Cairo-Libyan General Khalifa Haftar turned the tables on his rivals in a move reminiscent to actions taken by his ancestors, who launched their campaigns to rule the country from Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya.
Haftar can now pave the way for a new era under his reign after he was able to control about 60 percent of oil resources and Libyan ports.
His capture of the oil ports sparked rumors that he would be able to bring the rest of the country under his authority.
The former head of the legal community for the conference of Libyan tribes, Dr. Mohammed al-Zubaidi, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that the army under Haftar’s control confused the world after his advance on the so-called oil crescent region although the international community has banned him from receiving military equipment.
“Expect more surprises from the Libyan armed forces,” he said.
The problem between Libya’s east, which is mainly tribal, and its west began during the parliamentary elections of 2014.
When the U.N. interfered to resolve infighting, the Government of National Accord led by Fayez al-Sarraj was created in a deal struck in the Moroccan town of Skhirat following one year of negotiations between the rival parties.
But tribes in the east felt marginalized after the international community backed officials in Tripoli and Sirte, which lie in the country’s west.
The parliament had been required to take several measures, such as mentioning the Skhirat agreement in Libya’s interim Constitutional Declaration and resolving the controversial clause of the Presidential Council’s role in managing the affairs of the military and intelligence.
It was also expected to give Sarraj its vote of confidence to allow his government to function.
It was then that leaders in the country’s west began accusing tribes in the east and the National Army led by Haftar of preventing the parliament from giving its confidence vote to Sarraj.
When he failed to win the backing of the parliament, Sarraj began holding talks with officials based in western Libya and abroad. He ended up taking several decisions backed by U.N. special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler to end the crisis.
Yet his move complicated the problem with officials based in the east, mainly the parliament, the army and several tribes.
The Presidential Council is not in a good situation, said Tareq al-Quzairi, one of the advisers of the political deal that led to the Council’s establishment.
Its instability comes as analysts predict Benghazi to become the key to political and military change in Libya. Benghazi, which is the second largest city in Libya, has a mixture of tribes from across the country.
The future of the country’s political process lies in whatever Benghazi’s leaders agree on.
A quick reminder on how the east had a major role in the country’s political life: the army that liberated Libya from mandate in the 1940s came up with its plan in the east, the independence speech of the king from the presidential palace in the 1950s was also given in the east.
The young officer, Muammar Gaddafi, chose the east as a starting point for his movement which brought him to power in 1969. The 17 February revolution, which toppled him in 2011, also started from the country’s eastern regions.
When Sarraj proclaimed himself the commander in chief of the army by luring some militias to fight ISIS in Sirte and when he sought to receive the backing of tribes in the east in an attempt to unite Libyans behind him, the parliament, the tribes and Haftar ruined his plans.
Dr. al-Zubaidi said that pro-Gaddafi military leaders and officials from the 17 February revolution that toppled him participated in the “liberation of the oil ports in the eastern region from militias.”
They are also “setting the stage for their move south and to the west of the country,” he said.
Al-Zubaidi expressed surprise at Kobler’s call for Haftar’s army to withdraw from the oil crescent region.
The army proved its patriotism when it handed over the ports to the National Oil Company (NOC), which falls under Sarraj’s authority, and allowed it to resume oil exports.
By controlling the ports, the army cut the road short to attempts to divide Libya or create a federal system in the country.
This also forced Sarraj to “adopt a calm rhetoric and called for dialogue,” said al-Zubaidi.
Al-Quzairi warned that the country’s south and the areas lying near the capital Tripoli would witness escalated measures if no agreements and political deals were struck between the rival parties.
But what concerns Libyans the most is the export of oil and whether its revenues would go to the east or west. Al-Quzairi said that Haftar sought to contain the anger of Western countries and the U.N. Security Council by allowing the NOC to export the oil.