This week, the Prime Minister of Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj announced his resignation but will stay on in a caretaker capacity through negotiations for a new government in Geneva next month, according to officials familiar with him.
With Turkey’s help, Al-Sarraj and his internationally recognized government were able to control only parts of western Libya, but Tripoli has since fallen into political infighting, and Sarraj has also faced pressure from a protest movement against corruption and poor services.
By announcing his resignation, al-Saraj would relieve some of the pressure on himself while setting the stage for his exit after the Geneva talks, as depicted by official sources to the media outlets. The common belief is that at the end of the talks, the warring sides will be urged to agree on a new presidential council structure that unifies the country’s administrations and scheduled elections.
Officials also stated that Sarraj and his aides had discussed his plans with Libyan and international partners. Two officials said he was expected to issue his announcement by the end of the week. Simultaneously, Sarraj spokesman declined to comment on the prime minister’s plans.
During the past months, the country has suffered from several crises that threaten to push the country into a dangerous turning point if the UN mission in Libya and the countries concerned with the security and stability of Libya do not move. Just this week, the UN Security Council asked Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a special envoy to broker peace in Libya, although Russia and China abstained from voting on the resolution that also extended the UN mission in the country. The Security Council agreed to that proposal on Tuesday, September 15th. “With the new structure, we will have to present a new candidate and we will have to naturally consult with the Security Council for that purpose,” Guterres told Reuters news agency in an interview on Monday.
Russia and China said they abstained from voting on the resolution because it did not include their suggested amendments.
As a result of the deteriorating living conditions in the country, several widespread demonstrations erupted in most Libyan cities, all calling for a rapid solution to the crises afflicting the Libyan state, which could lead to a state of widespread public tension that pushes towards a general uprising similar to the events of February 17, 2011, during the Arab Spring.
In Tripoli, the protests fueled tensions between al-Sarraj and the influential Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, whom he briefly suspended last month before restoring him to his post.
As such, after days of protests against corruption and poor living conditions, the government in eastern Libya announced its resignation on Sunday. Prime Minister Abdallah al-Thani submitted the resignation to the speaker of the eastern-based House of Representatives.
Beforehand, protesters had set fire to the government’s headquarters in the eastern city of Benghazi, as well as Al-Marj, which is a stronghold of Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).
Libya has seen extreme political, economic, and humanitarian turmoil in the years since Gadhafi’s ouster. The latest string of demonstrations, which began last Thursday, has been fueled by regular power cuts, cash shortages, and high fuel prices.
Since January, the country’s economic crisis has worsened after Haftar’s LNA imposed a blockade on Libya’s oil facilities.
With regards to the relation between Tripoli and Ankara, the news comes in a context created after a Turkish military intervention helped break a 14-month siege on Tripoli by eastern Libyan forces loyal to commander Khalifa Hifter in June, and it now raises questions over the prior and future accords between the two allies.
In November 2019, Sarraj signed a controversial agreement with Ankara delineating a shared maritime boundary in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in an area claimed by Greece. Ankara has since used the agreement as a basis to conduct gas exploration activities in contested waters, raising tensions between Turkey and several European nations in recent months.
Media affirms that Sarraj’s resignation enters into force, the maritime accord along with other points of Ankara-Tripoli cooperation may be complicated by turmoil in the Libyan political sphere.
“Turkey has only one piece of paper regarding that maritime accord and it happens to [bear] Sarraj’s name,” Jalel Harchaoui, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute who focuses on Libya, told Al-Monitor. He added, “If people keep pushing, which I believe is one of the reasons Sarraj is using this moment to signal to the world he is interested in leaving at some future date, then Turkey better have a plan.”
“It is true that Sarraj has been weakened considerably following his spat with Bashagha and that he is currently up against increasingly overt opposition in Tripoli,” Alison Pargeter, a senior research fellow at King’s College London’s School of Security Studies, told Al-Monitor. “However, that does not necessarily mean he is ready to give it all up just yet.” She noted that Sarraj’s resignation would risk creating a political vacuum in western Libya that would further weaken and undermine the Presidency Council and the GNA. The move could also be detrimental to Tripoli-Ankara ties.
Emadeddin Badi, a nonresident senior fellow with the Middle East Program at the Atlantic Council, said the news of Sarraj’s resignation could be true but would have a limited impact on current developments. “It was already clear that the outcome of the Geneva talks would most likely lead to the formation of a new political entity, one that Sarraj would most likely not be part of,” Badi told Al-Monitor. “The potential resignation now only cements that reality.”
The developments come as Turkish and Russian officials meet in Ankara for technical talks on September 15th and 16th to discuss developments in Syria and Libya. “Maybe Turkey has a beautiful plan,” Harchaoui told Al-Monitor. “Maybe it has worked out every detail with Russia and knows exactly what to do — or it’s gradually losing control over this super complex thing called Libyan politics.”