades in Tripoli, in connection with the protests in Tripoli and several other Libyan cities.

Bashagha preceded his return to Libya by responding to Sarraj’s moves through a statement by the interior ministry, in which he sought to evade responsibility for the violence used against the protesters participating in the popular movement and absolve himself of the violations committed, after activists demanded an international investigation and trial for those involved in the crimes that have been repeated during the past days.

In the ministry’s statement, Bashagha said, “The Ministry of the Interior confirms that it has identified the armed groups that fired on the demonstrators, their members and the official bodies overseeing them,” hinting that they are loyal to Sarraj.

He even went so far as to threaten to use force against these groups at a time when voices condemning the growing conflict between Sarraj and Bashagha have grown.

“It has become inadmissible to continue with the farce of the rebellion of the Minister of Interior, Fathi Bashagha, driven by his ambition,” Ashraf al-Shah, a former advisor to the State Consultative Council, wrote on Twitter. “Sarraj and his presidential council must re-adjust the administration of the state.”

“Undoubtedly, Sarraj bears responsibility for the failures and poor performance, which caused widespread popular resentment ... and this failure allowed some ‘infiltrators’ to exploit these protests to reach political goals (of their own),” he added.

Over the past two days, the protests in most Libyan cities have expanded, calling for the departure of Sarraj and his government, as demonstrations continued in the streets and squares of Tripoli and the cities of western Libya.

The demonstrators approached the headquarters of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord, and the home of Sarraj in the Nawfalain area, as the wave of popular anger intensified following the intentional use of live ammunition against the protesters by militias loyal to the Sarraj government.

(This article was first published on The Arab Weekly, reprinted with permission.)