What lies behind the continuous oil blockades in Libya? Conversation with Mohammed El Garj

By Vanessa Tomassini.

Oil and Gas Minister Mohamed Aoun revealed that general oil production in Libya rose to 1,100 million barrels per day on Tuesday 8 March after the El Sharara and El Feel fields returned to operation. In recent days, we have seen frequent closures of oil fields. Libyan journalist Mohammed El Garj, specialized in security and economics, research associate for Gatham House and former staff member of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), help us to understand more.

Thank you, Mohammed, for accepting this interview. We are seeing frequent oil field shutdowns; what happened in Rayana, Sharara and the El-Feel?

“The facilities guard, Rayana branch, ordered to close the valves.  During an attack by armed militias from the Tuareg on the El Sharara field, the valves of the El-Feel field were exposed to a barrage of bullets and sabotage.  As a result, Muhammad Bashir Al-Qarj closed the valves of Rayana”.

Who is responsible for these closures and what are their demands?

“As I was saying, the responsible for the closure is Muhammad Bashir Al-Qarj, who is in command of the Oil Facilities Guard, Al-Rayana Branch. Their role is to secure and protect the oil valves that pass through the Al-Rayana area and come from the Sharara and El Feel fields. The closure of the valves came as a result of the deterioration of the miserable general living situation, which is not hidden from anyone, from the high rates of foreign exchange, the rise in the prices of basic materials, the scarcity of liquidity, the shortage of medicines, electricity cuts, and the shortage of fuel and its derivatives and public services. Like those who shut down oil in the south and in the Western generation complain about economic injustice and that they are self-protecting and guarding, but they do not receive any benefits from Libyan oil.”

Do you think the closure of oil fields is linked to the current political situation?

“From my point of view, yes, and I am suspicious of the head of the National Oil Corporation (NOC) actions.  Mustafa Sanallah is having a strange behavior and causing a lot of problems since he took over the oil file in Libya, and he is changing company managers so that there is no stability in the administrations of oil companies. There are many charges against him regarding suspicious deals in the oil sector.”

Are the Petroleum Facility Guards also divided between supporters of Fathi Bashagha and Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba?  Or do they have anything to do with the conflict between Minister Mohamed Aoun and Mustafa Sanallah?

“I believe they have a greater relationship in the conflict between Muhammad Aoun and Sanalla’s liquidator than their involvement in the political problem between Fathi Bashagha and Abdel Hamid al-Dabaiba.”

Is it true that Mustafa Sanallah is using armed groups to embarrass the oil minister?

“From my point of view, as a journalist and observer, yes this is true. Mustafa Sanallah deals with different standards with the problems of closing the oil, and it has been proven that he was involved more than once in the closure’s cases in a strange way, and his problems with his boss, the Minister of Oil are unjustified, and that is considered a violation of the law and rebellion”.

What do you think of this conflict?

“The legal opinion says that the Minister of Oil, according to Libyan law, is responsible for this file, but Mustafa Sanallah managed to control the oil establishment by many means, and thus the minister became just a paper tiger.  While the head of the institution is the one who has the actual authority, and this harms the Libyan economy and the reputation of the oil sector management in Libya.”

Do you think Dabaiba will replace Aoun or Mustafa Sanallah?

“No, this will not happen. Dabaiba is a beneficiary of this ‘divide and rule’ conflict.”

What is the Zintan role in the balance of power between Dabaiba and Bashagha?

“A pivotal and very big role. If the leaders of Zintan agree to support Bashagha, he will enter through an airport.  Zintan will then be in Tripoli within an hour and he can practice his work in the offices of the Islamic Call Society, and this was the main plan before a dispute occurred.”

What do the Libyan youth think of Dabaiba’s work?

“From the financial point of view, Dabaiba is a great disaster for Libyan economy.  But the public opinion, for the reasons that they get money directly without waging wars, they support Dabaiba.”

Since his establishment, Dabaiba embraced the slogan of peace and managed to avoid new conflicts.  If the situation escalates, do you think he can leave power to Bashagha to avoid bloodshed?

“It does not seem that Dabaiba will leave power, even if he has to fight a battle”.

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