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Tripoli 01.09.2014 
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Sherwes Travel

Libya Weekly Security Update

Security Update – 28 August 2014

Dear Shewes Travel readers,

In this weeks' strategic Libya update from Bloxtons we analyse the impact of the ongoing security issues and what the future holds for the country.

Regional update


Tripoli has been far quieter in recent days following the Misratan led alliance successes, not least in taking control of what is left of Tripoli international airport. There has been a noticeable reduction in both small and heavy weapon fire in Tripoli in comparison to the previous two weeks. There is also a corresponding increasing in the number of people on the streets, although the pattern of life is still far removed from normal.

The Misratan led alliance have given Warshefana three days (from Wednesday) to hand over fighters and other individuals perceived to have committed crimes. Given their recent successes it appears that the Misratan led alliance are now looking to open other fronts such as against the Honourable Tribes (based in Warshefana and with close links to the former regime). Some of the individuals could move across the border to Tunisa but it is unclear how any escalation would pan out given the geographical and logistical complexity of fighting the Warshefana over such a large area.

On the back of recent losses in Benghazi it seems likely that Benghazi airport will be completely lost by forces loyal to Hafter in the coming days. There are some signs of a drive to push Islamist aligned fighters towards Tobruk. This would raise interesting questions given Tobruk’s relatively benign state (which includes continuing international flights) and could be a tactic formulated in order to increase Egyptian involvement (given Tobruk is only 150km from the Egyptian border, compared to 280km for Benghazi).
Political Analysis

Dependent upon the perspective of those reporting recent events in Tripoli the forces that this week successfully took over what is left of Tripoli International Airport cover the full gambit of characterisation including Misratans, Islamists and revolutionaries. The reality is far more complex and without an agreed, accurate and simple label to describe them. The group is certainly comprised in large parts of Misratan brigades but by no means wholly. Although there are Islamist elements they fight alongside Misratan forces who in the main could not be descried as Islamist, and some quite far from it. The term revolutionaries is also not accurate, for example the elements from Khoms and Zawiyah (two of the last towns to support the 2011 revolution) cannot easily be described as revolutionaries. Whilst this could easily be seen as a semantic argument it is symptomatic of the highly complex tribal, regional, and ideological relationships in Libya. For our part Bloxtons currently refers to them as the Misratan led alliance (MLA) which aims to strike a balance between being accurate and not overly complex. Please do let us know your views however.

As discussed there is no overriding ideological tie between many of the elements that form the MLA and thus there is a concern that it will struggle to remain cohesive if the hostilities in Tripoli continue to reduce and their grip on power in Tripoli increases. In the short term opening new fronts (i.e. Warshefana) may both strengthen their gains so far and act as a short term glue to keep the elements coalesced but the medium term is less clear. Which leads to the question, are we in the eye of the storm or has it passed? Whilst impossible to predict with any certainty, the underlying political stability and lack of cross-country dominance by any single group will render it difficult for any form of sustainable and positive solution to develop. The solution must be political and currently the signs of positive political progress are very limited.

The political competition is indeed heating up as the head of the former General National Congress, Nouri Abu Sahmain, intensified his refusal to recognise the legitimacy of the House of Representatives. In addition, a key member of Prime Minister Abdallah al-Thinni’s cabinet offered his resignation, underscoring the precariousness of the current government. Subsequently on Wednesday the UN Security Council passed resolution 2174 (2014) which aimed to tighten the existing sanctions regime to also include those “individuals and entities…engaging in or providing support for other acts that threaten the peace, stability or security of Libya, or obstruct or undermine the successful completion of its political transition”. The resolution also appeared to give support to the HoR and Constitutional Drafting Assembly by calling on them to “carry out their tasks in a spirit of inclusiveness” and called “on all parties to engage in an inclusive Libyan-led political dialogue in order to help restore stability”. It is unclear if UNSCR 2174 will be applied so broadly by the Sanctions Committee as to cause difficulties for the likes of Abu Shamain who it could be argued is not supportive of the HoR political transition.

Abu Sahmain had already made his opposition to the HoR known when, citing security concerns, it refused to convene in Benghazi as had initially been planned and met for the first time in Tobruk. Abu Sahmain claimed that because no handover ceremony had been held and because the GNC had not authorized the HoR to meet in Tobruk, the HoR was illegitimate. He has now doubled down, allegedly organizing a meeting of former GNC members in Tripoli to possibly “elect” a new prime minister to replace al-Thinni. Al-Thinni and HoR President Aqila Salah dismissed Abu Sahmain’s machinations as irrelevant and without merit. Nonetheless, the point is clear: Abu Sahmain and his Islamist supporters are making a gamble that they can revive the government that they controlled and marginalize the new government under the control of al-Thinni and Salah. The fact that Abu Sahmain is in Libya’s historic capital, Tripoli, and not isolated in the far east of the country like al-Thinni lends credibility to his stratagem. In addition, there are reports that Abu Sahmain’s supporters may be preventing his detractors in the HoR from returning to Tobruk, thereby further handicapping the HoR.

In an additionally worrying sign, Libya’s Minister of Justice has offered his resignation. Salah Bashir al-Marghani said that current conditions prevented him from being able to carry out his duties. Originally from Benghazi, but a long-time Tripoli resident, al-Marghani was a tremendous force for democratization in Libya. He is widely recognized as Libya’s leading human rights advocate in addition to being a successful commercial lawyer. First appointed by ousted Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, al-Marghani was both a technocratic and a revolutionary. Al-Marghani was educated in the UK and worked in both Libya’s private sector, as a founder of the MTL Law Firm in Tripoli, and the public sector, serving as a consultant to the Ministry of Justice during the Qadhafi regime. At the same time, he served as a conduit for NGOs investigating the Qadhafi regime’s human rights record. In August 2012, he was honoured by Human Rights Watch for his contribution to protecting human rights during the final years and months of the Qadhafi regime. In addition, Human Rights Watch recognized him for his role in securing documents that will potentially contribute to investigations into the Qadhafi regime’s crimes against humanity. While his resignation may not be a serious blow to the al-Thinni government (after all, it faces much more serious problems than the resignation of one minister, albeit an important one), that al-Marghani chose to throw in the towel is a very bad sign for the transitional process’s commitment to democratization.

Further to last week’s report there was qualified confirmation from various sources including the US that Egypt was involved in the air strikes that hit Mistratan led alliance (MLA) targets in Tripoli. However much uncertainty remains regarding the source of the attacks, which ultimately appear to have served only to increase the pace of the MLA’s progress in Tripoli and did little to hamper it. It is unclear if other countries, such as the UAE or Saudi Arabia were also involved or if there was additional Western nation backing.

It is surprising that the US, who have substantial assets in the region, and Algeria who it is understood increased its radar coverage post the 2011 revolution to cover far into Libya (including over Tripoli), have not been able, or perhaps more likely, willing to provide unqualified confirmation of the source of the attacks. One potential explanation could be that the US and others were caught off guard and that Egypt (possibly with UAE and Saudi backing) moved more quickly and overtly than had been expected. Given the nations alleged by some to have been involved (Egypt, UAE and Saudi) which all have close ties with the West, others will point to the desire of Western nations to prevent a complete state failure in Libya and question if they were used as proxies.


As Prime Minister al-Thinni highlighted in a recent press conference, oil production and oil exports continue to rise, with El-Feel, Sharara and Waha coming back on line and replenishing storage facilities at export terminals. The NOC reported on Monday that production had increased to 650,000 bpd. Thus, while the political and security situations continue show no sign of progress, with each side refusing to back down and demonstrating a willingness to go the distance both on the battlefield and politically, oil production is creeping back up and a reminder to the warring factions of exactly what is at stake. The UN Security Council resolution passed on Wednesday also specifically stated that sanctions could be applied to individuals or entities “providing support for armed groups or criminal networks through the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya”.

What is remarkable, however, is that production is being brought online almost entirely by Libyan personnel because most foreign IOC staff quit Libya a long time ago. This is a testament to the Libyan staff, a reminder of the surprisingly quick return to production in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution and bodes well for Libya’s economic future if the political and security situations can be resolved. The removal of Omar Shakmak as Acting Oil Minister, to be replaced by Mustafa Sanalla (current Chairman of the NOC who will also retain the Chairman’s role) is an indication of political forces at work to tighten up their grip on the countries’ wealth and potentially also his success in overseeing a slow but steady increase in production through difficult times.

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Sherwes Travel • P.O. Box 91713 Dath El Emad • Tripoli • Libya • Tel/fax: +218-21-4801370 • Cellphone: +218-925201677
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