From the remote and historic town of Ghat in the south-western reaches of Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar again delivered a message to the Libyan people, encouraging them to take control of their future amid a political impasse and upheaval in the country.
Haftar came down hard on Libya's political class in his speech on Monday evening, blaming them for the "dark" direction Libya has been sliding down in recent years. Haftar described Libya's politicians as "warring throne worshippers", a clear reference to the power struggle between the two parallel governments headed by Dbeibé and Bashagha.
"There is no choice but the uprising and revolution of the people against the miserable reality of the country," Haftar exclaimed to the audience, whom he made the protagonists of Libya's political future as the "source of authority". The field marshal of the Libyan National Army has maintained this same line of discourse for months, highly critical of the poor progress of the House of Representatives and the Government of National Unity.
Nor did Haftar reserve any compliments for foreign powers with interests in Libya, which he accuses of further destabilising the political climate in the country. The message comes just weeks after Turkish diplomacy took a step forward in an attempt to position itself as a mediator in the Libyan crisis. Erdogan's proposal is said not to have had much traction among Libyan leaders. Turkey still maintains a strong military presence, as well as through contractors, who have taken up positions around the capital of Tripoli. So far there is no evidence that Turkey intends to withdraw its military presence in Libya.
According to a report by the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies by analyst Felipe Sánchez Tapia, Turkish President Erdogan is trying to penetrate the country in order to increase his influence in Africa, access energy resources, face regional competition from Egypt and delimit sovereignty spaces in the eastern Mediterranean. With these interests, Ankara seeks a political solution after clashes between rival groups have intensified in the country.
" The people have no choice but to take responsibility for themselves, without representatives, to achieve the desired change," the marshal said in his speech, according to the Arab media Al-Arab. "The battle to build the state must be fought by the people with the cooperation of the army, peacefully and against the hypocrites, the corrupt and the absurd politicians," the field marshal added to cheers from the Ghat crowd.
Haftar had already warned that his troops would not stand idly by in the face of the chaos in Libya when heavy fighting broke out in Tripoli at the end of August between militias close to Fathi Bashagha and militiamen of Dbeibé's Government of National Unity. Since then, the shadow of a manu militari intervention by the Libyan National Army has hung over the Libyan scene. At least Haftar's warnings have been repeated from town to town for several weeks. This could be interpreted as an attempt by the military leader to gather sufficient popular support before taking the final step.
The situation is not yet critical. The avenues for dialogue are open for now. Proof of this is the recent tacit understanding between the Libyan National Army and the National Unity Government to unblock Libya's oil production, the country's most important source of revenue, which was threatened by militias close to Bashagha during May. This was not a gift from Haftar. In return, the Dbeibé government pledged to pay the salaries of members of the armed forces under Haftar's control. A sine qua non to avoid mutinies and desertions among the ranks of what is, so far, Libya's most capable military group.
Haftar also reached an agreement to put a man he trusts at the head of the National Oil Corporation, Farhat bin Qadara. The Dbeibé executive's compliance with Haftar's demands would tip the balance in the military's favour. If the GNU is so concerned about having the military on its side, it could mean a negative prognosis for Libya and a potential preparation for an escalation of conflict.
It is possible that Dbeibé, in a headlong rush, will seek more international support to further fortify his foothold in Tripoli and secure his back in the event of a change in Haftar's stance. International analysts point to the danger of Dbeibé's intentions to shake hands with Erdogan and get Ankara more involved militarily in the region.