Cameron’s talking to the wrong Libyan government. He should call my old driver

There are real reasons to worry about Libya Dawn – but also real reasons to try to work with them

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

15 August 2015

9:00 AM

When I covered Libya’s revolution in 2011, I had a driver named Mashallah. Mashallah was a decent and stoical man with an interesting propensity for malapropisms. He was regarded with fondness by us journalists — so when I decided to return to Libya recently, I sent him an email: did he want to work for me again?

Unfortunately, replied Mashallah, he was in Paris. This seemed strange. How would he have got a French visa? I emailed again suggesting another week and received another profound apology. That week he was going on to Ankara and Istanbul.

A quick look online solved the mystery. My former driver Mashallah Zwai is now oil minister in the new Islamist Libyan government (this makes him powerful, since oil is the only asset Libya possesses) and furthermore, the de facto national security adviser. Mashallah had even been offered and turned down the post of prime minister.

All the more reason to meet up with my old friend, which I did in his sizeable office in Tripoli. Mashallah dresses in a smart suit these days and his malapropisms have almost disappeared. He was particularly pleased to see me, he said, because he had a message for David Cameron: he must start dealing with the new Libyan government, the Islamist one, or else the migrant crisis will only get worse.

For those who haven’t followed the course of recent events in Libya, here’s a brief account: during post-Gaddafi elections, the Islamic parties — in coalition under the name Libya Dawn — dominated parliament, but they officially lost at the polls last year. They disputed the result and Libya Dawn set up a government in Tripoli. Meanwhile the coalition that claimed victory set up a rival government in the east, first in a car ferry off Tobruk and then a hotel near the city.

The West recognises the Tobruk government and considers Libya Dawn to be illegitimate and run by extremists. The trouble with this is that the Tobruk government is relatively powerless. Libya Dawn controls most of the country and, crucially, the two main ports used by the people-traffickers. Now that the migrant crisis has flared up and Cameron has said that he wants to tackle it, Libya Dawn are the obvious people to deal with.

‘Do I seem like a member of Taleban or Daesh (Isis), do my colleagues, are we terrorists?’ Mashallah asked me. ‘All we want is for the West to talk to us. We are ones fighting Isis in Sirte. Surely it makes sense to help us tackle this rather than all this talk about bombing us? We need western help, and investment in the oil industry, we are open to that.’

Libya Dawn is not a terrorist organisation, but there are certainly reasons to be nervous of it. One of its allied militias, Ansar al-Sharia, has extremist links, and some of its members are believed to have taken part in the killing of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, in Benghazi three years ago. But alliances form and fall apart in the changing pattern of Libya’s conflict, and it’s true that Ansar are now fighting against Isis.

After I left Mashallah, I met Libya Dawn’s leader and prime minister, Khalifa al-Ghweil, who was also anxious to help the British government understand the real situation in Libya and how to best thwart people traffickers. ‘The answer is not to carry out unauthorised attacks to bomb boats, but to take part in dialogue with us, so we can solve this problem which concerns both us and Europe,’ he said.

The Central Illegal Migrants Unit was located 300 yards away from Mr Ghweil’s office. Colonel Nasser Hazm, in charge, had processed 3,000 women and men, children and elderly people, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, in the previous three months. Another 3,000 had left Libya for Europe in the past three weeks. EU military intervention, he insisted, would be ‘bullshit. Think about it. There’s no point in blowing up empty boats because boats are easy to replace. And what would be the international reaction if they kill refugees while blowing up boats? The Europeans want to carry out land operations in Libya? Well, good luck!’

At the port of Misrata, Colonel Rida Benissa, the commander of Libya’s coastguards, told me about the international reach of the migrant-smuggling network and showed me transcripts of conversations between Libyans and the Italian gangsters who co-ordinate the people-trafficking. Colonel Benissa acknowledged that the smugglers were taking advantage of corruption in Libya, but complained about lack of co-operation from Europe. ‘We had just eight patrol boats,’ he said. ‘Four were sent to Italy for repairs and impounded because the EU does not recognise our government.’

Colonel Benissa echoes the words of both Mashallah and his prime minister: the West must deal with Libya Dawn if it wants to achieve anything. ‘This situation could be resolved if the Europeans trained us, lent us equipment, boats, gave us information from satellites. But this does not happen.’

Libya Dawn may have a point about the Tobruk government’s impotence, but it became clear to me also that the trade in humans is far too lucrative to be resolved easily. I visited the coastal city of Zuwara, where I met Zouhar, a 23-year-old from an impoverished background who was now making $200,000 a month.

Zouhar’s syndicate sends one shipment of migrants a week, mainly Syrians with a few Palestinians and Tunisians, earning around $185,000 a trip. It is a low-risk business: the Libyan traffickers never get on the boats, which are crewed by passengers given rudimentary training. A second, faster boat shadows the one carrying the migrants part of the way and when they’re nearing Italian territorial waters, they call the Italian coastguards.

‘We always use good boats and we leave the passengers in good condition, we have a 90 per cent success rate on delivery,’ said Zouhar with professional pride. ‘Why should we stop?’

Back in Tripoli, Mashallah agreed that people-smuggling is a huge and complicated problem, tricky to solve even if the West sees sense. ‘It is difficult to carry out raids, these gangs are very well armed. Did you ever think when we were reporting on the revolution, there would be such a mess?’ he asked me. ‘I didn’t think the Europeans and the Americans would simply walk away afterwards leaving this mess.’

It’s not the first time the West has walked away from a land they supposedly liberated, leaving a mess, I pointed out. At some point, Libya will have to sort out its problems on its own. Mashallah looked gloomy, as if the burden of office weighed heavily upon him.

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  • Paolo

    There will be a new government formed in about three weeks. You are attempting to endear the Islamists putschists m–therf–kers, and vilify the democratically elected government House of Representatives. It’s buttholes like you, and even bigger Islamist buttholes like the ones in Tripoli that have induced all the recent murders, kidnappings, distruction of property, extortion en mas for transport of migrants, their deaths and more to come, to say nothing of the mayhem overall, which was all their doing, and it is they that have created what Libya is today. Starting with the King of Buttholes Ca’moron. Read this jerkoff: August 12, 2015 The Planned Destruction of Libya by John Wight http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/08/12/the-planned-destruction-of-libya/ All these Tripoli demagog F–ks will have their heads cut off and then defecated down their necks. Hope you are there at the time so Hafter and the LNA, the only ligtimate army in Libya, does the same to you.

  • Ivan Ewan

    “Do I seem like a member of Taleban or Daesh (Isis), do my colleagues, are we terrorists?”

    Well, he’s an Islamist. So the answer is yes. A positive, resounding, yes. And he’s worse because he pretends to be innocent as long as someone else is holding the machine-gun.

    • Ambientereal

      The usual islamic lies. If those people are good at something it is at lying. They try to look innocent and victimize themselves all the time, but they are ruthless criminals.

      • Salah Elshakwi

        okay ..misleading article and irrelevant comments dear Muslim haters

        • Ambientereal

          Yes, it is misleading because this guy Sengupta believes his muslim driver. By the way, muslim haters not hate in vain, there are reasons and you know them.

        • 2fishypoliticians

          Ah..a stereotypical muslim victimhood statement.

          • Ambientereal

            Just like Mashallah

        • BananaHammok9

          Seems nobody hates Muslims, like other Muslims.
          Or Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Kurds and everybody else for that matter.
          Must have something to do with Islam.

      • BananaHammok9

        They are also brilliant at killing each other.

    • Salah Elshakwi

      misleading article and irrelevant comments dear Muslim haters

  • William_Brown

    Sorry, no excuse to talk to an illegitimate government – that’s where all the west’s problems start.

    So, Libya Dawn fight ISIS…well, so what, Islam seems to be fighting itself across the globe and we’ve surely learned by now that our enemy’s enemy is not necessarily our friend.

    Better to actively support the democratically elected Libyan Government that we were so keen to remove Gadaffi for.

    • oquillo

      My enemies enemy is my enemies enemy. No more, no less.

    • BananaHammok9

      I would not trust ANY Muslim. As soon as they finish killing off one side, they just turn around and start slaughtering the other.
      ‘There is only 1 Islam’, T.Erdogan

      • Daud

        Dear friend,
        First of all I highly, but kindly recomment you some reasource, about religion, because I don’t really think any of the religions about that, but you may have a different opinion.
        If you need a partner to discous I would be really happy, to make an inteligent reasenable conversation with You.
        If you are interested, please contact me.
        Your dearest friend,
        Daud abushueghir

  • perdix

    So the West removed the oppressor Gaddafi and the Libyans fought each other and are making a lot of money by transporting migrants to Europe. The Libyans can’t be trusted in any situation. Remember the atrocious behaviour of their “soldiers” who were “training” in the Cambridge area.

    • Florence

      and who do you think picked the ‘soldiers’ in in question? scratch scratch

    • Chamber Pot

      Yep, b*gger*ing male drunks seems to be part of the curriculum ? Scumbags all.

  • Kasperlos

    The West, by deposing the late Quackdahfee, created such an unmitigated disaster ala Iraq that one can only conclude that it was planned to be that way. Eternal disruption, strife, migration; who benefits? The insecurity state sucking tens of billions to ‘solve’ a problem that they never want solved is who. Follow the money and power – in the West. That said, the average EU citizen doesn’t have a dog in the fight and shouldn’t have to deal with the latest greasy criminal syndicate du jour. The only sage advice the author gave to his erstwhile amigo was that Lybia is going to have to sort out its own problems. The rest of the conversation with the ‘oil minister’ boss was akin to reading a cheap dime novel of a racketeer blackmailing and extorting. Note too, how quickly he went from a humble driver to working the halls of the powerful in Paris. It’s our own business suited mobsters called politicians who are in cahoots with these cretins. The oil minister may claim not to be a terrorist or with any organisation as such but the truth is they are common gangsters. Who in Lybia elected any of these folks. No one did. So much for the Arab Spring.

    • Florence

      Well the author clearly is mates with the right mafia, of course they gave him a visa and had his back in Tripoli while he was collecting his sweet story…scratch scratch…what’s new

  • Cj Hammer

    This is the most unprofessional article that I have ever read so far.
    Dear Mr. Sengupta, I am from Libya and I’m currently based in Tripoli. If you really think that there’s hope in sitting down at a table and actually discussing affaires that doesn’t serve the interests of “ISIS” which is basically the “new Al-Qaida” then I’m sorry to be the one who breaks this to you but you’re truly naive and your thoughts and aspirations are nothing but a soap bubble in a high school student’s gullible mind.

    If they believe in democracy, which they call “the heresy of infidels”, they wouldn’t have raised a raging war against everyone who approved their loss in the new parliament elections, disregarding very single constant prospective of which democracy is based on.
    We have called them to despite their manipulative and deceiving ways and join forces with us to build our country together and rise among the nations of the world, yet they answered our calls with heavy artillery fire and promises to burn our communities if we ever spoke of such “infidels’ nonsense” ever again, as they still insist on having their “State of Khalifah” so that they would conquer the west and liberate Andalusia once again.

    I don’t want to take any longer than I already have, since I don’t want to make you look bad, but I truly recommend that you do some research on “how to write a none-bias article” otherwise you may need to redo your jounalism studies again.

    Please do not try to polish the image of Libya Dawn just because your friend is a high ranked member within that organization, we Libyans know who they really are.

    Sincerely yours
    Cj Hammer

    Friday 14th of August 2015

    • Ambientereal

      Democracy, human rights,… by muslims ? forget it. By the way I have my thoughts about the writer too.

    • Daud

      Dear CJ Hammer,
      Just as you did I have my own opinion about the situation in Libya, I also live here, in Tripoli, I came from europe, and I hardly can belibe that there is about religion or anything to do with our culture, its more about business. That the oil companies are still selling the product, with no legitimity, and about the money what is outside in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, or America, in Goldmen Such the UniCredit or the BP- (what is co-owned by Iranian holdings). I think nobody have true reason or need to build a country what can be such as powerful as Qatar(because of the low population).
      But Insha’allah I am wrong and we will build a great powerful democratic country together…
      Your regard,
      Daud Abushueghir
      (excuse me if I made mistake in my grammar)
      Thursday, 20th of August 2015

  • Florence

    This article makes for unbelivable reading. Spectator, I am so disappointed in you for publishing such propaganda without checking your facts. Is the author really that star-struck by his friend’s scintillating (-ly illegitimate) new appointment that he has omitted to mention the way Libya Dawn ‘disputed the results’ of the 2014 elections?

    So let’s set the record straight. In July 2014, the Libyan people exercised their newly-found right to vote, and, as a conservative yet forward-looking people, threw out the islamist politicians who had in their opinion already massively damaged their country. Libya Dawn was literally wiped out in the polls. The new Government decided to set up in the East of Libya, to break with the previous regime’s tradition of basing everything in Tripoli and neglecting the East.

    So far, so good. Weak and incompetent as it is, this is the only, legitimate, Libyan Government in existence, and is recognised as such by its foreign countreparts.

    Unfortunately, the dangerously spoilt men who make up Libya Dawn were not in the least happy with having lost the elections. They picked up the arsenals of weapons they had kept hold of, and marched on Tripoli, vowing to conquer the heathens who believed in such heresy as democracy. What followed was a despicable litany of wanton destruction, pillaging, rape and murder carried out by these heartless and fanatical men, who razed Tripoli’s international airport to the ground; burnt a number of airliners to a crisp; shelled a large number of private residences indescriminately, killing civilians in the process and following up by shooting RPGs into people’s living-rooms at close range; shot at any crowds gathering to demonstrate against them; popped off human rights activists; chased away all foreign embassies, including the British Embassy whose convoy got shot at on its way out (the US brought a couple of fighter planes to escort their people out – funily enough there wasn’t a peep from these daring ‘men’ during those few hours); desecrated a number of mosques and historical monuments and statues; took over a number of government buildings where they have preferentially been delivering services only to ‘their own’ ever since; harassed, worse, or even shot uncovered women driving around town on their own; and the list goes on.

    The British Government has already wasted far too much time trying to convince these terrorists to join roundtable discussions, which they have more often than not refused to join. Only in recent times has Libya Dawn finally stopped denying the presence of ISIS in country and decided to join forces with their fellow countrymen-as a serious IS threat arrives on the doorstep of their home town.

    That the author should gloss over the atrocities of the summer of 2014 as a mere technicality is already revulsive; but to suggest that we engage in any kind of discussion or ever recognise such thugs as legitimate, just because his mate wears a suit and talks nicely, is either breathtakingly naive or shockingly, patronisingly, devious.

    • Mr B J Mann


      Sounds like a description of the overthrow of Gaddafi.

      You know, where independent journalists from the BBC and Guardian asked “the people” of Libya if they supported the gun toting hordes around them and they ALL said YES!

      Well, that was a surprise!!!

  • sir_graphus

    “when they’re nearing Italian territorial waters, they call the Italian coastguards”

    Blimey, if we’re not going to turn these people back, can’t we at least charge the smugglers for doing most of their job for them? We’re spending millions, they’re earning $200k/month each. They’re just pitching them out into the Med in an open boat, which presumably they don’t get back; we’re picking them up, giving them medical checks, sorting out their visas, etc.

  • James B

    This is the result of acting before thinking and not having any strategic planning in place after the bombing? It was madness & folly to bomb Libya: You`d think after the Iraq disaster & the subsequent chaos that followed Governments would have learned a valuable lesson?.. apparently not because Cameron thought he`d have a Tony Blair moment in Libya hence more bombing followed by even more chaos; If history has shown us anything it`s not to interfere in civil wars which is what`s happening in the Middle East & parts of Africa; So Mr Cameron shouldn`t act so surprised when the mass migration of people displaced from Libya & other country`s start turning up on our shores demanding asylum, I think the moral of this story is …. Don`t interfere & meddle into other countries affairs !!

    • Hamburger

      Your view is essentially that of the German government. Don’t do anything and all problems will go away. Most do, but the ones we are left with are usually much worse by the time yo get round to doing anything.

  • Ambientereal

    This guy Mashallah is actually menacing the west by talking about people traffickers. We should menace him and destroy completely the ships and the ports where the ships of the traffickers land.

  • Paolo

    I am one of the first to react to this completely ludicrous, criminal minded, and blatantly unqualified article, by the Islamist editors of Spectator (IS supporters by default) and not checking as Florence says. Albert Einstein said, “Two things are infinite, the universe, and the stupidity of mankind; and I am not sure about the universe”…

    But one thing we can be sure of knowing and expecting, Mr. A. Thinni is a much better strategist than Mr. A. Sahmain. The Libyan Army (Tripoli, not the real one) paraded today, numbering around 600 dudes in their Friday best uniforms, perfect move Mr. Sahmain, why not just send Mr. Hafter a post card with your forces’ weaponry as well? Get the picture? What a stooge!

    Then to add insult to eveyone’s already friends and family members, and at boyscout level army tactics no less, he said the following just published in Libya Herald, best paper in the business for accuracy and truth on Libya – https://www.libyaherald.com/2015/08/14/army-in-tripoli-parades-to-celebrate-75th-anniversary-public-dismissive/

    In his speech, Abu Sahmain addressed himself to “to the great Libyan people”.

    Referring to his plans to reorganize the Libyan army into 11 brigades across the country, announced just before the July parade, he claimed that “the honorable people from Barqa [Cyrenaica] have called us to include them in the brigades”.

    As a result, three more brigades would be formed, he said – “one in Benghazi,
    one in Jebel Akhdar and one in Tobruk”. This, however, will not happen
    immediately, he added.

    “These armed formations will be the guarantee of any upcoming government or political body,” he stated. [In other words the A–hole will use them, his private Army, to block any agreement, and hold his ground to fight to the death, like a true IS backing Islamist – Here is where I get pissed, he is still not being sanctioned by the UN, as are others who are not on the list but, in God’s good heave, should be.]

    “We will not allow the army’s loyalty to any figure [a reference to General Khalifa Hafter] or political parties,” he said, stressing that Libya could not be rebuilt without army institutions”. [Proves my point above]

    “Before signing any political agreement, we must ensure the rights of our army” he further said. [Translation – We ain’t signin’ no stinkin’ agreement]

    He did not say whether the value of Libya’s soldiers and officers would be reflected in a substantial salary hike. At present, a colonel in the army is said to earn less than a member of a militia member in the capital. [Imagine the brilliance of the soldiers in this army, I wonder how much do the get paid? Here’s a typical conversation “Holy shit Ahmed, we are we doing here? Let’s join the militias, rape and pillage sounds a whole lot better than the crap we’re doin’ now!]

    Not only ignored, the parade drew strong criticism from locals. [Now that’s what I call support]

    ” I think it is pointless having a parade in Tripoli with such a large number of armed men while Sirte is now struggling and fighting Daesh militants,” 39-year-old downtown shop owner said. [Yea, you’re making big points now Bud!]

    “The Dawn government and the Congress must understand that they are
    involved in what is going on in Sirte now by ignoring the situation,”
    said another local. “I have a friend who lives in Sirte and he called
    me and said that the residents are fighting IS with only Kalashnikovs.”

    Back to my comments: I might even be funny, if it wasn’t so tragic and voluminously obvious. A. Thinni said, If they (UN dialog) do not come to an agreement, we will attack Tripoli”. And believe me, he will do it. He is a true Libyan, anyone that doesn’t want to be PM, in my opinion, deserves the job.

    • ayman mm

      i am libya herald journalist

    • BananaHammok9

      Einstein also said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result’.
      See: Arab Spring, Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood.

  • Chamber Pot

    Can anyone tell me what Cameron is for ? He doesn’t seem to know anything or do anything and he is the product of an extremely expensive British education ? Even worse unlike previous posh and rich Prime Ministers he has no sense of noblesse oblige and really is just selfish and shallow.

  • Paolo

    Hey Spectator: With all due respect, this is how you might present news articles if you interested in maintaining your reputation as fair balanced reporting.


    Libya Helald – Half-hour air assault on Sirte hits multiple targets: Report

    By Ajnadin Mustafa – Tripoli, 14 August 2015:

    Early this evening Daesh positions in Sirte reportedly suffered a series of airstrikes over a 30 minute period, in an operation which is not characteristic of the Libyan Air Force.

    The targets appear to have included the town’s internal security complex, the Ouagadougou Conference centre, part of the University campus and the Mahari hotel, some six kilometres to the west of the town.

    It is said that the missiles or bombs were fired or dropped from high altitudes and inflicted significant damage.

    No figures are yet being given for the casualties from these raids. Palls of smoke were seen to be rising in at least two different locations.

    The security complex which Daesh had been using as their headquarters was hit in June in an air raid claimed by Libya Dawn. Some sixteen people were killed
    in that attack and many injured. The town’s Ibn Sina hospital was cleared of existing patients so that the wounded could be treated.

    The Ibn Sina hospital has itself been caught up in the fighting in the town between Daesh and locals, which has been raging for three days.

    This evening it was reported that at least 85 families had fled to Bani Walid where the municipality was seeking to accommodate them.

    It is also being claimed that the twelve decapitated corpses found together today were of carers and the wounded people they had been treating in a make-shift hospital. Daesh fighters allegedly seized and executed them.

  • Mary Ann
  • Mynydd

    Libya today is what it is because Mr Cameron changed from, operating a no fly zone, to being the bomb master, for the Islamist and all the other extreme tribes.

  • Jacobi

    Libya is a failed state with factions claiming to be government. It is the centre of massive well finance mainly religious immigration into Europe, which
    none of the Libyan factions have any intention of stopping.

    This is one of three main illegal immigrant routes into Europe, the others being through Turkey into Greece and Turkey up the Dalmatian coast and into

    The number of official number of illegal immigrants in EU is put at 1.4 million, the actual figure is very much higher, certainly, minimum 2.0 million and they
    arrive via these routes at some 0.5 million per annum.

    A few of these migrant are genuine refugees. Probably 10%. They should be looked after humanely. The rest are either well financed but low skilled economic migrants or more importantly very well financed Islamic religious migrants, more and more pretending to be “Syrian refugees”, whose intention by fair means or foul is to establish the Caliphate in Europe. These latter two groups have to be dealt with.

    The only way is for the EU, and that includes the UK, Police and Military to collect then into secure internment camps. These can be in Italy, Greece, or by establishing a protected zone in the failed territory of Libya, hence the need for Police, the Military and probably NATO.

    • Mary Ann

      !.4 million, minimum 2 million, why are you better informed than the EU?

      • Jacobi

        Please read what I said. 1.4 million not 0.4 million. And you can always take it that official figures released by civil servant underplay the reality. The actual best estimate I have is 1.2 million. That is historical and does not include other categories i.e., overstaying visas, undetected immigration and false declared reasons. So my tacit figure of 1.4 million is certainly well below the reality.

        More to the point the current flow through the three main established routes is now in circa 400,000 + per annum. Taking say five years, a reasonable time, that would mean 3.4 million, and that is just “official” figures.

        In any case the current actual figures are irrelevant. it is the potential, should there be any indication of encouragement and the intent, the intent, that is what matters.

  • Bashir AL Bousefy

    what are you talking about ??? Proved to me that he does not hold the certificates to make it an oil minister .. ؟؟ Proved to me that he was your driver >>>

  • Faraj Abdussalam

    Definitely the most misleading article
    I read about my country in recent times, with a load of incorrect information
    such as the Ansar al Sharia fighting ISIS, or the De Facto PM in Tripoli being
    the leader of Libya Dawn, or the Parliament’s Government convening In a car ferry off Tobruk. Or the outrageous claim that Libya Dawn
    controlling most of Libya! I always believed in the integrity and
    professionalism of the British press, especially the SPECTATOR. What happened?