The US-backed “unity government” in Libya appears to be in crisis tonight, with an ongoing coup attempt in the capital city of Tripoli by militias loyal to Tripoli parliament Prime Minister Khalifa Ghwell. Fighting was reported around a major hotel out of which a lot of government business is conducted, and Ghwell has announced an initiative to “rescue Libya.”
Ghwell is one of three active prime ministers in Libya at any given time, as the head of the Tripoli parliament. He has called on Abdullah al-Thinni, the prime minister of the rival Tobruk Parliament, to join him in a “unity government” aimed at saving the country.
While a coup d’etat sounds like a huge deal, it’s unclear how major the forces involved in the fighting actually are, as the “unity government” has spent much of its existence in exile, and apart from some backing from the US has very limited capabilities, and only controls a fraction of Tripoli around the shoreline.
The “unity government” of Serraj is backed by both the UN and US as the “real” government of Libya, though the UN also recognizes Thinni’s Tobruk Parliament as the official parliament of Libya. Ghwell’s Tripoli parliament, made up mostly of MPs ousted during a heavily contested election that installed the Tobruk parliament, is not recognized, but has substantial power bases across the country’s west.
Ironically, Ghwell’s call to Thinni to join a new unity government is what the first unity government was supposed to do when the UN propped it up, uniting the two parliaments. That one failed, however, when neither side backed Serraj and the US started throwing sanctions around against everyone they saw as against Serraj’s ascent.