Libya was moving towards assigning a government of national reconciliation, waiting only for parliamentary conformation; however, military shifts in Benghazi have halted political progress.

Libya was moving towards assigning a government of national reconciliation, waiting only for parliamentary conformation; however, military shifts in Benghazi have halted political progress.

The parliament failed to hold the 23 February session and voting was cancelled after news of General Khalifa Haftar‘s parliament-affiliated army’s liberation of Benghazi from ISIS-affiliated militias – they claimed control of at least 90% of the eastern city. The parliament has once again failed to hold a session to decide on the government, due to the disagreements about the number of attending members and verbal altercations.

Since then, no parliamentary session has had enough members to vote, and the pro-army MPs have shown their intention to deny the government their approval. MP Issa Al-Uraibi along with others has said that confirming the government would be a strike against the army.

On the other hand, several MPs issued an official statement saying that 100 MPs do confirm the government and have signed a petition to that effect.

The army’s advances

On the ground, many displaced people from Al-howary, Al-Laithy and Bo-Atny areas in the city of Benghazi have returned to their homes after more than a year of displacement. After Haftar’s army and other supporting civilian forces took control of strategic areas and neighborhoods, celebrations spread throughout the city, despite the destruction that awaited them.

Haftar called on the adversary forces to surrender, as he pledged that they would face legal justice in Libyan courts.

Urban rehabilitation

The municipal council of Benghazi said it has a plan to secure the areas newly reclaimed by Haftar’s army and to remove the waste from it. Meanwhile, the Public Service Administration is working on removing waste and opening closed roads.

The Municipal Council, Haftar’s army, and the Red Crescent called on displaced people to delay their return in order to finish working on rehabilitating the reclaimed areas and removing mines and combat waste. However, none of these pleas and warnings succeeded and people returned anyway.

These areas witnessed a large movement of residents who came to see their homes in the midst of destruction, smoke, and rubble, resulting in many accidents of exploding mines and booby traps placed in some of the houses, resulting in a number of casualties. A small number of people have fully resettled in their homes.

Abdullah Al-Thani, head of the internationally recognized temporary government affiliated with the parliament, visited Benghazi on Sunday and called on the cities’ municipal administrations to reopen the cities’ ports and airports. At the same time, the Minister of Internal Affairs Mohammad Al-Madani confirmed that the ministry shall secure the city and put in place electronic gates to detect weapons and explosives.

 The reclamation of the city by Haftar’s parliament-affiliated army came at a high price for dozens of army soldiers, and civilian volunteers were killed in combat to take the city since the beginning of operation ‘Blood of the Martyr’ on February 20. Although medical resources did not declare the numbers of casualties, military resources said that at least 40 people were killed in action.

“Military escalation in Benghazi”

In the other end of the country, the Government of Salvation affiliated to the General National Congress (GNC) denounced what it called “The military escalation in Benghazi.” Government head Khalifa Al- Ghwell accused the army of using experts from the French military to carry out the battles. In turn, the Head of the Special Commando Force, General Wanis Abu Khamada denied these accusations.

Ghwell, in a press conference, demanded the army stop the military action in Benghazi and Ajdabiya and open safe passages to medical teams and humanitarian aid. He accused the parliament-affiliated forces of combining efforts with ISIL saying, ”The two are faces of the same coin and they are fighting the Revolution of February.”

On the ground however, the army is fighting both ISIL and the Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries. Yet, authorities in Tripoli deny the existence of ISIL in the city and commend the bravery of the rebels in it. Nevertheless, there is no clear administrative link between the government in Tripoli and the Shura Council in Benghazi.

Supporters of the Shura Council also expressed on social media their discontent with the army’s advances and continued their support of the council.

 The mixed joys of return

Neither the denunciations coming from Tripoli nor the social media campaign launched by the Shura Council’s support prevented large numbers of Benghazians from celebrating in the cities’ streets. In celebrations that went on for days, some expressed support and commitment to the army’s advances while others were merely happy about returning home and the approaching end of the war.

A 29-year-old doctor, Abdel-Raouf Ali, could finally visit the house where he and his family lived before having to leave in 2014.

Fifty-year-old Mohammad Mansour had mixed feelings of joy and grief for the young men who died in the war: “The future is not clear and the state has been moving towards failure since the revolution.”

The struggle deepens

The failure foreseen by Mansour is a direct result of the widening gap between the two conflicting parties in the country and of the conflicting attitudes of the political and military factions.

The government in the west, affiliate to the GNC, called through its Ministry of Defense on the rebels and supporters to unite for the fight against ISIL. The call came in the aftermath of the clashes between the terrorist organization and congressional forces supported by other western Libyan fighting groups in Subrata. The clashes resulted in 39 casualties from the rebel forces affiliated to the congress and Subrata Military Council.

In the east, Lieutenant Haftar said “the military escalation will continue,” especially after the army declared full control of Ajdabiya and major advances in Benghazi.

 Political process to be determined by military actions

Ahmad Najm, professor of political science said, “The military victory in Benghazi will affect the political process in Libya.” Najm confirmed that negotiations are on-going to save the political agreement that was achieved by Parliament Speaker Akila Saleh, Head of the Government of National Reconciliation   Faiez Al-Sarraj and the UN Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler in Egypt.

Najm also worries about disagreements among the international community about Libya, confirming that these disagreements surfaced at the Rome conference in early February. He fears that the international community might move towards dealing with the authorities active in the country as separate entities after the recent developments.

Najm beieves that the general picture of the countries’ future may become clearer when the parliament takes a decision about the government in the next session and also when the leadership of the advancing military forces reveals its intentions.