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France and Egypt flipping their game in Libya from Haftar to Bashagha

The all-independent and boss of many an armed group in Libya – in Misurata and Tripoli to name a few – Fathi Bashagha: the Interior Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) is probably the man who is drifting France and Egypt’s support from Khalifa Haftar toward himself.

The Interior Minister of the GNA, who comes from Misurata city, has been a very articulate figure – all over the last couple of years since his tenure started in October 2018 – about many issues related to armed groups operating outside the Interior Ministry’s security apparatuses, and somehow managed to integrate quite a number of them.

Bashagha has also been a very active GNA official regarding the security status in Tripoli as well as across western Libya, and to that end, he has been a very popular figure in the Tripoli war from April 2019 to June 2020. The war between Haftar’s forces, backed by France, Egypt and UAE as well as Russia, and GNA forces backed mainly by Turkey via a number of official defense and security agreements, led to the revival of the UN-led dialogue based on the Berlin Conference tracks: political, economic, and military.

The Man for Change

After the war on Tripoli somehow calmed, as both forces drew lines of contact around Sirte and Jufra in central Libya, UN-led efforts continued tireless and eventually paid off with an agreement of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission – military officials from the GNA and Haftar’s forces – to a permanent ceasefire that sees all foreign elements and mercenaries depart Libya and all local forces return to their previous positions.

Since the ceasefire in Geneva was signed, Bashagha seemed to have started his panoramic vision for a change in the composition of GNA ties and relations to certain stakeholders, namely: France and Egypt.

Bashagha flew to Paris in November just after the failure to decide on mechanisms to elect new executive authority in Libya by the first round of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in Tunisia. He went to Paris to seek the assistance of French security companies to be his key to a real connection with the Élysée .

Bets were high at the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum on Bashagha to be named the new Libyan Prime Minister of the potentially new executive authority that the dialogue would result in. His name as well as Aqila Saleh’s – the Speaker of the House of Representatives in eastern Libya – made the 75 dialogue members shy of success at their first, second and third round of meetings.

In Paris, Bashagha met the Foreign, Interior and Defense Ministers of France, and he signed a memorandum of understanding on closer French security cooperation, a move that could later root for the ambitious Interior Minister to become Libya’s top man in power – the new Prime Minister; replacing Fayez Al-Sarraj, who has been off the spotlight since the ceasefire signing last October.

Though Bashagha’s visit to France was considered by some GNA officials or supporters as a betrayal of “the sacrifices of the martyrs who were killed in Haftar’s war backed by France”, the man managed to secure himself a possible ally when his name comes top of the list of candidates for the new Libyan Prime Minister, and probably he managed to secure another Haftar-camp ally: Egypt.

Keep Your Enemies Closer

The visit to Egypt was before embarking on striking a security MoU with France and thus, Bashagha; was obviously keen on courting his government’s so-called enemies: those who covertly backed Haftar’s war on Tripoli; in other words, those who supported the overthrow of GNA and with it Bashagha himself.

Yet, the ambitious Interior Minister paid his visit to Egypt in early November and held talks on issues of joint interests to strengthen security cooperation and unite efforts to confront terrorism and organized crime in a way that preserves the national security of the two countries.

Bashagha’s talks in Cairo and later MoUs in Paris showed in a blindingly obvious manner that the man’s name is one of the very few names to be candidates for the new Libyan executive authority as per the interim period to take place in Libya until December 24, 2021, when the country goes for general elections: as agreed upon by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum and approved by the Presidential Council.

His moves also paid off in a first official Egyptian visit to Libya’s capital, Tripoli, in over five years, as a delegation headed by the Head of Libyan Files at the Egyptian Presidency and Deputy Chief of Intelligence Ayman Badie, accompanied by a number of officials on December 27. The delegation met with Bashagha and other GNA officials, agreeing on reopening Cairo’s embassy in Tripoli, resuming diplomatic ties and allowing Libyan flights back at Egyptian airports.

It has become crystal clear, even without tackling Egypt President Abdel fatal El Sisi’s visit to France in the same month of all Bashagha’s moves to present himself as the man for change, that the Misuratan is keen on occupying the top official place of the new executive authority that is still being deliberated by the UN-led political dialogue, however; what is a bit blurry here is Haftar’s position. Will he be abandoned by his long-time supporters for the man from inside Tripoli?

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