The challenges of Fayez al-Sarraj's Government

The challenges of Fayez al-Sarraj's Government

Giuseppe Acconcia | Journalist focusing on the Middle East
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The security of oil wells and the management of migration flows are the two essential tests for the Government of National Accord. The possibility of an international intervention seems unlikely

The Vienna Peace Conference held on May 16, 2016 dismissed the possibility of an international intervention in Libya. The Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, rather asked for a review of the embargo on arms exports to strengthen the GNA against the Islamic State jihadists (ISIS) active in the country, especially in Sirte. The special envoy of the United Nations in Libya, Martin Kobler, also confirmed that between “2000 and 3000 ISIS militants” are active in the region of Sirte while contacts are increasing between the Libyan jihadists and the militants of Boko Haram, via Chad and Niger. After his arrival in Tripoli, Prime Minister in waiting al-Sarraj had obtained the support of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and of the Central Bank. However, the Libyan oil market continues to be heavily affected by the political instability that divides the country. Specifically, the wounding of the head of the Petroleum Protection Guard, Ibrahim Jadran, had immediately sparked the call for a UN peace-enforcement international intervention by al-Sarraj.

The Government of National Accord and the battle of Sirte

The factions of Tripoli and Tobruk were divided on the recognition of the GNA, founded following the agreements of Skhirat in Morocco, reached in December 2015, thanks to the mediation of the United Nations and supported by the international community. However, neither the Tripoli Congress (CNG) nor the Parliament of Tobruk voted their confidence in al-Sarraj. In the first case, Prime Minister Khalifa Gweil gave the green light to the inauguration of the unity government to then retrace his steps and suffer the sanctions imposed by the United States. On the other hand, the faction of Tobruk, which is close to General Khalifa Haftar, and supported by Egypt, continues to request a more significant role within the GNA. Unsuccessfully, 102 Tobruk deputies tried to give their vote of confidence in al-Sarraj, despite opposition from the Chairman of the assembly, Aqila Saleh. After the liberation of the center of Derna, controlled by Islamic State militants, at the hand of jihadi groups close to Ansar al-Sharia, both al-Sarraj’s army and the militants loyal to Haftar aim for the liberation of Sirte from the east and west. The joint command that unites the militia of Misrata and al-Sarraj’s men, engaged in the Solid Structure operation (al-Bunyan al-Marsous), can be found approximately one hundred kilometers east of Sirte. According to the headquarters of al-Bunyan, fighting is still expected to be ongoing between Wadi Alloud and Abu Najaim, while fighting on the front line is still expected to continue. “All local militias want to prove to be fighting ISIS in order to gain credit in the eyes of the United States”, explained Mattia Toaldo, analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, to ABO.

The Libyan oil market and "Operation Sophia"

The political instability has greatly affected the security of oil terminals and has resulted in a new increase in direct refugee flows to Europe. Specifically, the local jihadists are expected to have taken control of checkpoint 52 in the oil terminal of Marsa Brega. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) had denounced the attempted illegal export of oil from the city of Bayda in Cyrenaica via the eastern Libyan company AGOCO. The freighter, flying the Indian flag, was stopped in the waters of Malta. The UN Security Council declared the tanker illegal. The Libyan ambassador to the UN, Ibrahim Dabbashi, had submitted a formal request to the United Nations to preserve the cargo of 350,000 barrels of oil. The Distya Ameyda tanker sailed from the Libyan coast under the order of the company DSA Consultancy, based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A similar action had cost the political future of the Prime Minister at the time, Ali Zeidan, who was unable to stop the illegal sale of oil by the North Korean tanker Morning Glory. Not only that, but the continuing refugee landings in the Strait of Sicily confirm that the militia of each faction are attempting to leverage on the migration business to gain credit in the eyes of the international community. Precisely for this reason, the Deputy Prime Minister of the GNA, Ahmed Maitig, on a visit to Rome, asked to reach an agreement with Libya on the management of migration flows, similar to that reached by the European Union with Turkey. In fact, according to the British Parliament, the third phase of EUNAVFOR Med, “Operation Sophia”, which aims to stop the smugglers in Libyan waters, would not be adequate to cope with the increase in flows. The establishment of Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) is experiencing resistance, especially by General Khalifa Haftar who would like to play a major political role in the new government. If the GNA manages to strengthen itself, the specter of a new international military intervention in the country could be unlikely, despite France, the United States and Great Britain already being active in the conflict and ready, together with Italy, for a more effective commitment in the country. The security of oil wells and the management of migration flows are the two essential tests for al-Sarraj, who is gaining ground in the battle against the jihadists, which are still active in the country.