Libya: Tobruk angered over Tunisian relations with Tripoli-based administration

Libya: Tobruk angered over Tunisian relations with Tripoli-based administration
Analysis: A senior figure in the Tobruk parliament threatens the Tunisian president after he reportedly meets representatives of the rival Tripoli government.
3 min read
19 May, 2015
Fighting between militias allied to Libya's rival governments has left several towns in tatters [Anadolu]

Tunisia's president, Beji Caid Essebsi, is too friendly with Libya's Tripoli-based government - according to the rival Libyan government's information minister.

Essebsi is closely aligned with Turkey, complained Omar al-Gawairi, who called on Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to return Tunisia "to the right track".

In an interview on al-Nahar al-Youm, an Egyptian TV channel, Gawairi - of the Tobruk-based Libyan administration - said the presence of one million Libyan refugees in Tunisia should not concern authorities there, because they are supporting themselves and not receiving handouts.

   Why does Libya have two governments?

The General National Congress was the Islamist-led elected body ruling Libya for two years following Gaddafi's ousting and death. After its 18-month deadline to form a new constitution passed in January 2014, the body resolved to extend its mandate.

General Khalifa Haftar, a senior figure in the forces that toppled Gaddafi, called on the GNC to disband. In May, Haftar led troops against Islamist militias in Benghazi and the GNC in Tripoli in an offensive named Operation Dignity.

Amid the chaos, an election was held to form the House of Representatives, which took power from the GNC in August. With rival militias ruling Libya's streets, the election turnout was just 18 percent. Islamist militias then launched Operation Libya Dawn to fight Haftar's troops.

With the lack of security in the capital, the House of Representatives hired a Greek car ferry harboured in the eastern city of Tobruk as a temporary legislature.

In late August, a group of GNC members reconvened in Tripoli and claimed legislative authority over the country, effectively replacing the House of Representatives as Libya's parliament. The Tobruk-based House of Representatives remains the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya is limited.

Libya's Supreme Court, based in Islamist-held Tripoli, ruled in November that the formation of the House of Representatives was unconstitutional, legally dissolving the Tobruk-based legislature and nullifying its decisions.

The Tobruk-based parliament refused to accept the court's ruling, saying it was made "at gunpoint".

Libya remains torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias change frequently, which only adds to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

"They should not be treated like Somali refugees living in tents," he argued.

"Libya is a land of fire that will burn anyone who makes light or speaks ill of it."

Gawairi also published an article on his personal website titled Beware, don't talk about Libya, in which he appeared to be indirectly addressing Essebsi after the Tunisian premier met with Libya Dawn leaders.

"Libya will humble anyone who encroaches on it. We will retaliate to all aggression, words and stances with the same because our dignity is the most important thing," he wrote.

Gawairi also threatened to expel the Tunisian consulate from Tripoli: "We will soon be in the capital and we will kick out all the ambassadors of countries that support and collaborate with terrorists. The people doing so will pay dearly for insulting Libyans by insulting their government."

The only Tunisian response to Gawairi's statements has come from Adnen Mnasser, an adviser to former president Moncef Marzouki, who called Gawairi an idiot and his comments "foolish and insignificant".

Beji Caid Essebsi is the president, and defending him is the bare minimum expected of Tunisian politicians, said Mnasser.

"National reconciliation and sovereignty requires solidarity with the state and its institutions and leaders regardless of the internal political differences," concluded Mnasser.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.