Jamie Dettmer reports from Tripoli: The few Western reporters here echo the warnings of U.N. envoy [Bernardino] León and file stories justifiably reporting the country is “disintegrating.” But that word doesn’t quite capture the peculiarly Libyan ambiance and the extent to which the conflict across the country is a very, very Libyan one: earnest and deadly, certainly, but also comical and orderly — yes, orderly. Where else would you find one rival government responding to phone call pleas from the other for its share of the country’s subsidized goods, or one government continuing to transfer salaries to the bank accounts of the rival government’s fighters?
“We provide them with everything,” says Jamal Zubia, a spokesman for the Tripoli-run government’s foreign ministry. A bearded former exile who raised his seven children in Britain, Zubia rubs his hand over his bearded face and chuckles when asked whether he considers it odd for a rival government to fund the activities of the other.
“Yes, we pay the salaries of their fighters,” he says. “We pay the social security payments and child benefits for everyone in Libya. We pay for the schools, we pay the fighters and even the police service, too, in the East. We transfer the money for the fighters because many of them were members of the Libyan armed forces or were warriors in the uprising against Gaddafi.”
The Tobruk government recently published its own budget but it is basically a fiction. Money is disbursed by the central bank and the bank only responds to orders from Tripoli’s Minister of Finance. Like the country’s investment authority, the central bank is now based out of Malta. On Friday Tobruk announced a new central bank under its control but how it will be funded is unclear.
Abdulgader Hwili, a senior member of the mainly Islamist government of the General National Congress (GNC), the parliament in Tripoli, also reacts with a laugh about the cash transfers to fighters loyal to Gen. Haftar. This is a family squabble, he tells me. “I have eight brothers — four of them support Tobruk,” he says. “So they are our family — we have to pay them.”
Hwili says the familial nature of the confrontation between Tripoli and Tobruk is limiting the violence and he hopes it will lead to a deal between the two governments—the one now in Tobruk was a House of Representatives elected last year to replace the Islamist-dominated parliament that is still in Tripoli but has refused to step down.
The stay-put parliament’s partisans, known as Libya Dawn, or Fajr, often are associated with the effort by Turkey and Qatar to spread the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their opponents sometimes fall in line with efforts by the Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians to crush it. Haftar takes Egypt’s new President Gen. Abdel Sisi as his anti-Islamist role model. But the situation is at once more complicated than that, and, from a Libyan perspective, simpler.
Hwili says that while the U.N. sponsored talks are likely to fail — the next round of negotiations is slated to start this week in Morocco — he has hopes that face-to-face talks between the two sides already being planned for later will succeed in hammering out a peace deal and perhaps a national unity administration.
Like other lawmakers here, Hwili doesn’t think either side can win the war — a point emphasized in a soon-to-be-published study by Libyan academics sponsored by the German think tank Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. “No military action is able to make any territorial gains and end the war in its favor; this paves the way for a political dialogue to end the crisis,” the report argues. [Continue reading…]