Presidential Council Internally Divided Ahead of UN National Conference
This week, a hitherto internal feud between Presidential Council (PC) members Ahmed Maiteeq, Fathi al-Majbari and Abdulsalam Kajman on one side and Government of National Accord (GNA) Prime Minister and PC head Fayez al-Serraj on the other, became public.
On 7 January, Maiteeq, Kajman and Majbari instructed all government agencies to dismiss Serraj’s latest decision sacking Nasr Ali Hasan as the head of Administrative Monitoring Authority (AMA). They argue that the head of the AMA is a sovereign position and, according to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA), may only be removed by consultation between the HCS and the House of Representatives (HoR). The AMA acts as a regulatory body for the PC and other government bodies.
According to documents leaked on 7 January, Serraj had agreed to the High Council of State (HCS) President Khalid al-Mishri’s request to replace Hasan with his deputy and reappoint him as ambassador to Slovakia. However, Hasan still appears to be in position and governing the AMA at present. The same day these documents became public, Hasan instructed the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) and all government agencies to dismiss all decisions taken unilaterally by Serraj without consensus of the PC. He also requested that Mishri’s immunity be removed so that he can be investigated in connection with violations committed during his time as head of the committee for finance in the General National Congress in 2013 and 2014.
This flurry of public statements and condemnations followed tensions and controversy on 3 January when the GNA held its first ministers meeting of the new year. Maiteeq reportedly prevented the newly appointed health minister from attending, having rejected his appointment by Serraj two days earlier. The cabinet reshuffle took place against the backdrop of the GNA’s foreign minister sacking the ambassadors to Bahrain and Turkey, as well as Libya’s consul general to Manchester, Najib Serraj (Serraj’s brother), for ‘overstating their terms’.
It seems Serraj is potentially preparing to make sweeping unilateral changes to his government ahead of the UN conference next month. This follows a period of swift power consolidation by Serraj over the economy and security in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country. The 183% currency surcharge decision, the appointments of Misratan Fathi Bashaagha as minister of interior and Ali Essawi as minister of economy proved to be strategic short-term decisions that helped to end the Tripoli clashes in September 2018, rejuvenate the economy and cash liquidity, and strengthen the reconciliation process with the Libyan National Army (LNA) and eastern Libya. Serraj’s allocation of 1 billion LYD to south Libya and a further reshuffling of key ministers to appease the Sharara oil field blockaders also bought him some short-term legitimacy in the South, despite National Oil Corporation (NOC) Chairman Mustafa Sanallah’s protest against appeasing blockaders.
This power consolidation process was carried out over the past few months with the reluctant support of other ‘partners’ including PC members like Maiteeq, Majbari and Kajman, as well as Mishri. However, this support now seems to be failing as Serraj attempts to consolidate power for himself and his own cabinet ahead of the UN national conference, marginalising everyone else. This has led to this public political backlash against him by members of the PC. Indeed, speculations are rife in Libya at present of a possible coup against Serraj by the other PC members, in cooperation with majority in the HoR and the HCS and with the support of various militias and armed groups including the LNA.
These developments are significant insofar as they highlight and make explicit the internal divides and tensions within both the PC and GNA in the lead up to the planned UN National Conference. However, the leaking of controversial political documents, confusion over political appointments and escalating media statements are not unusual in the Libyan political environment. They do not in themselves herald a permanent or irrevocable collapse of the current GNA/ PC structure. Nevertheless, these political manoeuvrings indicate that the national conference is unlikely to be a congenial affair and the likelihood of a tangible, widely accepted road map to unification resulting from the meetings is low.