The political landscape in Tripoli and Libya witnessed a quick and dramatic change after the arrival of the Presidential Council in the capital on March 30 – changes which tipped in favor of the supporters of the current political agreement and the unity government’s Presidential Council whose members, except for Ali Qatrani and Omar Aswad, who boycotted the council, began their work.

The political landscape in Tripoli and Libya witnessed a quick and dramatic change after the arrival of the Presidential Council in the capital on March 30 – changes which tipped in favor of the supporters of the current political agreement and the unity government’s Presidential Council whose members, except for Ali Qatrani and Omar Aswad, who boycotted the council, began their work.

There has been little change, however, in the stances of the Libyan Council of Deputies (CoD). Its head, Agila Saleh, who said in a televised statement directed to the Libyan people that the representatives should shoulder the responsibility granted by the people.  Saleh said he would not give up on his responsibility regardless of the threats or temptations, referring to EU sanctions imposed on him as well as Nouri Bousahmein, Head of the General National Conference (GNC) and Khalifa Ghweil, head of its government, for their alleged hindering of the political process in Libya.    

Changing positions

On the other hand, the positions of the GNC and the Rescue Government in Tripoli changed overnight. A few hours after Ghweil described the Presidential Council as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘sneaky’, he called on the rebels to unite to confront it, and demanded that the council members either leave or surrender.  He issued a statement demanding that the rebels and the civil society be given a chance to stop the bloodshed, and said he would oppose the national unity government through peaceful and legal ways without resorting to force and that the GNC should decide on the matter.

The GNC, in turn, issued a statement, saying it was holding consultations and meetings to arrive at a vision about the current situation and called on exercising self-restraint and not resorting to bloodshed. It warned against the armed alignment that would lead the country into a civil war.

Meanwhile, the media reported the news of the meeting of the Presidential Council with the ‘Supreme State Council’ which is, according to the agreement, a legislative body composed of former GNC members.

Tripoli is quiet

The political division in western Libya witnessed minor tensions, which began the night the new government arrived in Tripoli and continued for a day and a half. Some shops and streets were closed and the headquarters of the Naba TV Channel, which supports the GNC and its government, was invaded by a militia, closed by force and its workers were threatened to never return to work.

However, things soon went back to normal and daily life was not much affected by these developments despite the fact that Tripoli’s parallel authorities emphasized that there were casualties as a result of the clashes. However, their number was not mentioned in official statements or by medical sources.  

After that night, Tripoli was calm and extensive meetings were held between the Presidential Council’s members and many officials and figures at the council’s temporary headquarters at the Abousta Maritime Base once the Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj announced the beginning of the government’s work. Al-Sarraj called on exercising self-restraint, forgetting the past and working for Libya. Afterwards, the headquarters was moved to the Prime Ministry’s official headquarters on Sikka Road in Tripoli.

To appear in control, members of the Presidential Council went on many tours around the city, mainly in the city center. They performed the Friday Prayers in the historical Mizran Mosque and a number of the council’s head deputies toured Algeria Square, sat in the old Aurora Café and talked to people.  

International messages

Ahmed Najm, Professor of Political Sciences at the University of Benghazi, believes that the changes in the reactions of the GNC and its government were brought about the international messages supporting the unity government and its Presidential Council leading its opponents to find a way out of the crisis. 

Najm said Tripoli has two options: war or handing over power peacefully, expecting that the unity government will be able to assume power in one way or another. He claimed that the powers of the opposition in Tripoli were exaggerated and the role of the international community was critical to the process.

It seems that the government will be able to assume power in western Libya particularly after more than 11 municipalities in the west announced support, in addition to the Presidential Council’s meeting with the Price Balance Fund and the governor of the Central Bank of Libya as well as the National Establishment for Petroleum’s announcement of its support of the unity government and the government’s optimism about the statement of the Petroleum Facilities Guarding Authority headed by Ibrahim Jathran announcing the support of the new government and its readiness to pump oil under its administration.

East has reservations

The Petroleum Facilities Guarding Authority is the only force in the east that announced its support of the new government. Agila Saleh, Head of the CoD, and a number of its members still refuse that the new government starts working unless it wins the confidence of the CoD. He stipulated that it should happen in Tobruk with all the members of the Presidential Council attending and recognizing the CoD as the only legislative authority based on the terms of the political agreement.

Saleh, who met the head of the armed forces Khalifa Hafter, stressed that the parliament and the military institution are ‘two red lines’ and said he did not mind the unity government in principle, but he had some reservations on some points in terms of its legality and constitutionality. He added that he had no foreign bank accounts to be afraid of European sanctions.

Despite this position, Sakr Jaroushi, Head of the Libyan Air Forces, stressed that the position of Hafter ‘has not changed’ and that the army has nothing to do with politics as it will fight terrorism in Libya from Um Saed in the east to the far west, underlining that the army is affiliated with the parliament as it is the highest power in the country.

Protected by militias

Despite the new government’s smooth entry into Tripoli via war ship, Saleh said the government could not work under the protection of the armed militias, adding that it should be protected by the army and the police until the capital is entirely protected.

GNC member Abdulkader Howeili confirmed that some figures and parties were mediating between the GNC and its government on the one hand and the unity government’s Presidential Council, which is supported by armed militias in Tripoli on the other, to make additional modifications to the political agreement so that it takes the GNC remarks into consideration.

The executive power affiliated with the internationally recognized parliament is more opposing to the new agreement. Its head Abdullah Theni said in a press release the unity government wins the parliament’s confidence before he turns in power, stressing that it is bypassing legitimacy, which is the same position adopted by Tripoli’s authorities before they alleviated their adversary accent.

On the ground

People were divided over the new unity government’s entry to Tripoli. A number of people took to the streets in Libya’s two major cities to express their opinions. While scores of people demonstrated in Benghazi in rejection of the government’s entry, while emphasizing their support of the parliament and the army, hundreds of people in Tripoli and many cities in the west and southwest gathered to welcome the new government.

The efforts of the UN mission and the Presidential Council’s Security Arrangements Committee ended with the new government’s entry to the capital successfully. However, the council faces many challenges including convincing the two boycotters to change their minds, achieve peaceful transition of power in Tripoli, agree with the opponents in the parliament and meet the promises of the government’s supporters to hold a political dialogue to reach solutions to the Libyan crisis.