As militias nominally aligned with the Government of National Accord (GNA) made highly impressive gains against ISIS in Sirte last week, and a degree of euphoria has gripped international actors and some GNA supporters, these gains have not automatically led to authentic political unity among Libya’s major anti-ISIS factions. To the contrary, prospects for unity and strengthened political legitimacy for the GNA are lower, and the likelihood of renewed civil conflict higher, due to three factors identified this week. These include the (1) growing disconnect between GNA and various anti-ISIS factions, (2) the GNA’s ambivalence/complicity towards hard-line Islamist actors taking more a more active role, and (3) the rising popular discontent with the GNA. These three political dynamics continue to undermine the GNA’s credibility and sustainability.
In the first dynamic, the disconnect between the GNA and ‘affiliated’ anti-ISIS fighters, whether under the Misratan-led Bunyan Marsus operation room or others, is growing for a number of factors. These include a perceived reneging on promises of support by Western countries, as injured fighters were unable to be medevac’d to Turkish and Western airports due to travel restrictions recently re-applied, banning Libyan carriers from EU airspace. This has caused major resentment in ranks of GNA forces currently fighting ISIS in Sirte, especially now that an ISIS suicide bombing attacked the main field hospital. Furthermore, attempts to issue a new UN Security Council resolution tightening the arms embargo, and the perceived international ‘back-peddling’ on arming GNA forces is reinforcing this dynamic, with discord growing among pro-GNA militias. At the same time, the anti-ISIS fighters from the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Ajdabiya border forces, and local volunteers are mainly local federalist forces who are only very tenuously linked to the GNA. The GNA and Libyan National Army’s (LNA’s disconnect over Khalifa Haftar has continued to grow, with indications that the GNA designate Minister of Defence Mahdi Al Barghathi may quit the GNA. This may help ease tensions within LNA ranks in eastern Libya, but will likely entrench de facto territorial division between the GNA and authorities in eastern Libya.
Another factor for the growing disconnect is the GNA’s ambivalence towards the rising influence of hardline/revolutionary actors. This development is fuelling tension in the local population and with moderate/pro-GNA militias. The GNA is being increasingly exposed as only a ‘nominal’ authority in Tripoli, with no control over anything outside its Abu-Setta naval base, while ‘real’ legitimacy and sovereignty is vested in militias, exactly as it has always been since the fall of Qadhafi. In fact, the GNA’s ambivalence about empowering militias was seen as ‘complicity’ when the GNA created the Jufra operations room on 9 June as an umbrella for hardline militias based there, separate from the Misratan-led Bunyan Marsus operations room. Additionally, statements by Sadeq Al Ghariyani, Grand Mufti in Tripoli on 6 June were deemed as direct fatwas enabling hardliners to kidnap, torture and assassinate 12 reported political prisoners after their provisional release from Al-Ruwimi prison in Tripoli on 10 June, saying the ‘release’ by courts was not in accordance with Sharia law. Further, Ghariyani made a televised statement on 12 June saying that anti-ISIS fighters were not a GNA army, and demanded that the fighters turn their attention to Haftar and Qadafi remnants in Benghazi after victory against ISIS in Sirte. Gariyani’s words have provoked rifts between Islamist and non-Islamist orientated forces within the loose anti-ISIS coalition. The threat presented by this dynamic is that growing momentum in Sirte may re-galvanise hardline revolutionary sentiments, and therefore collapse the GNA. On the upside, these developments may work to expose and delegitimise hardliners further, should they overreach their positions.