Libyans 'regain hope' with new unity government

Libyans 'regain hope' with new unity government
Tripoli residents hope for an easier future after as Libya's new unity government begins work.
5 min read
05 April, 2016
Some Libyans have hope for the future with a new head of unity government [AFP]
Residents of Tripoli have started to breathe a little easier since the head of a new unity government came to town, promising a way out of Libya's political and economic crises.

Prime Minister-designate Fayez al-Sarraj's arrival last Wednesday came as sandstorms blew away further fears of clashes between rival armed groups, which have failed to materialise.

"I don't know if it's just me, but people seem to be more relaxed," said Abdelmajid Naas, a 36-year-old petroleum engineer.

Sarraj's arrival had drawn fury from the rival administration that has ruled the capital since mid-2014.

But the situation has remained calm and the new UN-backed government has won the support of the city's main armed group and of key institutions.

Since a militia alliance including Islamists overran Tripoli a year and a half ago, leaving gunmen on the streets, residents' lives have been filled with worry over how to support their families in a worsening economy.

Fears for family

Siham, a mother of two, said she and her family were always scared: "We never knew what would happen the next day - even at the end of the day."
   What's been going on in Libya?

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 remained the internationally recognised government, though its actual authority on the ground in Libya was 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 became torn between the rival parliaments and the heavily armed militias that support each. Allegiances between the militias changed frequently, which only added to the instability, violence and danger faced by ordinary Libyan citizens.

Efforts by the UN to establish a "unity Government of National Accord" has led to a third administration, this one led by Fayez Sarraj, claiming overall political legitimacy for the country and setting up shop in Tripoli in late March 2016.

The much-aniticipated chaos subsequently failed to materialise, as Sarraj faces the task of strengthening his mandate through popular acceptance and working towards an end to the violence and insecurity plaguing the country.

But with Sarraj's arrival, Siham's husband, Adel Abderahman, 42, said he was confident the situation would improve.

"Now at least, we have a government that can take things in hand," he said. "It's as if a great weight has been lifted from my shoulders."

Support has grown for Sarraj's government, even as the two rival administrations it seeks to replace - the Tripoli authorities and a government in eastern Libya backed by an internationally recognised parliament - continue to reject it.

Bankers' approval

Late on Sunday, the Tripoli-based Libyan Investment Authority threw its support behind Sarraj's Government of National Accord (GNA).

"The establishment of the GNA in Tripoli represents an important development towards bringing stability and unity to Libya," LIA chairman Abdulmagid Breish told AFP.

"The GNA can play an important role in negotiating international economic support for Libya and, over the longer term, rebuilding Libya as a destination for international investment and commerce."

Libya's National Oil Corporation and Central Bank -backbones of the country's wealth - have also declared their support.

On Thursday, the mayors of 10 coastal cities that were under the control of the Tripoli authorities called on Libyans to "support the national unity government".

The following day, guards in charge of securing installations in Libya's eastern "oil crescent" said they would hand over three export terminals to the unity government.

Weekly prayers

Oil is Libya's main natural resource, with reserves estimated at 48 billion barrels, the largest in Africa.

But its output has plummeted since the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Gadaffi.

On Friday, for the first time since August 2014, hundreds of Libyans protested in Tripoli against the city's authorities headed by Khalifa Ghweil and in support of Sarraj's government, chanting: "Bye, bye Ghweil."

Sarraj - a businessman from Tripoli - appeared the same day in public, joining weekly prayers at a mosque in the city centre.
The establishment of the GNA in Tripoli represents an important development towards bringing stability and unity to Libya

On the main Martyrs' Square, members of the security forces and the public shook his hand and hugged him, saying "Welcome home!"

His government has the support of the main armed group in Tripoli, signalling a split within the security forces once loyal to the Tripoli authorities.

On the city's walls, fresh graffiti reads: "Yes to the Government of National Accord," replacing slogans in support of Libya Dawn, the militia alliance previously controlling the capital.

Police officers in their blue-and-white winter uniforms have reappeared on the streets.

A day after Sarraj returned, the exchange rate improved from 3.7 to 2.7 Libyan dinars against the US dollar.

With the new government promising a united Libya, a strong army and a better economy, Libyans have regained hope.

Engineer Naas, for one, has rethought his plans to emigrate.

"With prices going up, salaries [unpaid] for months and no cash in the banks, I was thinking of leaving," he said.

"Now hope seems to be an option again."