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Libyan Protests Over Rumors of Normalization with Israel

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Libya’s Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has suspended and dismissed his Foreign Minister Najla al-Mangoush after she had an informal meeting with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Rome last week. The meeting, which was announced by Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday, sparked protests in several Libyan cities, where people burned tyres, waved Palestinian flags, and stormed the Foreign Ministry headquarters.

 Libya and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, and dealing with Israel is punishable by up to nine years in prison under a 1957 Libyan law. The Libyan Foreign Ministry claimed that the meeting was a “chance and unofficial encounter” that did not involve any discussion, agreement or consultationHowever, an Israeli official told Reuters that the meeting was agreed in advance “at the highest levels” in Libya.

 According to Israel’s statement, Cohen and Mangoush discussed possible cooperation on humanitarian issues, agriculture and water management, as well as the preservation of Jewish heritage in Libya, including renovating synagogues and cemeteriesCohen also invited Mangoush to visit Israel in the future.

 The meeting came amid Israel’s efforts to normalize its ties with several Arab and Muslim-majority countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, under the US-brokered Abraham AccordsHowever, the move has faced opposition from some Arab and Muslim countries that support the Palestinian cause and reject Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

The meeting also raised questions about Libya’s political stability and sovereignty, as the country is still recovering from a decade of civil war and foreign intervention. Dbeibah’s Government of National Unity, which was formed in March with the support of the United Nations, is supposed to lead Libya to national elections in December. However, the government faces challenges from rival factions, armed groups and foreign powers that have interests and influence in Libya.

The suspension of Mangoush could further undermine Dbeibah’s authority and credibility, as well as his relations with some of his coalition partners. Mangoush is seen as a close ally of Aguila Saleh, the speaker of the eastern-based parliament that backs military commander Khalifa HaftarHaftar, who launched an offensive to capture Tripoli in 2019 but was repelled by forces loyal to the previous government, still controls most of eastern and southern Libya.

 The meeting could also affect Libya’s relations with other regional actors, such as Turkey, Qatar and Iran, which have supported the previous government and opposed Haftar’s offensive. Turkey, in particular, has a military presence and a maritime agreement with Libya that are seen as vital for its interests in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has also condemned Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians and called for a two-state solution based on international law.

The meeting between Mangoush and Cohen has exposed the divisions and dilemmas that Libya faces as it tries to navigate its complex and fragile political transition. The country needs to balance its domestic needs and aspirations with its external obligations and pressures. The country also needs to reconcile its historical ties and cultural affinities with its Arab and Muslim neighbors with its potential opportunities and benefits from engaging with other countries in the region and beyond.

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