A long ceasefire has revived Tripoli’s Algeria Square, its roundabout replanted with grass and customers lingering into the night at Aurora Cafe, but Libya’s new crisis with two governments threatens to undo that peace.
Home to the town hall, the post office and a mosque transformed from the colonial-era Italian cathedral, Algeria Square plays a major role in the capital’s social life. But it is also close to likely front lines in a battle that many Libyans fear may soon erupt.
Opposition escalated this week as parliament in the east swore in a new administration while the incumbent in Tripoli refused to relinquish power.
The increasing number of security vehicles driving through the capital’s streets is a sign of a crisis that could trigger fighting if no agreement can be reached.
“My country is being destroyed daily, and we do not see elections, democracy or a proper political process that can end this catastrophe that has become a nightmare,” said Jamal Obaid, a government employee on a street in Algeria Square.
A planned election in December was stopped in the middle of factional battles over the rules. On Thursday, the parliament in Tobruk, in eastern Libya, appointed a new government despite the current administration in Tripoli refusing to relinquish power.
Incumbent Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, installed a year ago in a UN-backed process, has condemned Parliament’s appointment of Fathi Bashagha to replace him, saying he will resign only after a rescheduled election.
However, both men seem to believe that they can count on support among the countless armed factions that exercise real control over the streets of Tripoli. An expected move from Bashagha to enter the capital could trigger fighting.
Tripoli residents fear a resumption of warfare that ended in the summer of 2020 after a failed 14-month attack by eastern forces that rained grenades on city streets.
On the surface, life in the capital continues as usual with students attending lessons, open shops and people sitting at their tables outside the cafes on Algerietorget and elsewhere.
The shootings that occasionally mark the daily growl of traffic are still just wedding celebrations or armed men showing off to friends.
However, the armed factions are more noticeable than before, they patrol in larger convoys, set up more checkpoints and surrounding government buildings.
During the 11 years of chaos that followed a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, most armed forces have been put on state payrolls and given semi-official titles, their forces wearing state uniforms with ministry designations.
Bashagha, a former interior minister, says he is making arrangements to enter Tripoli peacefully, suggesting he can secure the support of enough armed factions for Dbeibah to leave without resistance.
But earlier this week, several powerful armed forces made a televised statement condemning Parliament’s installation of Bashagha.
“After the election failed … neither party wanted to share power with the other and this is the cause of Libya’s destruction,” said Mohammed Abd al-Mawla, 38, a medical firm.
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