As Libya approaches the nine-year anniversary of the February Revolution that ousted Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Tripoli residents nervously await the outcome of clashes in city’s southern suburbs and the implementation of foreign-sponsored security arrangements for the capital.
“Things are as bad as they can be, with militias controlling almost everything—poverty increasing, and public services nearly non-existent,” Walid Shallouf, Director General of National Decisions Support Center, a Tripoli think tank… “You can see fear in the eyes of people in the streets.”
Last week bloody clashes erupted in the suburbs of Tripoli between the 7th Infantry Brigade and the Tripoli Protection Force—a coalition of militias led by Haithem Tajouri, a warlord anointed by the Emiratis and Egyptians to challenge the authority of Islamist militias.
Security establishments in Cairo and Abu Dhabi see Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and his Government of National Accord Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha as soft on the Muslim Brotherhood and are blamed by the most powerful Arab intelligence services for allowing Islamist militias to accept arms and aid from their arch-rivals in Doha and Ankara.
Last week the Saudi-aligned Arabic daily Asharq al Awsat reported that Libyan customs authorities had impounded containers of weapons from Turkey at the Western port of Misurata shipped by Ankara to bolster the capacity of Islamist militias.
“In fact, the conflict is between Bashagha and [Tajouri’s] militias, and Serraj is trying to hold the stick from the middle, trying to benefit from both sides,” Shallouf said.
Like Egypt, the United Arab Emirates is stepping up support for proxy forces in Libya to ramp up the battle against armed Islamist groups.
The Media Line has obtained a copy of a memo from Libyan sources close to Serraj. Issued in November by the UAE’s Interior Ministry, it directed Tajouri to work with Palestinian regional military advisor Mohammed Dahlan to ‘start security coordination in Tripoli.”
Dahlan, the former head of the Preventive Security Force in Gaza, has been the Emirates’ chief military liaison in the region-wide battle against the Muslim Brotherhood despite his falling out with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas over corruption allegations and suspicions that the 57-year-old Khan Yunis native was somehow involved in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat.
“There is something in the air, some sort of a correctional revolution. Tajouri’s attitude is still not clear, but UAE money is playing an important role in attracting his militias to Tripoli,” Shallouf added.
“The city relatively calm now,” Hakim Juaka, Chairman of the Foundation for the Rights of Mother and Child, a local nonprofit, told The Media Line. “Still there is no regular supply of electricity and we get this feeling that it’s not safe, I wish they can stop fighting forever.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations’ plan for fresh elections in Libya are crumbling. Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov characterized plans to stage voting in a chaotic security environment as “counterproductive” after talks in Rabat with his Moroccan counterpart Nasser Borurita.
The UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame has pushed for elections to take place in June 2019 but no agreed upon laws or constitutional authority have been established for the vote to go ahead.
Meanwhile French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Sunday in Cairo as Paris moves to expand its influence in Libya. Both governments are supporting the Libyan National Army and its leader Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Forces loyal to Haftar are currently fighting to gain control over the oil fields of the Fezzan region, and Tripoli residents believe the stage is set for his entrance into the capital in a coordinated effort between Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Paris.
“Tajouri and the Tripoli Protection Force are just pawns of powers backing Haftar,” Mahmoud Radi, an accountant who witnessed fighting near Qasr ben Gashir area (just south of the capital) told The Media Line.
“We are hearing rumors that Haftar’s loyalists are already entering Tripoli.”