Khalifa Haftar, the eastern Libyan military commander whose forces control parts of the country, said that he would listen to the “will of free Libyan people”, in the strongest indication so far that he might run in elections expected next year, reported Reuters.
Haftar portrays himself as a strongman capable of ending the chaos that has erupted in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
In fact, Haftar’s comments that were made at a military graduation ceremony, “recall those of Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he was testing the ground before becoming the presidential candidate,” according to Reuters.
Sisi was eventually elected in 2014 after he led a bloody military coup against Egypt’s first democratically president.
Just as al-Sisi addressed his people after wide support after toppling Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, supporters of Haftar speak of a similar situation developing in Libya, with rallies held in some eastern cities calling on him to run.
In his speech, Haftar said, “We declare clearly and unequivocally our full compliance with the orders of the free Libyan people, which is its own guardian and the master of its land.”
He spoke in the eastern city of Benghazi, from where his forces managed to expel Islamist militants during a three-year battle.
Haftar, a general from the Gaddafi era, also dismissed a series of U.N.-led talks to bridge differences between Libya’s two rival administrations, one linked to him in the east and one backed by the United Nations in the capital Tripoli.
He said, listing host cities of U.N. talks,”All the dialogues starting from Ghadames and ending in Tunis and going through Geneva and Skhirat (in Morocco) were just ink on paper.”
It is worth to mention that the United Nations launched a new round of talks in September in Tunis between the rival factions to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018, but they broke off after one month without any deal.
The issue of Haftar’s own rule is considered the major obstacle to progress.
He remains popular among some Libyans in the east weary of the chaos but faces opposition from many in western Libya.
In his speech, Haftar said his militias, known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), could be only placed under an authority that had been elected by the Libyan people, in a further indication that he might take part in the election.
Libya has been in turmoil since Gaddafi’s downfall. The political vacuum and security problems gave space for armed militias as well as smuggling networks that have sent hundreds of thousands of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Khalifa Haftar is just one of the various players in Libya, which is controlled by armed groups divided along political, religious, regional and business lines.