Libya has had a fractious couple of weeks towards the end of Ramadan with attacks continuing in the east of the country and isolated incidents of violence elsewhere in the country including the capital, Tripoli. The security situation has driven the political agenda with resultant talk of cabinet reshuffles, resignations, retractions and new appointments all taking place.
Ramadan is due to end on or about the middle of this week and historically the threat level against western interests is heightened during the ending of Ramadan and the commencement of Eid. The US Government has shut a number of its embassies in Muslim countries as a precautionary measure and in the face of specific threats. As part of that the US Embassy in Tripoli is shut and is likely to remain so until Saturday.
The unrest in the east of the country and particularly Benghazi following last week’s Kuwafiyah prison break by some 1,200 inmates and a continuing spate of assassinations and other attacks had led the Prime Minister to speak about an immediate cabinet reshuffle. He has now retracted that statement during a week when the Minister for Social Affairs, Kamila Al-Mazini resigned and then withdrew her resignation; only to be followed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Awad Barasi who resigned on 4th August citing failed government policies and the general deterioration in the security situation. Then on 5th August the GNC approved the appointment of Abdullah Al-Thani as country’s new Defence Minister.
Meanwhile the interim Army Chief of Staff was wounded in an attack on 4th August on his way home from the office. His permanent successor had already been announced as General Abdulsalam Al-Obaidi, who took up his duties on the same day as the attack on his predecessor.
The instability around the critical oil production and export facilities due to strikes continues leaving Libya’s oil exports running at less than half its normal rate. The longer term worry is that this will create a downward spiral in stability as the Government finds itself without the financial means to pay those in the public sector, who in turn come out on the streets to protest.
Tripolitania (Western Libya)
There have been a number of security alerts and attacks this week in Tripoli and the west. On 29th July a car bomb was defused outside a hotel in Tripoli which would have caused widespread destruction had it gone off. Two days later the headquarters of the Al-Watan Party in the Hay Andalus district was firebombed by unknown assailants. This follows a number of attacks on political parties offices in recent days. General Gnaidi, the interim Army Chief of Staff is believed to have been wounded in the leg when he was attacked in the El Mamorah District of the capital on his way home on 4th August. He was later released from Zawia hospital.
On a considerably reduced scale than the Benghazi Kuwafiyah prison break-out 18 prisoners escaped from a judicial police vehicle when it was ambushed in the capital by gunmen on 1st August. The attack happened as the prisoners were being moved back from court to their respective prisons.
Finally a new but disturbing incident happened yesterday when a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Tripoli was prevented from landing when gunmen forced air traffic control staff at the airport to refuse it permission to land. It subsequently landed at Alexandria before refuelling and returning to Doha. The motive in line with an earlier attempt to shut down the Qatar Airways office also at the airport appears to be in protest at perceived Qatari interference in Libya’s affairs and its support of radical Islamist groups in the country.
Cyrenaica (Eastern Libya)
Insecurity continues to bedevil Benghazi and the east of the country more widely. The level of violence has been such that Libyan Special Forces in significant numbers were deployed to Benghazi on 3rd August. They have immediately taken up positions across the city as part of a wider enhanced security plan for Benghazi. It is not clear whether this is purely for the period of the end of Ramadan and Eid or longer-term.
The deployment comes on the back of a Libyan Army Colonel being assassinated in Derna and another being seriously wounded in Benghazi on 1st August. On 2nd August a senior police officer was wounded in a further attack again in Benghazi together with the Commander of the Sebha Security Support Forces, Colonel El-Ujali, who was killed in an under-vehicle IED attack in the Sabri district whilst shopping for Eid.