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A widening gap
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 27 - 08 - 2014

After more than a month of fighting, the forces of the Libya Dawn Operation took control of the Tripoli International Airport earlier this week, ousting gunmen affiliated with the city of Zintan.
The Libya Dawn forces are made up militias affiliated with the coastal city of Misrata, which is allied with Islamist groups and parties in Libya. Foremost among these are Libya Shield Central Zone, Libya Shield Western Zone and Operations Room of the Revolutionaries of Libya. They have been joined by recruits from Zawiya, Gharian, Khums and other cities.
The opposition forces, allied with Zintan, include the Sawaeq, Qa'qaa and Al-Madani Brigades, which earlier declared their support for the Operation Dignity campaign led by retired general Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya.
Since May, Benghazi has been the scene of fierce fighting between Haftar's forces and the fighters of the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi. The latter have continued their slow march towards the Banina airbase, now controlled by Operation Dignity forces who are armed with air force hardware. The Banina airbase is home to Libya's second largest airport.
Libya Dawn commanders have called for the former legislature, the General National Congress (GNC), to reconvene. They argue that the GNC is the “legitimate body” of the 17 February Revolution and that the recently elected parliament violated the country's Constitutional Declaration by convening in Benghazi and supporting Operation Dignity.
A spokesman for the former GNC, Omar Ahmeidan, has said that the quorum required for convening the GNC has been met.
Against the backdrop of the accelerating pace of developments in the east and west of the country, the newly elected parliament appears unable to assert its control. Thousands of families have been forced to flee the combat zones in Tripoli and Benghazi.
In an act unprecedented since the revolution, the Libyan parliament moved to brand the Libya Dawn forces in Tripoli and the Shura Council of the Revolutionaries of Benghazi as “terrorist groups operating outside the law and combating legitimacy.”
The assembly, in a statement released by MPs on Saturday, said the grous are “a legitimate target for the forces of the national army” and that “it supports the operations against these groups by the national army.” By “national army”, it was referring to the forces led by Khalifa Haftar.
The statement continued by saying that “the war currently in progress is a war led by the officers and soldiers of the army of the Libyan state and its legitimate institutions against terrorist groups.”
Shortly before issuing the statement, the parliament called on the warring factions to agree to a ceasefire monitored by the UN, which had sent a delegation to mediate. However, both sides rejected the demand.
The assembly also approved, by an 88-vote majority, the appointment of Abdel-Razeq Al-Nazouri as chief of staff of the Libyan army. He is to replace Abdel-Salam Jadallah Al-Obeidi, who parliamentary members claim has fallen under the sway of the Islamists.
The new chief of staff is reported to support Operation Dignity, raising the question of whether the parliament intends to come out in support of the campaign. If so, this could trigger more widespread criticism of the parliament.
Seven officers, most of whom are from eastern Libya, competed for the highest military post. In addition to Al-Nazuri, who hails from Al-Marj east of Benghazi, the others were Massoud Rhouma (from Nafusa in western Libya), Ramadan Atiyatalah Al-Barasi (from Al-Beida east of Benghazi), Mohammed Al-Madani Al-Fakhiri (Benghazi), Mustafa Hammad (from Ubari in southern Libya), Saleh Abdullah Osman (Tobruk), and Muftah Suleiman Al-Sharif (from Tobruk).
The office of the general staff issued a statement through the official Libyan news agency on Sunday denouncing the parliament's action as an “attempt to drag the military establishment into political disputes and conflicts.” The statement said that the general staff was determined to continue to lead the Libyan army “as represented in the person of general Abdel-Salam Jadallah Al-Obeidi” and that it “totally and utterly rejected the decisions taken by the parliamentarians gathered in Tobruk.”
The military zone of Tobruk is outside the control of the Libyan army, “which remains under the command of general Abdel-Salam Jadallah al-Obeidi,” the statement said. It added that it rejects the appointment of “an officer from Operation Dignity as chief of staff of the Libyan army” and opposed “the actions being taken by the forces that call themselves the national army and that are known to be the forces of the Operation Dignity led by the criminal Khalifa Haftar.”
The statement concluded with a threat to take action against all persons affiliated with Operation Dignity and all foreign countries supporting it.
The statement has notched up the polarisation that threatens to push Libya over the brink into a full-fledged civil war. The mounting ferocity of the battle over wealth and power in the post-Gaddafi era has hampered the development of a national army and police and allowed regional and tribal disputes to prevail in politics and decision-making processes.
Meanwhile, delegations from the rival interests of Misrata and Zintan left for Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials; similar delegations travelled to Ankara to meet with Turkish officials. The increased diplomacy is part of attempts to forge international alliances in support of the domestic political alliances shaped by local regional and tribal affiliations.
Analysts expect that Turkey, under the leadership of its newly elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will now play a greater role in Libya. The country has considerable influence in Misrata, where a third of the inhabitants have Turkish roots.
In another development, the caretaker Libyan prime minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, has dismissed the minister of oil and gas, Omar Al-Shakmak, and appointed the director of the National Petroleum Foundation, Mustafa San'allah, to replace him. He also dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Al-Sadiq Abdel-Karim.
According to a government source who spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity, the dismissals occurred in the framework of the government's policy of relieving ministers and senior officials who live outside of Libya.
Some observers, however, voiced scepticism over this stated reason. If this were truly the government's policy, they say, it would have to be applied to nearly all the members of the Al-Thinni government as most of them have taken up residence in Europe or Cairo due to the fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi.
The sources add that the government itself has left Tripoli, abandoning the capital to the conflict between former revolutionary allies, now fighting over power and wealth rather than for the welfare of the Libyan people.
The governor of the Libyan Central Bank is the only official who has the right to reside outside of Libya, in view of the sensitivity of his position as the highest financial authority in the country, the sources say. This measure has already been taken, the bank's announced on its website, in order to ensure that it remains beyond the reach of pressure from the country's warring parties.
The governor of the Central Bank, Al-Sadiq Omar Al-Kabir, has been living in Malta and Italy for the past three months. He has said that he is monitoring the situation in Libya closely as the conflict is complex, and “numerous legitimacies are vying against each other.”


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