ISIS is the least of their problems, as Libya struggles with daily violence and economic distress.
On October 14, a former Prime Minister of Libya – Khalifa al-Ghwell – gathered some supporters at the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli and announced that he was the new head of government. It was a curious moment for this former engineer from the city of Misrata – the hotbed of the anti-Qaddafi uprising in 2011. Various militia outfits that support al-Ghwell surrounded the Rixos, but did not have the capacity to seize the main institutions of the country. It was more like a press conference than a declaration of a coup.
Amongst the gaggle of press were representatives of the television channel – Tanashah TV. This television channel is associated with the grand mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani who heads the Dar-al-Ifta (The Fatwa Council), Libya’s leading religious authority. It is said that al-Ghariani backed this ‘coup’ by al-Ghwell because both are in agreement that the United Nations-backed government should not be given legitimacy.
As it turned out, the ‘coup’ fizzled out and al-Ghwell went into hiding. He has enough muscle behind him to protect himself from the UN-backed government. That muscle is angry at the central government because they say that they have not been paid their salaries. For the militia fighters, it often comes down to material issues. Al-Ghwell and al-Ghariani, on the other hand, have more elevated grievances.
The European Union and the United States government had placed al-Ghwell on a sanctions regime earlier this year because he has publically refused to support the UN-backed government. He is not the only one.
In the east of the country, General Khalifa Haftar – a former Gaddafi-era general who defected to live for twenty-four years in the shadow of the CIA headquarters – leads the Libyan National Army. This is not the official army, for Libya, in essence, does not have a national army. It is Haftar’s militia, backed fully by various regional powers, and it has conducted its own war against Islamist groups in Benghazi and elsewhere. Haftar is not keen on the UN-backed government. But neither are his opponents in Benghazi, such as the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council (BRSC) and ISIS.