Trucks fitted with anti-aircraft cannon, troops and cement roadblocks protect the five-star hotel in Tobruk that is now the surreal last bastion of Libya’s fugitive parliament.
Holed up in the Dar al Salam seaside resort and pretending that all is normal, elected legislators debate laws and plan the future from the eastern city where they fled last month after losing control of Tripoli and much of the country.
A thousand kilometers away across the desert in the capital, a rival parliament sits, internationally unrecognized and made up of members of an earlier assembly whose mandate has expired. It is making its own decisions, taking over ministries and staking a competing claim to rule the country.
Three years after NATO missiles helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, North Africa’s major oil producer is effectively divided, with two governments and two parliaments, each backed by rival groups of armed men.
After weeks of fighting in the summer, an armed faction from the western city of Misrata took over Tripoli, driving out fighters from the city of Zintan in the east who had set up camp at the international airport following the fall of Gaddafi.
The conflict makes Western leaders fear that Libya is sliding closer to civil war, far from the stable democracy just across the Mediterranean from Europe they had hoped to achieve when they backed the uprising against Gaddafi.
Now, having found shelter with their families, bodyguards and aides in Libya’s easternmost major city, Tobruk near the Egyptian border, the beleaguered lawmakers attempt to conduct business as usual.
Enjoying the backing of the international community, deputies have thrown themselves into their work, discussing public finances or approving measures such as the country’s first anti-terrorism legislation.