Qatar- Tripoli volatile as push for unity government stalls
(MENAFN - The Peninsula) Children on the beach watch as Libyans take part in a local windsurfing competition inTripoliin this April 19 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/Files
By Aidan Lewis and Ahmed Elumami
TRIPOLI: Five years after the uprisingthat overthrew Muammar Gaddafi Tripoli is on edge somewherebetween peace and war.
There is a semblance of normal life in the Libyan capitaland glimpses of the unexpected - kite surfers zip across choppywaves and a group of amateur cyclists in matching kit pedalalong a seafront highway.
Yet the armed groups that control the city are an unsettlingpresence. Gunmen in balaclavas staff checkpoints on key roadsand armed brigades have been flexing their muscles in late-nightparades.
It is here that a unity government nominated abroad under aU.N.-backed plan is hoping to set up shop.
But two months after the deal was signed with limited Libyansupport Reuters interviews with residents and officials and astring of recent incidents show that resistance from hardlinersin both Tripoli and the east is still getting tractionshrinking the space for the plan to succeed.
The hardliners in Tripoli present themselves as the trueguardians of the uprising protecting Libya against acounter-revolution and foreign meddling. Those in the east claimto be saving the country from Islamist extremism.
Both speak for some of the armed factions that hold realpower in Libya and are scared of losing influence protectionand access to the country's rapidly dwindling financialresources in a political transition.
In Tripoli's Martyrs' Square where families stroll pastdozens of men saying prayers at sunset some support the unitygovernment saying they are fed up with violence cash shortages
and rising prices.
"We've had enough" said Fardous Boukhatwa whose family wasdisplaced by fighting in Benghazi and was visiting Tripoli withthree of her children. "There is only one solution -reconciliation and forgiveness."
But others echo the criticism of the Tripoli hardliners."The United Nations did not play the role of mediator it wasbiased towards the east" said Abdulkarim Sadiq a retiredteacher from the suburb of Janzour. "They cannot bring peace toLibya - they just add fuel to the fire."
A group of teenage boys mention photos they saw on Facebookof Prime Minister-designate Fayez Seraj meeting the commander ofLibya's eastern military forces Khalifa Haftar a former
Gaddafi ally deeply mistrusted in the west.
For nearly two years Tripoli has been under the control ofarmed factions that formed an alliance known as Libya Dawn toseize control of the capital.
They reinstated the old parliament the General NationalCongress (GNC) and the newly elected chamber moved east toTobruk.
The Dawn alliance has now splintered. Key brigades have saidthey will provide security for the unity government but thesituation is volatile.
Under the U.N.-backed plan the GNC is meant to form aconsultative chamber and a few dozen moderates have beenholding meetings in preparation.
After their third session was disrupted by protesters lastweek one of those attending Bilqasem Eggzait said they mighthave to consider meeting in a different city.
The same day a group that regularly protests against theunity government in Martyrs' Square appeared on a popular TVstation to proclaim the unity government "illegal" and warn of
"bloodshed and a fire of sedition" in the capital.
Early on Friday the man nominated to head the State Councilsaid rocket-propelled grenades were fired at his Tripoli office.
The U.N. envoy to Libya swiftly condemned the incident thoughthe property later appeared undamaged.
On Sunday three members of the committee tasked withpreparing security in Tripoli for the new government werebriefly detained drawing further U.N. condemnation.
The chances of major clashes if the unity government came toTripoli were small because a majority of Libyans support itsaid Eggzait.
But with a unified security force to build and oil revenuesat a fraction of their former value the government would needto cut salaries for brigades of former rebels who added tens ofthousands of men to the state payroll after the revolution andthis would be difficult. "Politics in Tripoli is not aboutideology it's about money" he said.
A car ferrying passengers stops at a security checkpoint at the Ras Jdir border between Libya and Tunisia 175 km west ofTripoliin this December 15 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/Files
While recent violence in Tripoli has been limited tooccasional gunfights and isolated clashes Benghazi Libya'ssecond city has been a battleground for Haftar's forces and acollection of armed groups including Islamic State.
After previous promises to "liberate" the city came tonothing over the past two weeks the military has taken controlof several key areas allowing some residents to return to theirhomes and start repairing war-torn streets.
In the recently secured neighbourhood of Laithi 42-year-oldfather of four Khairy Mohamed al-Qatrani said he had been ableto return to his house "thanks to Khalifa Haftar whose Karama
(Dignity) operation has thwarted the plans of Islamic State totake control of Benghazi".
Qatrani said he hoped the army would be a neutral force inthe future but the military deadlock was broken as Haftar'sallies in the eastern parliament the House of Representatives(HOR) continued to block approval of the unity governmentwhich includes Mahdi al-Bargathi a Haftar rival as defenceminister.
The recent military push "very much has to do with Haftar'sneed to reassert himself as the saviour of the east in the faceof challenges within his own camp" said Issandr El Amrani
North Africa director for International Crisis Group.
A majority of HOR members signed a declaration of supportfor the new government but complained that hardliners hadresorted to threats and physical force to prevent a vote.
A "crisis of trust" in the Tobruk chamber meant that votingto approve the government there had become impossible lawmakerAyman al-Nasr told Reuters.
Western diplomats who say they can only provide sustainedsupport for the fight against Islamic State in Libya at therequest of a unity government have looked on with growingexasperation.
The extremist group is in control of Gaddafi's home town ofSirte and has expanded to several other cities. This year it haslaunched a series of attacks on facilities in Libya's coastal
Diplomats may now have to accept a return to negotiationswhich could be complicated by the military advances in Benghaziand Haftar's enduring popularity.
Critics of the unity government plan say it was pushedthrough prematurely before Libya's powerful armed factions werebrought on board.
Unless this happens with help from the regional powers thathave backed both sides - Egypt and the United Arab Emirates inthe east Turkey and Qatar in the west - Libya's conflict will
not be resolved said Amrani.
"The political guys who stand in as proxies cannot negotiatefor them at the end of the day" he said.