By Vanessa Tomassini.
This interview originally appeared on the Italian “Strumenti Politici“.
Tunis – Zawiya, 18 January 2021 – Western Libya remains of fundamental interest for European governments, and in particular for Italy. Following the failure of the offensive launched by General Khalifa Haftar on 4 April 2019, the area remains in constant turmoil. In early January, Interior Minister in the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fathi Bashagha, announced an imminent major offensive by his Turkish-backed Libyan government forces in the west of the country to kill militants and target human traffickers, and called on the United States to assist.
In an interview with the international press, Bashaga expressed his hope that the US would support the upcoming ‘Snake Hunting’ operation in the west, adding that Turkey had already promised support for it. But that of the ambitious Minister Bashagha is not the only initiative in place. Libyan Parliament Member Ali Mohamed Busriba, deputy for the Zawiya region, is enjoying great consensus in the western region, relaunching a bottom-up national reconciliation process.
Thank you, Dr Busriba, for accepting this interview. Can you tell us more about your vision?
“As you are watching Libya from 2011 until today, and you know well what’s happening, I will focus on the recent developments in the Western region. After the clashes between Warshefana and Zawiya, and many crises that occurred in that region, including kidnapping and other major crimes, we worked for years to reach a comprehensive reconciliation between the two cities. Today I can say we succeeded and Zawiya and Warshefana cities are in good relations, everything is fine between them. The authors of this reconciliation were the youth and young leaders. The Tripoli-based Government, nor the Eastern government, intervened in this reconciliation, which is the result of self-efforts from young local leaders. Following the agreement between the two municipalities, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) tried to officialize this accord in New York. But the first boost for this initiative came from Libya. The UN has never entered this conflict until the reconciliation took place. It’s a Libyan -Libyan process. We are and we were going to start a real reconciliation among Libyans two years ago, but because of the 4 April 2019 offensive, our efforts have been frozen. What makes us start this initiative in the entire Western Libya is the example of stability reached by Zawiya and Warshefana. Kidnappings and other crimes were reduced by 80-90%. From Zawiya, Warshefana, Sabratha, Sormon, Ajilat, etc we started to reach the young leaders in other municipalities, involving them in our reconciliation project to open a new page for Libya. We are going toward the South, proposing a new vision. We welcome with us the head of municipalities, tribes’ sheiks, and MPs as well. We have people also in Tripoli supporting our project. In Western Libya, organized crime was reduced by 80% and now this area is a green zone for all Libyans. On Wednesday there will be a big event with the participation of most of the Western Libya municipalities. We will declare the day of peace and demand all refugees outside Libya to come back to their homeland, including those supporting the LNA of Khalifa Haftar. On Sunday we invited young leaders from Bani Walid, from the Warfalla tribe, and those in Tarhouna as well. There are contacts with Southern Libya tribes, in particular Magarha, Gadadfa, Tebu, e Tuareg. We will build a real reconciliation in the Southern region to solve their problems and disputes between them. In this, we will play a mediator role. When an accord will be reached with the South, we will proceed toward the eastern region. We already started to weave contacts with Eastern tribes, involving them in our vision. We have instructed some sheiks from Western Libya to be messengers with their eastern counterparts. We are far from any extremist ideology as we are looking for peace to forget the past. We will never accept any upcoming war in Western Libya. We do not need any more fighting. We are not extremists, and we will never accept radical groups. There will be no more space for organized crime after reconciliation. We are sure there will not be any terrorist organization in Libya as nobody will protect or cover them. We will take Libya to the safest area.”
Saturday, you were in Corinthia Hotel and we saw many armed group leaders attended the event, like Muammar Al-Dawi from Warshefana. We would like to understand if you are talking as a politician or if you are representing also armed groups from Western Libya…
“First of all, I am a politician. But any project needs support from armed groups and military, I was the link between politicians and armed groups.”
Western Libya is very important for Italy, in particular the area that you are representing from Zuwara, Zawiya to Sabratha, concerning the illegal immigration phenomenon. How is the security situation on the ground, and how you think to stop this phenomenon?
“We discussed illegal immigration, and we will continue to talk about the modalities to counter this phenomenon. We asked the Presidential Council and its Agency against Illegal Immigration to support stability and national security. All the youths from western Libya will train and follow work-shops, so that this agency will be made up by all Libyans. We will work to stop the immigration flow from the South, not only on the coast. There is a smart plan to stop the immigration, it is very confidential, and I cannot talk about it for security reasons. What I am sure of, is that 60 days after the starting of our project, departures from Libya will be stopped. Western Libya will be out of any illegal business related to immigration or human trafficking. As well as for the terrorism.”
How is your relationship with Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha? What do you think of his recently announced ‘Snakes Hunting’ operation?
“I am a member of the Parliament, and Mr Fathi Bashagha is appointed Interior Secretary. His way of working is not operative and cannot be successful. He should work to collect young people around him, and not to attack them. He did not study the issue to solve it. Fathi Bashagha represents Western Libya and call his people, snakes. That is not acceptable at all. He did not mention some specific name. He used the word ‘snakes’ in referring to Western Libyan people. The region is a third of Libya; we are looking for stability across the country. There should be a serious study of the conflict in our region. We elaborated a plan in forty days to achieve stability. And it will be successful, without any agency or support from the Government of foreign power. Bashagha did not this. We are working, while he did not. We are not against any person or Interior minister, but we are against his policy to achieve stability. Bashagha is dealing with real politics, and this is not acceptable. Our message is: no city will prevail in Libya. We have to agree with the Government leadership, not with the imposition from a municipality on the others. Zawiya will let any upcoming political role to give the chance to other cities in sharing Government positions. We would like it if other cities will do the same of what Zawiya will do to succeed in building a new Libya”.
We think Minister Bashagha was referring to militias and human smugglers. Do you believe is it impossible to fight them directly on the ground? Is it better to adopt an approach of dialogue?
“First of all, Fathi Bashagha has had to name which brigades are responsible for human smuggling. This traffic is carried by some groups, by illegal fighters. After reconciliation, we will be united and there will not be smuggling anymore. We are waiting for the establishment of a new agency as I was telling you before. We are waiting for all this to be organized by a legitimate Government.”
In this context of reconciliation, how are the relations between Zawiya and the city of Misrata?
“Misrata is in the Middle region of Libya, is not part of the West. The start of our reconciliation process will be in the Western area. We reached Bani Walid and the South of Libya. We do not have any issue with the city of Misurata. It is part of us, and we will reach it as well.”
From outside, there is a feeling of an ongoing competition between Tripoli and Misrata armed groups. As you know, some of them are following the Presidential Council and some other the Interior Ministry. On the ground, is there this competition, or are just rumors?
“Let me clear with you that we are not looking for power, but just for reconciliation. It is a peaceful national movement to solve any conflict of the past between the cities. The competition is not between Misrata and Tripoli, or between Misrata and Zawiya. The competition is inside Misrata itself. The city is divided, groups following Fathi Bashagha, some with Ahmed Maiteeq, and some others loyal to Abdel Hamid Bdeiba. There is no competition between Misrata and other cities. But it is an internal issue. We say frankly that we, the Zawiya city, will not take any position on the next stage of sharing power. We are just watching, and we need peace.”
What do you think of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) facilitated by the UN? Will it succeed in appointing a new government for Libya?
“I don’t expect any progress from this dialogue as the representatives selected to participate in the LPDF don’t have the key or any recognition on the ground to take any decisions. We don’t know the criteria for their selections. I believe their selection process was not fair. I think any representative should be an educated person with a degree, with a strong background. But until today we don’t know on which criteria UNSMIL based to choose those people. So, I don’t think this initiative will succeed. We depend on ourselves to reach a national reconciliation.”
How you see the Serraj resignation? Do you think the President of the Presidential Council can form himself a new executive?
“For us, for the project we believe for a new Libya, we cannot interfere in any political competition. We recognize the Serraj executive as the legitimate government until real political progress has been achieved. We only any upcoming reconciliation among Libyans to unify the country and the institutions.”
After the self-styled LNA has withdrawn from Sabratha and Sormon, how is the situation there?
“The situation is secure at 80%. There are no particular problems. Our program will solve any issue on the Coastal Road from Tripoli to Ras Jedir in 60 days, and our goal is to reach security in the entire region.”