Social unrest in Libya amid political chaos

Social unrest in Libya amid political chaos

Stuck in an inextricable political stalemate, rival leaders in Libya find themselves under increasing pressure from the streets on Saturday in the aftermath of protests across the country sparked by chronic power cuts in the midst of a heat wave.

Calm seems to have returned on Saturday to Tobruk, in the far east of the country, where demonstrators forced the entrance to Parliament on Friday with the help of a bulldozer before setting it on fire. Internet users have called for new protests in the city in the evening.

The demonstrators, some of whom waved the green flag of the former regime of Muammar Gaddafi, shouted their anger at the carelessness of their leaders and the deterioration of living conditions in a country nevertheless endowed with the most abundant oil reserves in Africa.

The Parliament is one of the symbols of the division of Libya between a camp based in Cyrenaica (East), whose leader is Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and a government based in Tripoli (west), led since 2021 by Abdelhamid Dbeibah.

The Haftar camp supports a rival government formed last March. His supporters have been blocking key oil installations since mid-April as a means of pressure to dislodge the executive from Tripoli.

Saturday evening, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (ANL) of Marshal Haftar said in a press release “support the demands of citizens”, while calling on the demonstrators to “preserve public property”.

“It is clear that no political entity enjoys legitimate control over the entire country and any effort to impose a unilateral solution will result in violence,” said the US ambassador. in Tripoli, Richard Norland. He urged “Libyan leaders and their foreign supporters to restore citizens’ confidence in the country’s future”.

– “Extremely painful” –

If no large-scale gathering took place on Saturday, demonstrators blocked roads in the port city of Misrata (west), after ransacking and burning the headquarters of the City Council the day before, according to a local journalist.

Thousands of people pounded the pavement across the country on Friday, from Benghazi (east) to the capital Tripoli in the west, passing through the eastern cities of Tobruk and al-Baida, as well as in Sebha in the desert south. .

“We want to have light”, chanted the demonstrators, referring to the power cuts which lasted a dozen hours daily, even 18 hours on hot days.

“For more than a year, the overwhelming majority of diplomatic and mediation efforts regarding Libya have been monopolized by the notion of elections, which will not take place for at least two years, given the failure of negotiations in Geneva on Thursday under the auspices of the UN,” analyst Jalel Harchaoui, a specialist in Libya, told AFP.

However, the economy “probably should have been everyone’s real top priority”, he said. “On this front, the year 2022 has been extremely difficult for Libyans, for several reasons: Libya imports almost all its food and the war in Ukraine has affected consumer prices, as in many countries in the region. “

The key energy sector, which in the time of Gaddafi, killed during the popular revolt of 2011, made it possible to finance a welfare state, has been a collateral victim of political divisions since mid-April, with a wave of forced closures of oil sites. , the result of a standoff between the two rival governments.

– “Unacceptable” –

The National Petroleum Company (NOC) said on Thursday that the oil blockades also led to a drop in the production of gas needed to supply the electricity grid.

Since the fall of Gaddafi, Libya has known a dozen governments, several wars between rival forces and has never managed to organize a presidential election.

In addition to power cuts, Libyans live to the rhythm of cash and gasoline shortages. The infrastructures are flat, the services failing.

In the East as in the West, militias carry out “intense traffics which cause serious shortages of gasoline for the ordinary population. Finally, there is kleptocracy, the systematic corruption in the East as in the West that the beautiful cars and villas of the elites constantly remind the general public”, underlined Mr. Harchaoui.

For the ambassador of the European Union in Libya, José Sabadell, the demonstrations “confirm that people want change through elections and their voice must be heard”.

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