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A weakened Khalifa Haftar means more instability for Libya

A weakened Khalifa Haftar means more instability for Libya
From Al Jazeera - April 17, 2018

After a week of speculations, claims and counter-claims, it looks like General Khalifa Haftar may have survived a serious illness and is currently recovering in a French military hospital. Initial rumours that he was dead went viral on social media and spread alarm and confusion among his supporters.

On Friday evening, a tweet by the UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) confirming that the UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame had talked to him by phone dispelledthese speculations.

Meanwhile, what became clear is that 75-year-old Haftar has health problems which could make him politically weaker and may even incapacitate him as time goes on. Judging by the panicked reactions among his supporters, it is also clear that a weakened Haftar, possibly dependent on constant medical care, would bring instability within the ranks of the Libyan National Army (LNA) present mainly in the east of Libya.

The LNA is composed of a disparate mixregular troops, tribal armed groups, and Salafists, which only Haftar could keep together with a degree of cohesion.

Playing the role of both a military and a political leader, the general rallied support for his "anti-terror" Operation Dignity from the main tribes of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya, as well as Salafi groups backed heavily by Saudi Arabia. He also enjoyed unlimited regional support from the UAE and Egypt, as well as international support from France and to a lesser extent Russia.

The dilemma all these stakeholders are facing is how to keep the Haftar's camp intact when the founding figure that has been holding all the strings together has been weakened. No military leader with the same level of authority and respect as Haftar has emerged to serve as an obvious replacement. This means that there will be a fierce competition for power among different LNA factions and support groups, which would have a destabilising effect not only in the east, but the whole of Libya.

Tribal antagonisms

Haftar, who belongs to the Furjan tribe of western Libya, has promoted his own sons and many of his cousins to leading command positions in the LNA.

On the other hand, he also purged leading figures, especially from the Awaqir tribe, based mainly in Benghazi and surrounding areas. Awaqir leaders offered him crucial support in setting up the LNA and the Operation Dignity four years ago.

Faraj Egayem, a key commander belonging to the Awaqir tribe, was among those who Haftar turned against. Egayem was working closely with the general, but fell out with him eventually and joined the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli as a deputy interior minister.

In November, Hafter rounded up Egayem and many of his followers and put them under arrest. This has precipitated much agitation and anger within the Awaqir tribe, who demand the release of their people and may seek to take advantage of the uncertainty within the LNA and settle scores with Haftar's sons and cousins.

Who may succeed Haftar?

Haftar has never appointed a deputy that can take over command of the LNA after him. If and when the time comes for a replacement to be chosen, UAE and Egypt, along with the tribes which support Hafter (mainly the Magharba, Baraasa, Hasa and Obaidat) will have a final say on who gets picked.

Consequences for the peace process

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