In Libya, the foundation of Prime Minister Dbeibah weakened

Rockets fired on Sunday March 31 at a house of the clan of Abdel Hamid Dbeibah in the Libyan capital: the incident sounds like an alarm

In Libya, the foundation of Prime Minister Dbeibah weakened

Rockets fired on Sunday March 31 at a house of the clan of Abdel Hamid Dbeibah in the Libyan capital: the incident sounds like an alarm. An ill wind is blowing over the Government of National Unity (GUN) in Tripoli. The prime minister invested in 2021, until now adept at clearing away resistance to his power, in particular by purchasing civil peace thanks to budgetary populism generously financed by oil windfalls, has been facing, for several weeks, an erosion of his base policy.

Its supervision, de facto limited to Western Libya due to the persistent partition of the country, now comes up against a triple threat: the threat of financial drying up, the fragility of the security pact between militias in the region of Tripolitania and unresolved tensions with Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the “strong man” of Cyrenaica (East) where a parallel government operates. While Libya had experienced relative stability since the October 2020 ceasefire agreement between the two rival camps of East and West Libya, the rise in these tensions worries Western chancelleries. “Libya has disappeared from the international agenda, but we must not forget it, it can once again become a bomb that explodes in our faces,” warns a diplomat stationed in Tripoli.


The most difficult issue facing Mr. Dbeibah is undoubtedly the drying up of public funding which had until now allowed him to buy the loyalty of most of the militias in Tripoli. The governor of the Central Bank of Libya, Sadiq Al-Kebir, omnipotent and indestructible guardian of the Libyan Treasury, has refused for many months to release the required funds in the name of budgetary orthodoxy, thus fueling an acrimonious conflict between the two men.

In December 2023, a virulent argument reportedly broke out between Mr. Al-Kebir and Ibrahim Dbeibah, nephew and advisor to the Prime Minister, to the point that the governor of the central bank, fearing for his safety, had to take refuge for almost a month and a half in Turkey, before returning to Tripoli, according to a diplomatic source.

In the latest dispute between Mr. Al-Kebir and the head of government of Tripoli, the governor imposed a 27% tax on foreign currency transactions, a measure intended to stem the squandering of foreign exchange reserves and the concomitant fall in the value of the dinar on the black market, a source of inflationary tensions.

The matter is all the more sensitive for Abdel Hamid Dbeibah as the solidity of his political base largely depends on his budgetary profligacy. “Dbeibah’s power is linked to the armed groups he supported,” underlines a diplomatic source. Financial asphyxiation would expose him to an existential crisis. » Under these conditions, a security slippage in Tripoli cannot be excluded the day after Eid – around April 10 –, this source warns. Tensions are already high between the coalition of militias supporting Dbeibah – such as Mahmoud Hamza’s Brigade 444 – and the one that ensures the security of the central bank, Abdul Rauf Kara’s Rada Force.

“Corruption Pact”

Another breach weakening this “security pact”, which had generally stabilized Tripolitania since 2020, opened on the Tunisian-Libyan border at the Ras Jedir crossing point. On March 18, clashes broke out between local forces controlling the area since the 2011 revolution, mainly from the Amazigh (Berber) commune of Zouara, and units dispatched to the area by the Minister of interior of the GUN, Emad Al-Trabelsi, in the name of “security of the state borders” and the “fight against smuggling”.

One of the sources of the conflict lies in the regional origin of Mr. Al-Trabelsi. The latter is in fact a native of Zinten, a town with an Arab population whose militias clashed in the years 2014-2015 with Amazigh armed groups in this part of western Libya. “The clash around Ras Jedir comes mainly from an economic rivalry for the control of contraband with Tunisia,” observes a Libyan analyst. At this stage, he has no identity. But if it is poorly managed, it could evolve into an ethnic conflict between the Amazigh and Arab population.

Finally, the third front on which Mr. Dbeibah sees the noose tightening around him: an increasingly complicated relationship with Marshal Haftar who, from his stronghold of Benghazi, reigns supreme over Cyrenaica. The day after his arrival, in 2021, at the head of the Tripoli government, Mr. Dbeibah managed to establish rather peaceful relations with Mr. Haftar, going against the West-East divide which had dominated Libyan political life since the revolution of 2011. But the lull, allowed by the ceasefire of October 2020, was more of a “corruption pact”, according to the formula then used by Libyan analysts, than of a lasting reconciliation.

“NATO Southern Flank”

The proof was that Mr. Haftar wasted no time – in February 2022 – in inspiring the creation of a parallel government, called “national stability” (GSN), based in Benghazi. Since then, negotiations between the two camps – led mainly by Ibrahim Dbeibah and Saddam Haftar (son of the marshal) – with a view to reunifying the two authorities have failed. “Mr. Haftar is very greedy, he demands the main portfolios,” confides the diplomatic source. Mr. Haftar appears to have recently upped the ante by behind the scenes supporting the central bank governor in his tug-of-war with Mr. Dbeibah. Mr. Al-Kebir has in fact received the ostensible support of Aguila Salah, the president of Parliament – ​​based in Tobruk –, controlled by the marshal.

Also, difficulties are piling up for the head of government of Tripoli. Few analysts, however, venture to predict its imminent fall, the absence of an alternative personality in western Libya working in its favor. Instead of short-term upheaval, Libya risks continuing to languish in a noxious stalemate amid the growing influence of two foreign states: Turkey and Russia. A new development is that the latter are opening up from their historical settlement area: Tripolitania for Ankara and Cyrenaica for Moscow, to now plow the lands of the West and the East indiscriminately.

Washington no longer hides its concern. While they had closed their embassy in Tripoli in the post-2011 chaos, the Americans are seeking to reopen their diplomatic representation, as revealed on March 11 in a budget request for $12.7 million ($12 million euros) sent for this purpose by the Department of State to Congress. The document cites "Russia's growing influence on NATO's southern flank" among the motivations for this return to Libya, an allusion to the presence of the Russian paramilitary group Africa Corps (from the Wagner Group) in Cyrenaica, under the umbrella of Marshal Haftar. A new strategic equation in the making?