A cold winter is coming for Bashagha as Libya still faces discord

  • Fathi Bashagha became Prime Minister of the Eastern Government of National Stability in March 2022.
  • The rival governments in Libya haven’t been able to agree on the procedures and keep postponing the elections.
  • Achieving control over governmental institutions motivates Bashagha to strive for power.
Fathi Bashagha
Source: United States Institute of Peace – Fathi Bashagha (CC BY 3.0)

Why is Bashagha cold?

Answer: Bashagha hasn’t come nearer to achieving power over the whole of Libya despite his oil blockade. 

Fathi Bashagha was elected by the House of Representatives (HoR) of Libya as Prime Minister (PM) of the government settled in the Eastern city of Tobruk. His newly formed government, the Government of National Stability (GNS), rivales the Government of National Unity (GNU) led by Dbeibé as PM and based in Tripoli. The GNS and the GNU, both meant to be interim, each have control over some of Libya’s governmental institutions. On the one hand, Dbeibé’s government has authority over the High Council of State (advisory and legislative chamber), a body conceived by the UN. On the other hand, Bashagha is in power in the House of Representatives, the last Libyan elected body

Since his appointment in February 2022, Bashagha has intended for his administration to replace the transitional government in Tripoli. In December 2021, according to a UN sponsored agreement, elections were expected to take place, and 2.8 out of the 6.8 million Libyans were registered to vote. Both Dbeibé and Bashagha were candidates for said presidential elections. However, they never took place, as the rival administrations weren’t able to agree on the terms of the elections. Without the elections, neither one nor the other PM achieved full control over the African country, and Bashagha saw himself constrained.

Bashagha has sought to strengthen his position vis-a-vis Tripoli. First, he has allied with Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) and several militias. Since April, Haftar has maintained a blockade on Libya’s oil supply, which has resulted in a decrease in exports and energy shortages in the whole country. This gave Bashagha and his newly formed government bargaining leverage. Namely, he offered to liberate the National Oil Corporation (NOC) if the Central Bank of Libya provided funds for his government’s budget that had been approved by the Western HoR. Instead, Debeibé agreed in July to replace the head of the NOC as requested by Tobruk’s militias. Farhat Bengdara, an ally to Haftar, was assigned for the position. 

Second, Bashagha has managed to rally the support of several militias that have come to play a central role in Libyan politics. During 2011 small armed groups received support and weaponry from NATO to bring Gaddafi’s rule to an end. After this was achieved, militias refused to surrender their weapons. With time, they forced their way into governmental positions in security, intelligence and public order amongst others, and gained such influence that governments cannot operate without them. Currently, they have taken advantage of the rivalry between governments and used it to enrich themselves by going into league with the most generous PM (for the moment Bashagha). 

However, despite support from Haftar and the militias, several obstacles still prevent Bashagha from securing himself presidency. His chances of doing so, nonetheless, could be rekindled if elections are in fact held at the end of 2022 as Dbeibé proposed, although no progress has been made on the consensus to actually carry them out.

Who is changing Bashagha’s heat level?

Answer: Bashagha has received backlash for his oil blockade, while relying on the uncertain support of militias and lacking support from third countries.

Bashagha has alienated himself from foreign powers due to the oil blockade despite his support for UN plans. In an interview with Reuters, Tobruk’s PM expressed his support for the UN Joint Military Commission’s plan for “the withdrawal of mercenaries, foreign fighters, and foreign forces from Libya”: “We support that approach strongly, strongly, strongly”, declared Bashagha. Indeed, while Moscow has shown its support for Haftar, “Kremlin’s man in Libya”, the eastern PM doesn’t seem to welcome Moscow’s troops, prompting the mercenaries to leave. Nevertheless, the international community will have to keep a close eye on Bashagha. In the midst of an energy crisis, they do not want an oil blockade to be repeated.

Moreover, Bashagha relies heavily on the uncertain support of militias. Various of the militias supporting the government of Tobruk have historically opposed Haftar, which may spring up internal conflicts. Additionally, Dbeibé still controls the Libyan Central Bank and the Office of Development of Administrative Centers (ODAC), historically used to embezzle public funds supposedly meant for the construction of public infrastructure. Thus, the GNU’s PM may, in the near future, be able to gather the resources to buy the militias back. 

The government of Tripoli also counts on the support of many foreign actors. The UAE has supported Haftar since 2014, both militarily and economically. However, the Arab country has recently moved closer to the government based in Tripoli reopening its embassy in GNU’s territory. Dbeibé’s government also has the support of Turkey, a power that in recent times has advocated for Libya’s unity presenting a neutrality facade and mediating towards the holding of elections. 

Lastly, the government of Tobruk faces the lack of recognition in the regional and international spheres. Bashagha’s counterpart holds a seat in both the Arab League and the African Union and is favored by the UN. In February 2021 Dbeibé was appointed PM by UN delegates as a step to strengthen the 2020 ceasefire and build democracy. Considering his isolation from the international community, his uncertain support of militias and lack of strong alliances, it seems that Bashagha’s possibilities of ruling in the whole of Libya are in standby, cold as the elections that were never held and seem nowhere near to happen. 

What is driving Bashagha?

Answer: Bashagha lacks nationalist or ideological ambitions and is driven instead by a desire for power over Libyan institutions. 

During the early years of the Second Libyan Civil War, Bashagha was involved in Libya Dawn, a coalition of pro-Islamist militias and supporters of the General National Congress, the former government in the West. He also moved towards the Muslim Brotherhood, creating a network of Islamist groups in the country. Nonetheless, his involvement with ideologically strong movements didn’t forge his political ideology or his alliances once in power of the GNU. In fact, he doesn’t seem to mind having ideologically diverse armed groups under his power, which is the case with the LNA and the pro-islamist militias. Rather than ideology, Bashagha is driven by the desire to secure himself power.

Bashagha’s academic years in the Aviation College provided him with a deep military training, reinforced by his years involved in militias and other institutions such as the Military Council in Misrata. In a country still plagued by conflict, military knowledge comes in useful. Indeed, while the GNS committed to extend their “hands in peace and seek to prevent bloodshed”, in early September militias affiliated to Bashagha got involved in clashes against the GNU supporters in the outskirts of Tripoli with the ultimate intention of taking over Dbeibé’s government.

Moreover, ruling in Libya is a lucrative occupation as state institutions oversee the management of resources and are plagued by corruption. Revenues from resource exploitation (coming for example from oil exports, the main natural resource in the country) and fundings aimed at the development of public infrastructures, are misappropriated by members of the government. Control over institutions therefore becomes a way for leaders to enrich themselves. Bashagha, as former Interior Minister of the GNU, is familiarised with the inner workings of the governments and its leaders, as well as the advantages of ruling over Libya. 

Bashagha is clear in his intentions to run for the presidential elections and has been trying to seize Tripoli, which would give him control over the Central Bank and the NOC. According to the GNS PM, his goal once in control of Tripoli and the whole of Libya is to unite Libyans “for reform, reconstruction and fair distribution of wealth and services without discrimination”. His priorities, as published in his own webpage, would be fighting corruption and furthering agreement to prevent it, as well as combating terrorism through a united and collaborative institutional network.

What does this mean for you?

Answer: The current situation in Libya could worsen the country’s humanitarian crisis and is a potential source of instability for energy markets.

International actors don’t seem to have a clear approach on the Libyan conflict, and instead of coordinating a plan of action to benefit the country, they provide more instability to an already unstable Libya. This conflict has left 800,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance, 132,000 people have been internally displaced. Further clashes and failure to stop violence in the African country will worsen living conditions for Libyan people and force more people to flee their homes and their country.

Given the current migratory and especially energy crises that Western countries are witnessing, the outcome of the Libyan conflict is of great concern to them. Libya is a great source of refugees for Europe, between 2017 and 2022 88,000 migrants have been rescued in the Mediterranean. Also, instability in oil production and oil exports and especially in the control over the NOC, could become a main issue in the European agenda. EU member states such as Italy and Germany receive substantial imports of oil from Libya, and changes in this trend may lead to increasing prices in oil, worsening the energetic crisis and deteriorating Europe’s economy. 

Cova Moreno

Writer & Editor