Libya's new political equation: With Bashagha out, what comes next?
On 16 May, Libya’s eastern-based, pro-Haftar parliament suspended the self-appointed Prime Minister Fathi Bashagha from his role.
Considering Bashagha’s close relationship with prominent figures in the east, such as the House of Representatives (HoR) speaker, Aguila Saleh, and warlord Khalifa Haftar, the development came as a surprise to many, but close watchers of Libya were expecting it.
The HoR’s parliamentary spokesman, Abdullah Bilheq, said in a statement that the majority of the parliament suspended Bashagha due to “poor performance and corruption”.
"The House of Representatives' dismissal of him, or more accurately Haftar's dismissal of Bashagha, is to ensure he cannot vocally oppose a potential unification between Haftar and Dbeibah"
The development was followed by a meeting between the House of Representatives and the High Council of State’s 6+6 committee members, in which they agreed on 80 percent of articles regarding electoral laws. Per the agreement, dual nationals would not be able to run for the National Assembly, which would be an obstacle for US citizen Khalifa Haftar.
Since Bashagha’s unilateral appointment by the HoR in early 2022, he has failed to enter and capture Tripoli several times, with clashes between pro-Bashagha militia groups and Government of National Unity (GNU) forces killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds.
Since then, alternatives have been on the table for each side of the Libyan conflict, with reports emerging that PM Abdulhamid Dbeibah’s nephew, Ibrahim Dbeibah, and Haftar’s son, Saddam Haftar, had been organising meetings to negotiate potential collaboration between their seniors.
With Bashagha’s suspension by the HoR, these rumours have become more serious, especially considering the CIA director Bill Burns’ visit in January, where he reportedly asked Dbeibah and Haftar to form a joint military force.
So, what does Bashagha’s suspension mean for Libya?
Speaking to The New Arab, Anas El Gomati, founder and director of Libya-based think tank Sadeq Institute, said Bashagha’s political career was officially over a year ago when he failed to capture Tripoli.
“The HoR’s dismissal of him, or more accurately Haftar’s dismissal of Bashagha, is to ensure he cannot vocally oppose a potential unification between Haftar and Dbeibah,” he added.
Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told TNA that Ibrahim Dbeibah and Saddam “have been in near-continuous talks since 2021, mainly with the active blessing of the United Arab Emirates”. These negotiations, however, “haven’t produced the unified government that some observers have hoped for,” he added.
“Because of this, both the Haftar and the Dbeibah families are now looking for additional leverage,” Harchaoui said.
According to Sami Hamdi, editor-in-chief of the International Interest, the point of appointing Bashagha in the first place was about trying to use his ties in Tripoli to orchestrate the toppling of the internationally recognised government, and Bashagha made multiple attempts to overrun the capital.
However, Hamdi believes that since Bashagha has failed, “his utility has accordingly dissipated”, and “he has now been discarded”.
Commenting on whether Bashagha’s dismissal signals a path to East-West reconciliation in Libya led by Dbeibah and Haftar, Anas El Gomati says these negotiations are not a reconciliation.
"Although informal agreements have been brokered, there is no indication that either Dbeibah or Haftar have any intention of ceding power to each other or seriously surrendering their authority to any elections"
“They are transactional, but the exact terms of a deal haven’t been worked out yet. It has very little to do with East vs West Libya,” he argued.
Agreeing with El Gomati, Sami Hamdi also says there is no real intention of reconciliation.
“Although informal agreements have been brokered, there is no indication that either Dbeibah or Haftar have any intention of ceding power to each other or seriously surrendering their authority to any elections,” Hamdi told TNA.
“Both have been building their power with Dbeibah recently seeking to assert himself in Zawiya against antagonistic factions and Haftar asserting his military strength to reaffirm his grip on the East. There is a delicate balancing act taking place between the international push for elections and navigating increasingly entrenched interests.”
On the other hand, Harchaoui claims that Saddam Haftar has been communicating more often, and directly, with certain militia leaders in Tripoli, with a view to acquiring influence in the capital at the expense of Dbeibah.
“That is why it is a fundamental error to confuse Saddam’s toppling of Bashagha with a sign that the two rival governments are somehow merging spontaneously,” he said.
“A good way of understanding this is by noting that Zawiyah’s Ali Bouzeriba played a major role in helping Saddam persuade parliament to dismiss Bashagha. And Bouzeriba is none other but the very leader Dbeibah is currently bombing west of Tripoli,” Harchaoui said.
“At this delicate juncture, actors are rushing to position themselves ahead of a possible end of the last couple of years’ status quo - and the discarding of Bashagha is merely part of those preparations. So, there is no tangible convergence to speak of; to the contrary,” he added.
Since Libya’s status quo problem has been among the principal obstacles to having free and fair elections in Libya, experts believe that stability cannot take root if Libya’s political elites agree on having elections because of Haftar’s ambitions.
Furthermore, in this context, experts are quick to point out that Haftar doesn’t do power sharing.
“Haftar’s end goal is to take control of the state through negotiations, not to have the East included, but to have his family’s financial, political, and military future secured in the state apparatus,” El Gomati says.
Sami Hamdi also argues that Haftar believes the possibility of toppling Dbeibah is still very real, given the fractious nature of his relationship with local militia groups.
“As long as Haftar holds onto this belief, it is difficult to imagine any serious reconciliation taking place.”
Dr Ufuk Necat Tasci is a political analyst, academic, and journalist. His research areas and interests include Libya, the foreign policy of Turkey, proxy wars, surrogate warfare, and new forms of conflict and history
Follow him on Twitter: @UfukNecat