Libya-Tunisia border crisis risks sparking wider conflict

The situation at the Ras Ajdir border crossing remains western Libya’s most dangerous fault line with serious risks of escalating.

It has been fifteen weeks since Libya’s Ras Ajdir border crossing with Tunisia has been closed by forces from Zuwara following Government of National Unity (GNU) Interior Minister Emad al-Trabelsi’s attempt at exerting state control over it.

This article was featured in last week's issue of the Libya Desk Political Risk report, a weekly publication with insider news and deep dive analyses that is delivered to clients ahead of time.

The closure has become an embarrassing issue for GNU Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dabaiba – particularly after multiple failed attempts at opening it despite promises made to Tunisian authorities. This week, the crisis took a violent turn when clashes took place inside Zuwara, leading to mass mobilisations across the board with risks of this growing into a greater conflict than anyone initially expected.

A closer look

Emad al-Trabelsi, along with the Presidential Council via General Salahaddin al-Namroosh, have failed to reach a solution for the border crossing’s closure. In fact, al-Trabelsi has so far only served to further exacerbate the issue.

At its core, this is not a crisis between "good" actors and "bad" actors or the state trying to assert control over Libya’s border. If this was the case, it would have been much easier for the GNU to take back control of the border crossing from Zuwara with social support and legitimacy across western Libya. Instead, this is essentially a crisis stemming from disputes regarding the control over smuggling routes and rights.

In other words, this conflict is seen by various Libyan social forces and towns as a tug-of-war between different militias, and these social forces have decided to stay out of the issue. To make matters worse, the border is controlled by Zuwara, an Amazigh town, while the GNU Interior Minister is from Zintan, which has traditionally had a rough relationship with the Amazigh people.

It certainly is not helping that the Amazigh in Zuwara are using minority discrimination as an excuse and rallying cry, claiming that this is Arabs trying to eradicate them – a claim that could not be farther from the truth. Knowing this, other Amazigh forces and actors in Libya refused to partake or get involved, as Zuwara is known to be under the control of militias and corrupt individuals.

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