Bashagha's government withdraws from capital after new wave of violence

Libya continues to suffer one of its most serious political and social crises since the fall of Muammar al-Gaddafi's regime

REUTERS/ESAM OMRAN AL-FETORI  -   Libyan protesters gather during a demonstration against the Turkish parliament's decision to send Turkish forces to Libya, in Benghazi, Libya, 3 January 2020

Civilian clashes over the power struggle in Libya are intensifying. In the last day, groups loyal to Libya's Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh clashed with supporters of opposition leader Fathi Bashagha in a new episode of violence.

For several months now, Libya has been in the midst of a major dispute between two governments that have been trying to establish a government that would bring some political and social stability to the country, without success. On the one hand, the National Unity Government led by Dbeibeh and backed by the UN governs with that of Bashagha, who has had the backing of the House of Representatives since last March and is based in Tobruk, a city in eastern Libya, with the support of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army. 

AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA  -   Fathi Bashagha

This attempt to govern jointly has already proved to be a failure after Bashagha arrived in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, to execute a sort of coup d'état against Dbeibeh's government, an insurgency that has been impassive after the latter refused to hand over power to Bashagha. Following this attempted uprising, the prime minister said he would "only cede authority to a government that comes through an elected parliament". However, elections in the country remain utopian. They had been scheduled to be held on 24 December 2021 but failed to take place and have now been rescheduled for mid-2022, although there is still no concrete date.

The tricky part of these elections is ensuring that they are conducted in a democratic manner. Libya, which is going through a political, economic and social crisis unprecedented since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, is another of the many countries that make up the African continent that still do not know democracy and that, on their way to try to fight for political freedom, thousands of citizens rose up against dictatorial regimes, inspired by the first uprising in Tunisia.

AP/HAZEM AHMED  -  Prime Minister-designate Abdul Hamid Mohamed Dbeiba

Bashagha's attempt to seize power, frustrated after violent clashes between the two political and military factions, has ended with the surrender of the opposition leader and his subsequent departure from the capital. As a result, the EU High Representative, Josep Borrell, has shown his concern about the crisis in Libya. Thus, the head of diplomacy has criticised that "instead of holding elections to have one government, they did not organise themselves and they have two governments. Sooner or later, when you have two governments, they clash".

It is this clash that has occurred after "months of relative calm and now the war is starting again", he said. "It is very worrying what is happening".

Like Borrell, the UN has expressed its concern about the latest clashes. The spokesman for the UN secretary general, Stéphane Dujarric, said that "the United Nations Support Mission in Libya has expressed its grave concern about the armed clashes on Sunday, which involved indiscriminate firing and the alleged use of heavy weapons, in the Janzour area, a densely populated neighbourhood of Tripoli". 

REUTERS/ASMAA WAGUIH  -  A torn banner depicting Muammar Gaddafi is seen on a building during clashes between anti-Gaddafi fighters and Gaddafi forces in Sirte on October 12, 2011.

Dujarric warned that these confrontations "could escalate into an even larger armed conflict". He warned that "these incidents once again highlight the urgent need to address the proliferation and use of uncontrolled weapons in Libya".

Libya is currently divided into two factions after the House of Representatives terminated Dbeibeh's mandate as a direct consequence of the postponement of elections and appointed Bashagha in his place. Thus, Libya, headed by a two-headed political system that had been in place since 2014 until 2021, the year in which the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) succeeded in electing a Transitional Government whose main objective was to hold democratic elections.

REUTERS/GORAN TOMASEVIC  - A rebel fighter holds a flag of the Kingdom of Libya and a knife during a bombardment by soldiers loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in a battle near Ras Lanuf, 4 March 2011.

After its failure to take place, Libya once again experienced a political division that led to public discontent and fomented the internal crisis itself. The North African country is once again blocked and the UN continues to work to implement a new transition plan, a complicated process that continues to drag on.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve the desired national political consensus. This situation is further compounded by the geopolitical interests of the various powers that have an interest in the country. It is worth noting that Libya continues to be one of the main oil producers and is one of the main sources of income for the Libyan economy.

AFP/ABDULLAH DOMA  - Libyan citizens waving the national flag

However, the country's convulsive situation as a result of political divisions has led to a major wave of forced shutdowns of oil facilities. Less than a month ago, Libya's Oil and Gas Minister Mohamed Aoun reported that oil production in the country had fallen to 500,000 barrels per day, down from 1.2 million barrels per day in recent years. 

In this way, the confrontations between Dbeibeh and Bashagha managed to spill over into the energy sector, one of the most significant sectors for sustaining Libya's economy, which has been ruined after a decade of civil wars.

Analysts are already labelling Libya as a failed state. Since the fall of dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi, who had held power for 40 years, Libya has not managed to live in a stable way. The political and social chaos resulting from his overthrow and subsequent assassination continues to linger. Economic interests, as in many other wars, are one of the key reasons why this conflict continues, along with the ineffectiveness of the parties in reaching common ground. 

In Libya, instability and violence are part of the country's daily life. The political and social crisis has inevitably brought with it one of the worst humanitarian crises of our century. In addition to the thousands of civilian casualties, the country has suffered a major migration crisis and has become one of the main victims of human trafficking mafias.