Libya Update: 28 August, 2014August 28, 2014 in Africa, Egypt, Libya
On 24 August, a group called Fajr Libya (translation: Dawn of Libya) an Islamist militia group from Misrata, announced the capture of Tripoli International Airport after over a month of fighting. The airport’s capture effectively gives them control of the nation’s capital.
Since the 2011 fall of Libyan dictator Moamar Gadhafi, Tripoli and its airport had been under the control of the government-allied liberal Zintan militia, one of the largest and most disciplined militia groups in Libya. The capture of the region served as a huge blow to the Zintan militia and the government. Fajr Libya has also announced their control of cities adjacent to Tripoli, adding that they have pushed Zintan nearly 60 miles out from the capital. The weeks of fighting in Tripoli have seen the worst violence in the country since 2011, destroying large parts of the airport and causing chaos in the city. Many diplomats, NGOs, foreign nationals and Libyan citizens have evacuated the country.
Early on 24 August, fighters from Fajr Libya also attacked the Tripoli-based studios of private television station Al-Assima, which supports the Zintan nationalists. The militiamen destroyed station equipment and kidnapped some of the staff, according to Al-Assima.
Fajr Libya’s capture of Tripoli International Airport effectively gave the group control of the seat of the nation, which has serious implications for Libya’s faltering government. The group has refused to recognize the transitional Libyan government that was elected in June. Rather, Fajr Libya has called on the outgoing government, the Islamist dominated General National Congress (GNC) to resume operations. The militant group summoned the GNC to meet in Tripoli.
This action essentially created two rival and hostile centres of government power, both of whom consider the other to be illegitimate. Mohamed Bouyassir, a senior adviser to the Libyan army, said there could be “two parliaments and two governments.” The western government would be dominated by Islamists, including members the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a militia group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and was sanctioned by the UN. Supporters of the GNC government have been accused of “rejecting the democratic process,” calling the GNC “remnants of the post Gadhafi leadership who were refusing to surrender their hold on power.” One official adds that under the GNC, state funds were diverted to Syria and Iraq, and that “the whereabouts of huge amounts of money were not known to anyone apart from them.”
In the East, the government would be controlled by the House of Representatives (HoR), which was elected in June to replace the GNC, reportedly to put an end to political dominance by factions linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The House of Representatives has fled to Tobruk in eastern Libya to conduct government operations; among the first orders of business was their declaration of Fajr Libya as a terrorist organization. The HoR is relying on support from ‘rogue’ General Khalifa Hiftar’s and his Libyan National Army (LNA) to combat the militants in the region. On 24 August, the Tobruk government issued a statement calling the LNA “the official army of the state.” The statement represents a huge shift; the GNC had accused Hiftar’s group of attempting to stage a coup. The LNA has focused primarily on combating militias in Benghazi; however they claim to have launched a series of airstrikes against Fajr Libya fighters. The LNA is reportedly increasing their capabilities in hopes of restoring national security.
Adding to the friction, on 25 August, the GNC appointed a new prime minister over Libya. The group elected Islamist-backed Omar al-Hassi as prime minister, a parliamentary spokesman and lecturer in political science at the University of Benghazi. Hassi has been charged with forming a “salvation government”. Local television stations reported that 94 politicians attended the meeting, a sufficient number for quorum.
Mysterious airstrikes, Egyptian proposal
Further complicating matters, airstrikes by unidentified warplanes have struck the positions of Islamist militias in Tripoli, killing 13 fighters. The Fajr Libya militia accused Cairo and United Arab Emirates of being behind the airstrikes. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has vehemently denied those claims, adding, “There are no Egyptian aircraft or forces in Libya, and no Egyptian aircraft participated in military action inside Libya.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri echoed Sisi’s denials, calling the accusations “unsubstantiated rumours,” and adding that Egypt “respects Libya’s popular will and elected parliament.” Emirati officials have not commented.
Despite the denials, Western officials believe that the airstrikes were conducted in a joint Egypt-UAE effort. In a joint statement, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy cautioned, “outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.” Though the statement did not directly accuse any country of the airstrikes, one anonymous official said that Washington was aware of the plans for an Egyptian-Emirati operation and warned the countries against following through. The US said they had no prior notification of the attacks, nor do they believe it was conducted with authorisation from the Libyan government.
Meanwhile on 25 August, a day after the accusation of airstrikes against Tripoli, the Egyptian government presented a proposal to disarm rival militias in Libya. The proposal was backed in a Cairo-based ministerial meeting with leaders from Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Niger and Chad. All attendees agreed to back Libya’s “legitimate institutions, especially the parliament”, including in the rebuilding of the country’s military and police.
In a press conference after the meeting, Shoukri said, “The initiative reached a number of governing principles, the most important of which is respecting Libya’s unity and sovereignty, rejecting any intervention in its domestic affairs, abiding by a comprehensive dialogue, renouncing violence, and supporting the political process.”
The Egyptian proposal, which will be submitted to the United Nations and the Arab League, provides a framework for Libyan militias and armed factions to gradually lay down their arms. It adds that foreign parties should refrain from exporting and supplying the “illegitimate factions” with weapons, and foreign intervention “should be avoided.”
Libyan lawmakers, for their part, have voted to ask the United Nations to intervene in the ongoing militia battles. Libyan Ambassador to Egypt, Faid Jibril said, “Libya is unable to protect its institutions, its airports and natural resources, especially the oilfields.” Leaders in Libya have also added that they do not necessarily require military intervention; Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdelaziz called on assistance in training Libyan troops in order to prepare the Libyan army to combat the armed elements. Further, they seek international assistance in preventing the violence from spreading to other nations.