MENAS Associates, London, 17 May, 2022
Fierce fighting erupted in Tripoli before dawn on 17 May when Fathi Bashagha — unilaterally appointed by the eastern Libya dominated House of Representatives as head of the self-styled Government of National Salvation (GNS) — tried to enter the capital and replace the incumbent Government of National Unity (GNU). He had expected to be supported by some of the powerful western Libyan militias which, until now, have been supporting the GNU’s Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dbeibah. The majority, however, did not switch sides and, within a few hours, Bashagha was forced to retreat from the capital.
One of the most important reasons is that many do not trust Bashagha despite him having much more revolutionary credibility than the controversial businessman Dbeibah whose family profited during the Qadhafi regime. When Bashagha, who like Dbeibah also comes from Misrata, was the powerful interior minister in the former Government of National Accord (GNA) he had tried to bring the powerful Tripoli militias to heel by disbanding some and integrating the others into a unified army.
More importantly, after the 24 December 2021 election was cancelled and the GNU refused to leave office, Bashagha entered an odd alliance of convenience with not only the powerful House speaker, Aguila Saleh, but also eastern Libya’s military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The latter’s self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF) had laid siege to Tripoli in 2019-2020 with the support of thousands of Kremlin-affiliated Wagner Group mercenaries.
The brutal and economically hugely damaging siege was only defeated when Turkey intervened to provide military training and equipment, including very effective drones, to the GNU’s military forces. The latter were largely composed of the same rag-bag confederation of poorly trained but now battle-hardened western militias who overthrew Qadhafi in the 2011 revolution. The majority of the militias, and many people in western Libya, now view Bashagha as a proxy for Haftar. Having defeated him militarily they are unwilling to allow Haftar him to become the power behind the throne with Bashagha acting as his frontman.