The Government of National Unity’s (GNU) Foreign Minister Najla el-Mangoush has come under fierce criticism after insisting during a press conference with her Turkish counterpart, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, that Turkish forces should leave the country in line with the October 2020 ceasefire agreement. On 8 May armed groups stormed Tripoli’s Corinthia Hotel — which was previously used by the GNU — in apparent protest about her statement. It has been accompanied by a coordinated smear campaign against el-Mangoush on social media.
Despite her comments, however, there is little or no sign that Turkey intends to remove its forces from Libya anytime soon. Instead, Ankara continues to justify its military presence by pointing out that, unlike the illegal mercenaries who support Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) its assistance was requested, under the terms of official bilateral agreements, by the former internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). It also appears that neither Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah or senior military commanders in western Libya want the Turks to withdraw before the December 2021 elections.
The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, however, called for the ‘immediate withdrawal of foreign forces’ from Libya during a G7 meeting in London on 4 May. His was only the latest in the chorus of international stakeholders who have been calling for the removal of all foreign forces and, as far as Washington is concerned, particularly the Russian mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group who have been supporting Haftar.
Meanwhile, on 5 May, the House of Representatives’ Speaker, Aguila Saleh, informed UN Special Envoy to Libya Ján Kubiš that the parliament is ready to accept the UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s (LPDF) decision regarding the necessary constitutional amendments for the planned December 2021 elections. The entire LPDF will now meet after the Eid holiday to approve the proposal but deep divisions remain in the LPDF over whether or not to hold direct elections for an individual president, or party elections in which the winning party’s leader assumes the role. While Haftar and the east want direct elections for an individual, the west is fearful of who would win and, with a much larger population, would prefer a party-based election system.
Prime Minister Dbeibah has submitted a revised budget to the House for its approval. Although some cuts have been made, however, it is still probably too large to be approved by the parliament. Aguila Saleh still has his own political reasons to delay its approval but, simultaneously, his eastern constituents need the budget to be passed quickly so that they can begin to benefit economically.
The country’s Muslim Brotherhood has announced that it is rebranding itself as ‘Revival and Renewal’ (Al-Ihya wa’l-Tajdid) and that it will now operate as an NGO which will prioritise domestic charitable works and cut ties with overseas Muslim Brotherhood organisations. This is widely seen in eastern Libya as a political ploy because a similar election strategy has been undertaken by the Brotherhood in other MENA countries.
The GNU has appointed Hussein Mohamed Khalifa al-Aaeb as the country’s new intelligence chief but he is the latest senior GNU official who has with deep ties to Muammar Qadhafi’s former regime. Revolutionary militias have registered their opposition and the recent storming of the Corinthia Hotel may have been partially linked to this.
On 5 May a Libyan Coast Guard vessel opened fire on an Italian fishing boat and injured its captain. Although Italy has provided significant major financial and operational support to the coast guard — mainly as a financial inducement to prevent migrants reaching the Italian island of Lampedusa — the force has frequently clashed with Italian fishermen in waters that are claimed by Libya.
The latest National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) figures are that, since January 2020 when the pandemic began, there have been a cumulative total of 180,226 COVID-19 cases, with 3,072 deaths, and 10,474 current cases.