By Ihsan al-Fakkih
ISTANBUL (AA) – A "rebellion" by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, the military commander of Libya’s Tobruk-based government, along with chronic foreign interference, threaten to undermine Libya’s UN-backed unity government, analysts believe.
Libya has been locked in a state of turmoil since 2011, when a bloody uprising ended with the ouster and death of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi.
Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government, one in Tobruk and another in Tripoli, each of which boasts its own military capacity and legislative assembly.
Early last year, Haftar, a former army commander, was installed by Libya’s Tobruk-based government as army chief. Since then, forces loyal to Haftar have succeeded in expelling Islamists from much of the eastern city of Benghazi.
Late last year, Libya’s rival governments signed a UN-backed agreement to establish a unity government in an effort to resolve the country’s six-year political standoff.
In March, members of the unity government, led by prime minister-designate Faiz al-Sarraj, arrived in Tripoli from Tunisia with a view to assuming authority from the two rival governments.
The Tobruk-based government, however, has refused to hand over power to the new unity government until the latter is given a vote of confidence by the Tobruk-based parliament.
"The unity government faces enormous challenges," Libyan political analyst Omar Abdul-Aziz told Anadolu Agency on Monday, noting that the UN-backed government had so far failed to win the confidence of the Tobruk-based assembly.
"It also faces the challenge of reestablishing control over the country’s eastern region and healing the outstanding rifts between Libya’s three governing authorities," he said.
Abdul-Aziz believes it will be difficult for the unity government to assert its control over the restive eastern region, "as the eastern [i.e., Tobruk-based] government receives foreign support".
The analyst also believes al-Sarraj lacks the political savvy needed to resolve the country’s five-year-old crisis.
"Until now, al-Sarraj has failed to articulate a definitive stance vis-à-vis Haftar," he said.
Libyan analyst Mohamed Hussein Bayo, for his part, believes foreign support has emboldened the Tobruk government to rebel against the unity government.
"The close ties between Russia and France on one hand and those between the Tobruk-based parliament and Haftar on the other have encouraged the latter to rebel against the UN deal [between the two rival governments]," he said.
Bayo does not rule out that the international community might recognize the Tobruk-based government as Libya’s legitimate governing authority "if it succeeds in imposing control over Benghazi and the eastern oilfields".
However, he added, "Libya’s political crisis will continue as long as foreign interference and disagreements persist between the country’s political rivals".
Bayo went on to assert that the Tobruk-based parliament would continue to refrain from giving confidence to the unity government with a view to imitating Egypt’s 2013 military coup.
In mid-2013, Egypt’s then army chief, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, staged a military coup against Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president. One year later, al-Sisi was elected president.
"The Tobruk-based parliament supports the idea of drawing up a ‘military council’ [mandated with running the country’s affairs], as the assembly is entirely controlled by Haftar," Bayo explained.
He went on to warn, however, that such a move "would likely result in the secession of the eastern region".
Algerian analyst Reda Bouzraa believes the recent arrival of members of the UN-backed unity government to Tripoli has only served to complicate Libya’s already complex political situation.
"There are now three competing governing authorities in Libya," he told Anadolu Agency.
Bouzraa said the "armed uprising" in Libya had "undermined plans by local and international stakeholders who had been betting on Haftar to end the political crisis by force".
He warned that foreign support given to the Tobruk government -- by France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -- risked "dragging Libya into a protracted civil war".
"The outbreak of civil war in Libya is likely if UN envoy Martin Kobler fails to contain the situation," he said.
Under the terms of last year’s UN-backed deal, the unity government is to run Libya’s affairs for a one-year transitional period until elections are held.
Some analysts believe Libya’s political fate will be determined by the ongoing battle over the northern city of Sirte, a Daesh stronghold.
"Haftar will emerge as a popular hero if he manages to establish control over Sirte and eliminate Daesh," Yassin Hussein Khattab, another Libyan political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.
Since 2015, Sirte has been held by Daesh, which took advantage of the conflict between Libya’s rival political camps to seize 250 kilometers (roughly 155 miles) of coastline near the Mediterranean city, which lies between Libya’s eastern and western power bases.
Last week, Haftar ordered his forces to move on Sirte with the aim of expelling Daesh militants from the city.
Khattab, however, rules out the likelihood that Haftar will be able to recapture Sirte from the militants.
"He has already failed to retake Benghazi, despite the support he receives from Egypt, Jordan and the UAE," he said.
Abdul-Aziz, too, believes the battle for Sirte will be a turning point -- for good or ill -- in Libya’s political crisis.
"Haftar’s defeat would mean the eastern region will remain out of the unity government’s sphere of control," he said.