Omens of war continue to loom in western Libya due to outgoing interim prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s insistence on retaining power at all costs.
It has become clear that Western capitals do not want a solution to the crisis that began in 2011, but only want to get their hands on geographic territory and wealth and strike more deals.
Last Saturday, Nalut militias said they had prevented Zintan militias from reaching the Wazen border post with Tunisia. The Zintani wanted to ensure the return of the new Prime Minister, Fathi Bashagha, from the Tunisian capital, Tunis.
Immediately, Dbeibah received the mayor of Nalut and thanked him for his action. He then invited the Tunisian ambassador to his office to discuss with him Bashagha’s activities in Tunis, where he would lead a government in exile.
Dbeibah spoke of the need to coordinate with the Tunisian authorities the control of joint border crossings. He appeared to be sending a message to Tunisian President Kais Saied, calling on him to block Bashagha’s access to border areas.
Predictably, Dbeibah’s office did not mention the threats made by a Tunisian terrorist last week against authorities in his home country. This individual made threats from the city of Misrata, where he now lives and is active in militias loyal to the outgoing government and former mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, dismissed by parliament in November 2014.
Dbeibah did not elaborate on the reasons for the icy state of Libya-Tunisia relations, which many attributed to his thinly veiled support for the Muslim Brotherhood in the region as a whole and in Egypt and Tunisia in particular. This link is actually part of the alliance that brought him to power in February 2021.
Over the past few days, Tripoli has turned into an arena where the forces that claim to support the constitution and the elections clash. These fighters are represented by an alliance of militias from Tripoli, Misrata, Zawiya, Amazigh areas and other cities, who want to prevent any legitimate authority from taking office to replace the outgoing government whose mandate has expired. They oppose any transition, whether it takes place today, in a month, after a year or in five years.
Dbeibah decided to get hold of the decision-making centers. He knows how to manipulate militias and stakeholders and how to dance with Western capitals and give them what they need, be it promises, deals or concessions. His advisers assure him that to continue to govern a rich country like Libya, he just needs to master the game of relations with foreign countries. He is told that he just has to control the Central Bank of Libya, the National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Investment Authority.
A video has gone viral in recent days showing Dbeibah chairing an important meeting as his phone rang twice. He turned to those in the room saying, “Sorry, I can ignore everyone except Saddek”, referring to Saddek Elkaber, Governor of the Central Bank of Libya, who has put all his powers and capacities in the service of what was called the government of national unity, which could indeed turn into a government of total disunity.
Dbeibah does not operate in a vacuum because it enjoys the guarantees of at least two Western capitals and the support of Turkey and Qatar. The real decisions in Libya are not at home, but come from outside the country,
These and other factors have led to changes on the ground. Militants have closed the Al-Fil oil field in the southern Murzuq basin, the Zueitina and Brega oil terminals in the eastern region and more such closures are likely in the coming days. It is reminiscent of what happened in January 2020 when Libya’s export ports were closed and the source of its wealth stopped, for no less than eight months. NOC President Mustafa Sanalla estimated losses at more than $100 billion.
The Libyans appear to be shutting down the oil installations for various reasons, the latest of which is the delegation of the army leadership to the Joint Military Committee. Areas teeming with oil resources are starved of revenue, and the army that secures them cannot pay the salaries of its members. Instead, the money goes to foreign forces, mercenaries, militias, armed groups and warlords. Moreover, basic services are lacking, prices are skyrocketing and money is being looted.
The situation in Libya today is dire and the country could soon face disaster. The main reason is that Dbeibah will not give up power easily. He is supported by the militias who reject national reconciliation and the unification of the armed forces because they see their fate linked to their ability to maintain the situation as it is. He also has the support of Islamists who consider that the division of the country makes it easier for them to dominate the levers of power. He is also backed by wealthy creditors, thieves of public money and corruption barons at home and abroad.