What happens to Libya without Khalifa Haftar?

Reports about Haftar’s deteriorating health could further unsettle the Libyan political scene, analysts say.

Libya''s eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar attends General Security conference, in Benghazi
Haftar reportedly slipped into a coma after suffering a stroke, but a spokesman denies the claims and says he's well [Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters]

Despite confirmations from prominent leaders in east Libya that veteran military commander Khalifa Haftar is in good health, it is uncertain what future lies ahead for him.

Last week Haftar reportedly slipped into a coma after suffering a stroke, but a spokesman denied the claims and said he’s well.

It was later reported in local media that he passed away, while medical sources told his family that Haftar was in a critical condition, according to Libya Al Ahrar TV channel.

But sources close to Haftar-led Operation Karama, or “dignity” confirmed to Al Jazeera that he is well, saying that he had a setback but has now recovered.

The uncertainty around Haftar’s well-being has stirred speculation about who will succeed him, and the possible outcomes if he is out of the picture.

Haftar, who controls east Libya except for the city of Derna, is one of the main players in the Libyan political scene due to his ties with foreign and regional countries.

A former ally of the late leader Muammar Gaddafi, Haftar, 75, returned to Libya seven years ago from the United States to join the NATO-backed revolution that ended four decades of one-man rule.

After a protracted military campaign in Libya’s second city, Benghazi, he promised to “liberate” the capital Tripoli, which split from the east in 2014.

Over the past years, Haftar had monopolised negotiations with the prime minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), Fayez al-Sarraj, through international mediators, while preventing military and security leaders from dealing with GNA, claiming it is illegitimate.

Mohammad al-Darrat, a member of the Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives (HOR), told Al Jazeera that Haftar is the political and military representative of east Libya for the UN Support Mission, and his absence would cause division.

Al-Darrat’s projection was echoed by Journalist Abdullah Ezzeddine who predicts armed clashes between tribes in eastern Libya in the events an alternative candidate to replace Haftar is not agreed upon.

Restoring influence

According to observers in Libya, the Awaqir tribe, one of the largest tribes in east Libya, will regain its influence after it had been marginalised and sidelined by Hafter.

Faraj Aqim, an Awaqir tribesman and former GNA official in Benghazi, had accused Haftar of trying to assassinate him before he was arrested in November last year.

He also accused Haftar of being involved in assassinating and arresting some of the tribes’ chiefs, which is making the Awaqirir tribe members feel they had been used by Haftar for his personal gains.

In the event that Haftar will be out of east Libya, GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is expected to move into the region in an attempt to control it through money and the cover of international legitimacy.

Political activist Mohamed Fuad believes that regardless of Haftar’s condition, countries which support him like Egypt and the UAE will prepare to find a replacement for the veteran.

The HOR chairman does not have the decision to appoint someone in Haftar’s place without consulting Egypt and the UAE, Fuad told Al Jazeera.

The absence of Haftar or even the deterioration of his health will cause local and regional uncertainty, as HOR members loyal to Haftar are expected to call for a federation, which will disturb the calculation of several capitals, especially Paris, Cairo and Abu Dhabi. Fuad added.

Source: Al Jazeera