UN Sanctions backfire in the East but support for the GNA rises in the West
The UNSC’s endorsement of the GNA last week has intensified political divisions in the HoR and heightened opposition towards the UN deal in the East. On the other hand, expressions in favour of the GNA abounded in parts of Western Libya, exceeding expectations. Pro-Serraj demonstrations took place in the streets of Misrata and Zawiyya and the local councils in the Nafusa Mountains and coastal cities west of Tripoli also issued statements of support. Reports of the security arrangements to establish the GNA in Tripoli indicate that it will rely extensively on major Tripolitanian militias’ protection. The successful relocation of the GNA from Tunis to Tripoli could either cement collaboration among pro-GNA elements, ushering in a new coalition of militias, or it could exacerbate existing localized and tribal conflict by adding a new set of fissures to the ongoing Libyan civil war.
Following the unilateral endorsement of the GNA’s Ministerial list by the Presidential Council, the President of the HoR, Ageelah Saleh, was sanctioned by the EU last week as a spoiler of the political process for preventing the HoR vote. He insisted that Tobruk’s endorsement of the GNA could only come in the form of a vote and that the Presidential Council’s vote was invalid. This anti-GNA sentiment was echoed by demonstrations in Benghazi’s Kish Square demanding that the HoR reject the GNA in favour of either a military council headed by Haftar or for outright separatism. Saleh also announced that the HoR would seek to resume exports from the new Eastern NOC next month—a blatant violation of international sanctions. If successful, the independent sale of oil by the East would amount to the de-facto separatism that Jadhran was unable to achieve even at the height of the oil embargo.
Similarly, the Tripoli-based government refused to handover power to the GNA, calling it a “foreign imposed” government, despite the fact that its ministers are reportedly defecting to the GNA in droves. Militias and government employees are openly shifting allegiances while GNC hardliners are losing control of Tripoli. Sizeable pro-GNA demonstrations in Misrata on 19 March also suggest that Ghweil—who is originally from Misrata—is losing the support of his city. Nonetheless, anti-GNA sentiment does exist in the capital, and may spoil the arrival of the GNA. This was demonstrated on 19 March by heavy clashes in central Tripoli between a pro-GNA militia and the “Sumoud front,” an anti-GNA militia led by GNC hardliner Salah Badi. The Libyan Revolutionaries Operation Room (LROR), which had kidnapped former PM Ali Zeidan in 2013, also threatened to fight viciously to prevent the GNA from arriving.
The UN approved security arrangements to house the GNA in the Tripoli Naval Base have succeeded in placing government security squarely in the hands of those Tripolitanian militias which have been regularised under the MoI. Haftar’s LNA is likely to interpret these developments as an implicit endorsement of Tripoli’s militias. These developments seem to be increasing the unpopularity of the UN in the East while also possibly making Tripoli the target of LNA and IS attacks. However, strategically placing the GNA in the heart of Tripoli and under the protection of the local security alliance network may protect GNA members from becoming fodder in a kidnapping war among rival security forces as well as giving the major power players in the capital a vested interest in the GNA’s success.