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Libya: Gas and Egypt's Thucydides Trap


In Libya, Fathi Bachagha proposed his new government to the Tobruk parliament, which appointed him as a replacement for Abdel Hamid Dbeibah. Egypt supports Bachagha, while Algeria has just signed an oil and gas agreement with Dbeibah.

Next Monday will be held, in eastern Libya, a session of the House of Representatives (HoR) of Aguila Salah. MEPs will proceed to vote of confidence in the new government. Fathi Bachagha, appointed Prime Minister by the HoR on February 10, has just unveiled his ministerial list.

And if the Western powers are now focused on the Ukrainian issue, some African countries are still focusing on Libya. The appointment as Prime Minister of Fathi Bachagha was supported by Egypt.

Faced with the Bachagha clan, in Tripoli, the outgoing Prime Minister, Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, still does not intend to let go. Beyond clinging to his post, Dbeibah is now trying to oppose an extension of the Libyan transition, which could last up to 14 additional months. The outgoing Prime Minister is also trying to weaken Khalifa Haftar, an ally of Bachagha and Salah, and military leader in eastern Libya, accused of war crimes.

After the vote of the parliament, which will undoubtedly be favorable to him, Fathi Bachagha will have to be offensive. He has already prepared the ground by obtaining military support in Tripolitania. He has with him, in particular, the Stabilization Support Appartus police force, which acts as a coastguard and gendarmerie in western Libya. But also the two powerful Nawasi brigades of Mustapha Gaddour and Ghneiwa, of the powerful businessman Abdel Ghani al-Kikli.

A powerful coalition on the ground, far superior to the Rada militias and Dbeibah's 444 brigade. In order to stay in power, therefore, the latter announced legislative elections at the end of June. Abandoned by the head of UNSMIL, the American Stephanie Williams, and benefiting from very timid Turkish support in his favour, Dbeibah is seeking the favors of another powerful regional player: Algeria, which has always avoided interfering in Libya.

The end of cordiality between Algeria and Egypt?

A diplomatic operation by Dbeibah which in no way assures him of keeping the Libyan Prime Minister, but which would give him, eventually, sufficient power to return to the fore on the political scene.

Dbeibah met Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune at the 6th Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) Summit, in Qatar. A “technical” meeting, which made it possible to consolidate the recent oil and gas agreement between the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the powerful Algerian Sonatrach. What upset the gas balance in North Africa, while the pooling of resources becomes a geopolitical issue due to the war in Ukraine, which has increased the price of natural gas.

However, no matter what Dbeibah and Tebboune discussed, the meeting greatly angered Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. To the point that the latter, expected last Tuesday in Kuwait, for a tripartite meeting with Tebboune and the Emir of Kuwait, decided to postpone his trip. Al-Sissi ended up reaching Kuwait on Thursday evening, before leaving again, first thing in the morning on Friday.

The disagreement is not surprising: Algeria and Egypt were poles apart on all geopolitical issues, with the exception of Libya. But it seems that the differences of opinion over the Libyan prime minister are final. A dispute that goes beyond the battle between Dbeibah and Bachagha…

Algerian influence and Egyptian “perfidy”

In Libya, Algeria and Egypt have often avoided stepping on each other's toes. But the new Algerian diplomatic system, installed quickly and brilliantly by the Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, allows Algiers to extend its influence in Africa. Which displeases Cairo.

The creation of the African G4, bringing together Algeria, Nigeria, South Africa and… Ethiopia, on the sidelines of the last EU-AU summit in Brussels, took Abdel Fattah al-Sissi by surprise. The crisis of the Rebirth Dam (GERD) opposes, for a long time, Ethiopia to Egypt. Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari said on Tuesday that the G4 would ensure "to resolve the various issues facing the African continent, such as the Malian and Libyan issues".

Moreover, the positions of Pretoria and Algiers on Western Sahara displease Morocco, which has adopted the same as Egypt in Libya.

Tripoli has therefore become the scene of tensions between Algeria and Egypt. But while the Algerian press accuses Egypt of "perfidy" and deplores the timing of the statement by the Egyptian ambassador to Morocco, supporting the "Moroccanness of Western Sahara", there is no doubt that the diplomatic reply from Algiers will be heard on the Libyan file.

Western support in Libya, still shifting

If Fathi Bachagha becomes prime minister, probably by force and relying on Egyptian-Moroccan support, Libya could see its only functional sector threatened. Indeed, with the price of a barrel of oil which has exceeded 100 dollars and the stakes of the supply of gas which is causing panic in Europe, the Libyan production of hydrocarbons has become the main diplomatic argument.

As a reminder, the gas crisis did not start with the Russian-Ukrainian war. Libyan production fell last year due to the difficulty of producing and transporting hydrocarbons.

However, the agreement between the NOC and Sonatrach was signed by Algeria on one side and the government of Dbeibah on the other. An agreement which should make it possible to accelerate Libyan production intended for Europe by 300 barrels per day, and which provides for the transport of Libyan LNG to the European Union, via Algeria.

In panic, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States urged the Libyan authorities to "support the independence of the NOC" which should remain "apolitical", for "the interest of all Libyans". And theirs, of course.

The five Western countries finally decided to support Bachagha. But while the Libyan hydrocarbon dossier is held by Tripoli and Algiers, the international position concerning the Libyan Prime Minister could change again.

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