A tale of two Libyas

Attempts to interview the Tobruk government’s representative Al-Habib Al-Amin proved futile as the chargé d’affaires recognised by the Maltese government is refusing to give interviews - but Tripoli’s Hussin Musrati says that he wants Malta to respect the Libyan Constitutional Court’s decree his is the legitimate representative of Libya

Tripoli government chargé d’affaires Hussin Misrati (Photo: Chris Mangion)
Tripoli government chargé d’affaires Hussin Misrati (Photo: Chris Mangion)

As Libya descends into further chaos, the representative of the Tripoli government – which has so far not been recognised by the international community – believes that by the end of the year, peace will return to the troubled North African country. 

According to the Tripoli government’s chargé d’affaires Hussin Musrati, who has not been recognised by the Maltese government, Malta and the rest of the world will soon come to realise that his government is the legitimate representative of Libya.

“We expect the world to respect the Libyan Constitutional Court’s decree that the Tripoli government is the legitimate representative of Libya.” 

The Libyan parliament based in Tobruk recently announced it would not issue any visas to Maltese citizens, unless they are security-cleared. This latest step in the complication of Maltese-Libyan relations comes on the back of a tug-of-war between the Libya Dawn embassy based in Balzan, and the Tobruk-backed embassy that is now located in Ta’ Xbiex, both purporting to represent Libya.

On following a war of words between Musrati and the recognised chargé d’ affaires representing the Tobruk government – now based in Ta Xbiex – we were greeted at the desolate Balzan embassy by the diplomat and two aides. 

Attempts to interview the Tobruk government’s representative Al-Habib Al-Amin proved futile as the chargé d’affaires recognised by the Maltese government is refusing to give interviews. 

In recent months all reports emerging from Libya have been pointing towards a disintegrating country where reports of kidnappings in Tripoli are on the increase, electricity and water shortages have become the norm and not an exception, banks have run out of hard currency, the price of fuel – which has become a scarce commodity in the oil-rich country – is set to increase three-fold and pro-democracy activists are receiving real and online threats by Islamists who have occupied the city of Derna.

However, according to Musrati, all reports of violence, unrest and instability are mainly incorrect and reports in the Western media, including in Malta, are based on lies propagated by the Tobruk government. 

“From the northern shores to the desert in the south, almost the whole territory in Libya is under the control of the Salvation Government in Tripoli. At the moment there is some fighting to the east of Tripoli in a former army barracks which is surrounded by government forces.”

He added that Tripoli and the rest of the country is safe, “the universities and schools are open, banks are open, fuel stations are open and full of fuel and we only have a few energy outages because General Haftar is attacking power plants to create disgruntlement. But the Libyan people are holding protests all over the country showing their support for the Tripoli government.” 

Khalifa Haftar, a formerly rogue military leader who embarked on a self-styled ‘War on Terror’ against Islamists in Benghazi in the east and who now leads the recently rebranded ‘Libyan National Army’ in the attempts to retake Tripoli.

Musrati also blames the displacement of thousands of people on Libya Dawn’s siege on Warshefana, an area on the outskirts of Tripoli, which Musrati said was sheltering a number of escaped prisoners and criminals. 

Last year, the disbanded Libyan General National Congress that was replaced by the House of the Representatives in an election in June nominated an Islamist-backed prime minister, leaving the chaotic country with two rival prime ministers, governments and parliaments, each backed by armed militias.

On one side is the newly elected parliament that has been exiled to the eastern city of Tobruk – supported by what remains of Gaddafi soldiers who defected during the 2011 revolution, as well as regional powers like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. On the other side is Libya Dawn, a self-described revolutionary coalition of militiamen and Islamist-leaning politicians that originated in the western city of Misrata, ostensibly backed by Turkey and Qatar.

The international community, including the EU, recognise the government in exile in the eastern city of Tobruk as Libya’s legitimate government and its armed forces are currently engaged in a military operation to retake Tripoli, which is controlled by the self-declared government backed by the Libya Dawn militias, which include Islamist extremist groups affiliated to Al Qeada.

According to the UN, tribal rivalries and politically-driven armed conflict in Libya have caused hundreds of deaths and forced more than 200,000 people to flee their homes in recent months.

Insisting that the Tobruk government was declared “null” by the Libyan Constitutional Court on 6 November 2014, Musrati said that the real representatives of the Libyan people was the reinstated GNC led by Omar al-Hasi.

But why was Al-Hasi was appointed Prime Minister a month before the Constitutional Court’s ruling?

“The Tripoli government took an oath on 6 September 2014 in front of the GNC which the legitimate representative of the Libyan people.”

Asked by which authority the GNC is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people, he said that following Constitutional changes implemented by the 17 February Committee, the GNC is the only legal representative of the people because the handover between the old and the new parliament was “never affected properly”.

On the presence of ISIS in Libya and Libya Dawn’s coalition with Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia, Musrati said, “Islam is a religion of peace and the Koran does not tell us to kill non-believers. The Koran does not oblige us to convert people to Islam but we should spread peace and show mercy to people of other faith.” 

He adds that Islamist fighters only amount to a few hundreds and the information which the Maltese media is getting is incorrect.

But there isn’t much peace and love in Libya, with different factions fighting each other to death.

“We believe in dialogue but we refuse to allow Libya to be controlled by Gaddafi loyalists and we will not engage with violent factions.”

However, the career diplomat who defected from the Gaddafi regime in February 2011 while serving at the Libyan embassy in Beijing comments that, “our religion orders us to believe in peace but if anyone refuses to enter dialogue, the Koran orders us to fight them back.” 

Despite an imminent attack on Tripoli by Haftar, Musrati is adamant the Libya Dawn backed government will prevail and “by the end of the year there will be peace and the Maltese media will be sorry for believing the false propaganda they are propagating”.

Asked if the country will split in two, Musrati said the Tobruck parliament has been abandoned by most of its MPs and the isolated government who is pushing for the separation of the country has no support and no control over any territory in Libya.