Libya sends forces to stop protests after official met Israeli minister

The National  /  September 1, 2023

Activists had called for further demonstrations against government of national unity and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.

Dozens of military vehicles, some armed with heavy weapons, were stationed on major roads and traffic intersections on Friday in Libya’s capital Tripoli, to prevent further protests over former foreign minister Najla al-Mangoush’s meeting with her Israeli counterpart last week.

Activists had renewed calls for demonstrations against the interim government of national unity and Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh over the meeting.

Omar Tarban, head of the Beltress activist group, said more than 16 people were detained by security forces during protests earlier in the week. Most of them were later released.

Al-Mangoush was removed from her position following news of her meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Rome, which the Libyan Foreign Ministry said was “unplanned”.

Libya does not recognize Israel and it backs the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Investigations are continuing into the conduct by the Libyan official, who has had a travel ban issued against her, although The National was able to confirm that she left the country and headed to Turkey on Monday.

It is thought she may now be in the UK.

The arrests, and Friday’s heavy security presence, underscore the increasingly precarious position of the GNU amid a concerted push by Libyan factions to replace it with a new administration.

In a noticeable shift last week, the UN envoy said a unified government was a prerequisite for elections in Libya, moving from its previous stance that a national vote should go ahead without changing the administration.

Libya has had little peace or stability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Qaddafi.

The country was split in 2014 between warring factions that claimed rival governments and legislative bodies.

Major warfare paused in 2020 but a political process to unify Libya and hold elections has stalled, with the eastern-based parliament and other parts of the political system rejecting the GNU’s legitimacy.

Powerful armed factions in Tripoli have continued to back Dbeibeh and they stopped a rival government appointed by the parliament from taking office in the capital during a day of fighting last year.

However, clashes last month between those same factions in Tripoli that are aligned with Dbeibeh underscored the risk of further warfare without a stable political settlement.