The Trump Effect on Libya’s Political Landscape?
The reaction in Libya to the election of Donald Trump as US President-elect appears to have been broadly optimistic. The pro Government of National Accord (GNA) factions hope Trump’s anti-ISIS stance will mean his administration continues to support the GNA, given it is officially leading the fight against ISIS in Sirte. Fayez Serraj, head of the Presidential Council and Prime Minister of the GNA, said he hoped that the military and political support already given by the US to the GNA would continue and that the Libyan-US partnership would grow stronger.
Nevertheless, it is expected that the GNA will not receive the same level of support from the US and UN in 2017 given the shift in global dynamics and there are indications that Serraj and his allies are preemptively attempting to increase the GNA’s de facto control on the ground. For example, last week Serraj created a new security force answering directly to him and appointed a raft of new ministerial positions without approval from the House of Representatives (HoR). Furthermore, fears of a potential new military offensive by the GNA were also stoked by an article in Italian newspaper Il Foglio on 14 November, which reported that Fayez Serraj had assurances from Hillary Clinton that she would lend full US support to the GNA against Haftar, even militarily, once she took office. This corresponds with intelligence reports that Italian Special Forces are working to assist forces mobilised in Jufrah to prepare for a new offensive against Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The report goes on to add that Hillary’s defeat throws all of these assurances into disarray for Serraj, indicating that Italy may now be forced to look for a plan B, as opposed to putting all of its eggs in the basket of a weak and fragmented Presidential Council.
On the other side of the political divide, the perceived closeness of the new US administration to Egypt’s Sissi and Russia’s Putin, both seen by Haftar and his supporters as more reliable allies than other Western nations, has raised the hopes of the anti-GNA faction in Eastern Libya who believe that Haftar’s strong-man, anti-terrorist approach will give them the upper hand in new global political dynamics. Abdullah Thini, the Prime Minister of the HoR’s interim government congratulated Trump on his own, requesting that the US support the LNA in its fight against terrorism. HoR President Ageelah Saleh also sent a letter of congratulations requesting the new administration’s support in lifting the arms ban on Libyan armed forces.
In contrast, jihadi groups in Libya appear to have been rattled by Trump’s victory and have taken a defensive stance. Wisam Ben Hamid, the leader of the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council (BRSC) and Ansar al-Sharia coalition fighting Haftar in Benghazi, gave an interview to Al Jazeera on 13 November in which he downplayed fears that his ‘revolutionaries’ were overrun. He promised that victory against Haftar was near, and that they remain steadfast on their path to ensure that Libya is only governed by Sharia law. The interview may be seen as an attempt to maintain momentum and buffer the shock felt by the political and social forces supporting the BRSC in the fallout from the Trump win. In Derna, the Derna Mujahedeen Shura Council (DMSC issued an ‘important warning’, declaring a military zone within the city. The statement warned all civilians not to use any of the main or side roads and disclaimed all responsibility for any injuries or damages to passer-by thereafter. The statement indicates that the DMSC are on high alert for likely clashes with the LNA in the near term, which may also be related to the fallout from the Trump win.