Tensions between power figures rise again in western Libya

More signs of sharp divisions and rifts between power figures in western Libya are quickly emerging.

Analysts see the political scene as reproducing the same struggles for influence fuelled by personal ambitions and Muslim Brotherhood agendas linked to the Turkish expansion project in Libya and the entire region.

Differences have escalated dramatically in western Libya ever since Fayez al-Sarraj expressed his intention to resign from his post. They became even more exacerbated after the announcement of the agreement to resume oil production and exports signed between the Libyan National Army headed by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, on the one hand, and the Vice President of the Presidency Council Ahmed Maiteeq, on the other.

The fresh spike of tension further muddled the already-confused relations between the pillar figures of the Government of National Accord (GNA).

Libyan sources revealed to The Arab Weekly that an intense struggle for power was taking place between the military leaders of the GNA. This struggle went hand in hand with the arrangements for the next stage in relation to the ongoing consultations taking place within the framework of the inter-Libyan dialogue. Turkey, which is not alien to this struggle, is wary of its possible decline of influence after Sarraj’s departure and the formation of a new presidential council.

Sources said that this struggle for power is currently opposing Salah Eddine al-Nimroush, appointed by Sarraj not long ago as minister plenipotentiary for defence in the Government of National Accord, and Osama al-Juwaili, commander of the Western Military Region and the Joint Operations Room of the GNA. Juwaili did not hide his annoyance at Nimroush’s appointment late August.

Juwaili’s annoyance is said to be mainly due to the fact that he considers himself the best qualified to be minister of defence as he has a higher rank (being a major general) than Nimroush (who is a colonel). In addition, there are still the old problems of regionalism and tribalism playing a role in the matter; Juwaili comes from Zintan, while Nimroush hails from its rival area of Zawiya.

Sources pointed out that concordance of stances between Juwaili and Nimroush, both rejecting the oil agreement between Haftar and Maiteeq, should not hide the simmering conflict between the two men. This conflict is likely to worsen in the coming days due to the collapse of the reconciliation agreement signed in July 2015 between the two cities of Zawiya and Zintan.

Libyan political researcher Kamal al-Mirash believes that this conflict has deeper roots and motives and can’t really be separated from the sharp conflicts between the various militias controlling western Libya, which took various forms as alliances shifted and changed, particularly now with the coming on line of the Turkish influence and of the Syrian mercenaries.

Speaking to The Arab Weekly by phone, Mirash expected this conflict to witness many twists and turns. He pointed out that Juwaili “does not acknowledge the appointment as Minister of Defence of Nimroush, who is affiliated with the brigades of Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room based in Zawia and led by the terrorist Shaaban Hadiya, aka Abu Ubaida”.

He further said that Juwaili, who often “complained about the marginalisation of the Zintan militia and about depriving it of financial and military capabilities, considers Nimroush to be unqualified to lead the Ministry of Defence that he dreamed of winning. He also accuses Nimroush of being loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood current and of giving them a place in the military negotiations with the Turkish ally”.

Mirash believes that this conflict, which is likely to paralyse the Ministry of Defence in the GNA, “is encouraged by Fathi Bashagha who is hoping to weaken both Juwaili and Nimroush, so that he can take control of the capital, Tripoli, using Turkish influence and Syrian mercenaries in case armed confrontations with Tripoli’s militias take place”.

He stressed that the essence of the conflict “is about who shows greater loyalty to Turkey, which is now considered the main game controller, and with Juwaili’s joining its project, Turkey has taken control of the internal conflicts and is managing them so that they do not get out of its control”.

Mirash concluded that “this conflict is likely to produce more surprises, in terms of the emergence of alliances that were not possible before that, in which yesterday’s foes are expected to become today’s friends, because the power equation has become rather fluid right now”.

Nevertheless, some observers linked this conflict, which does not go beyond the circle of jockeying for a better representation at the table of the ongoing dialogues for a political solution and ensuring personal gains after the settlement, with the frequent reports of intensive meetings and consultations that a number of Libyan Muslim Brotherhood figures are currently conducting in Misrata, Libya, and Istanbul, Turkey.

Libyan political and media sources said that these meetings, bringing together leaders of political Islam organizations and leaders of armed groups loyal to the GNA, are aiming to prepare for the upcoming rounds of negotiations on the distribution of sovereign positions, in accordance with the results of the Bouznika consultations in Morocco and the Montreux meetings in Switzerland.

In this context, the sources revealed that the Turkish city of Istanbul witnessed, two days ago, intensive meetings in which Ali al-Sallabi participated, and which were devoted to developing new action plans to confront any emergency that may result from the consultations scheduled to be held next week in Switzerland to choose a new presidential council and government.

According to Kamal al-Mirash, “the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, represented by its leaders such as Mohamed Sawan and Ali al-Sallabi, is pushing Qatar to support the Nimroush current and the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room at the expense of other currents, but the Turkish president still favours Fathi Bashagha’s current as the closest to achieving Turkish interests in Libya in the future”.

In this context, Mirash did not rule out the possibility that Turkey would resort to using its Syrian mercenaries in Tripoli, to support Bashagha militarily in the event of an armed conflict for the control of the capital, thus enabling Bashagha to control the Presidency Council and put the international community before a fait accompli.

(A version of this article was originally published by The Arab Weekly and reproduced by permission.)