SNAPSHOT: Protests over poor living conditions likely to continue over coming week in Libya while armed conflict persists

SNAPSHOT:  Protests over poor living conditions likely to continue over coming week in Libya while armed conflict persists

  • Protests denouncing poor living conditions, electricity and water cuts across the country, and corruption took place for the fourth consecutive day in Tripoli on Sunday (23 August), with hundreds of people reportedly participating.
  • Rallies took place in the Hay Andalous and Tajura areas of the capital, allegedly planned by a civil society group called Himt al Shabab (‘the mettle of youths’).
  • Another group of protesters marched towards the headquarters of the Government of National Accord (GNA). Petroleum facilities guards employed by the GNA reportedly participated in the march to the GNA headquarters.
  • Security forces reportedly fired live ammunition into the air to disperse protesters who later gathered at Martyrs’ Square. Nonetheless, the protest continued late into the night despite the COVID-19-related curfew that is in place in GNA-controlled areas from 2000 to 0600 local time.
  • Unidentified gunmen reportedly fired into a crowd of protesters after demonstrators destroyed a vehicle operated by a militia group. The Interior Ministry said security forces were not involved in the incident and that the action was carried out by outside elements.
  • Related protests also took place on 24 August in Misrata, Zawiyah, and Sabha.
  • On 22 August, protests also took place in Zawiyah’s Martyrs’ Square and in the Omar al Mokhtar area. The protests in Zawiyah have reportedly been larger and more organised than those in Tripoli.
  • Due to long-term armed conflicts between the GNA and the Libyan National Army (LNA), Libyans continue to suffer with poor living conditions such as frequent power outages, long fuel lines, water shortages, poor sanitation, and the increased cost of living with internal migration. The situation is worsened in the summer months when power blackouts prevent the functionality of air-conditioners in the searing heat.
  • The situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically in Libya in less than two months, spiking from 571 in June to more than 9,000 in late August.
  • The economic impact of conflict and COVID-19 is acute, with daily wage earners and migrants hit hardest as income opportunities have disappeared. Meanwhile, the price of staple foods has increased by some 20 per cent, and in some areas it has doubled. Milk, vegetables, bread, and fuel are also in short supply.
  • Sporadic protests have taken place since June to call for better service provision, particularly with regard to power cuts. In recent weeks, however, the situation has worsened, with the frequency and length of power cuts increasing.
  • In early August, the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL), the state monopoly power generator and distributor, announced further increases to power cuts, with some areas experiencing shortages for more than 20 hours.
  • The Man-made River Authority, the supplier of over 80 per cent of Libya’s water, has also noted water supply to Tripoli has been interrupted due to the power cuts to its water wells and pumping stations.
  • On 20 August, General Khalifa Haftar, whose eastern-based LNA controls the country’s oil ports, said he will reopen Libya’s oil ports for a short period after an eight-month oil blockade since the beginning of 2020. The reopening will allow some of the fuel to be shipped to power plants in the east to ease the impact of power shortages. However, this move does not appear to have been enough to satisfy protesters, highlighted by the unrest on 23 August.
  • It is worth noting the protests have taken place amid the announcement on 21 August of a renewed ceasefire agreement. The accord was announced by Fayez Al-Sarraj, the prime minister of the GNA. General Haftar has rejected the truce, calling it a ploy by the GNA to prepare a military offensive to take the strategic city of Sirte. However, the speaker of the LNA-aligned Tobruk-based government’s House of Representatives (HoR), Aguila Saleh, has endorsed it.
  • The resumption of oil production and exports, in addition to the holding of parliamentary and presidential elections in March 2021, was a key provision of the agreement, as the suspension of oilfield production since January has limited funds available to both sides.  
  • While the resumption of production could increase the GNA’s revenue, it is highly likely that activists will continue to stage periodic protests. The GNA has been accused of spending funds to import weapons rather than focusing on alleviating the troubles of Libyans. Further weapons imports are likely, suggesting that the armed conflict situation will persist despite the ceasefire, which will perpetuate the problem.
  • Indeed, while the announcement of the ceasefire is a positive step toward de-escalating the conflict, Haftar and the LNA’s rejection of the truce will pose a hurdle to its implementation. It is also worth noting that various militia groups that are loosely aligned to the GNA or LNA have their own specific interests and may not adhere to a truce of their own accord.
  • Those with interests in Libya should monitor the situation for signs of renewed conflict which would probably hinder the restart of oil production. Additional protests related to substandard living conditions are highly likely to occur in Tripoli, Misrata, and Zawiyah in the coming two to four-week period.