News / Middle East

Libyan Federalists Raise Tensions

Libyan protesters hold the flag of the eastern Cyrenaica region during a demonstration calling for greater autonomy in the eastern city of Benghazi on November 2, 2012. AFP FILE
Libyan protesters hold the flag of the eastern Cyrenaica region during a demonstration calling for greater autonomy in the eastern city of Benghazi on November 2, 2012. AFP FILE
Tensions in Libya are rising this week after federalism advocates in oil-rich eastern Libya have announced the formation of their own regional administration.

Sunday in the town of Ajdabiya, 150 kilometers south of Benghazi, Ibrahim Jathran and other federalist leaders accused the central government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan of “incompetence and corruption.”   Jathran, a former head of Libya’s Petroleum Protection Force turned on Zeidan earlier this year by using the force, which is largely made up of militias, to seize the country’s biggest oil-exporting ports Ras Lanuf and Es-Sider.

Federalist leaders who named a prime minister and a 24-member cabinet say that since the ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Zeidan’s government and the Libyan parliament known as  the General National Congress have failed the country, and especially eastern Libya which they call by its traditional name of Cyrenaica. 
"The government and congress exploit Libya's wealth and use it to serve their agendas," says al-Jathran.

The self-declared regional Prime Minister, Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi, a former air force commander, insisted to reporters that it was “not a secession movement but a movement for ‪Libya”, and that “Cyrenaica is the start and the aim is Libya -- a reference to the federalist position that Libya should be divided into three self-governing regions, Cyrenaica, Fezzan in the southwest and Tripolitania in the west.  
 
So far Zeidan has not reacted to the declaration but the spokesman for Libya’s General National Congress, Omar Hemidan, dubbed the announcement of the “so-called Cyrenaica Region” illegal, saying no Libyan state institution would recognize the authority of the regional government.

“We said our position before about so-called Cyrenaica and repeat once again that despite the shortcomings in [government] performance, it doesn’t mean we divide Libya,” Hemidan said.

The move has caused jitters in global oil markets.  The price of Brent crude jumped above $106 a barrel on the news. 

Federalism has a history in Libya

A federal system was observed for most of the reign of King Idris, who ruled from 1951, after decolonization, until Gadhafi overthrew him in 1969. Federalists say the central government in Tripoli should only control defense, central banking and foreign policy, and that oil revenue, which is generated from oil fields concentrated in the east, should be shared.
 
It isn’t clear whether federalists are prepared to engage in a violent confrontation, if challenged by the central government. But it also remains unclear if central authorities in Tripoli have the will and the firepower to take the federalists on, if they try actually to govern. Several powerful Benghazi militias back the federalists including some the leaders of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia, whose members stand accused by U.S. authorities of having participated in the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate that led to the deaths of four Americans including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens. 
 
This is the second time federalists have declared the formation of a regional government in eastern Libya. Another group led by former political prisoner Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, a cousin of King Idris, announced last June the establishment of the Cyrenaica Transitional Council. But it didn’t have the backing of any large militias.
 
According to his aides, Prime Minister Zeidan tried to head off the self-rule announcement by negotiating with the federalists, who have been directing a months-long blockade of oilfields and seaports that have reduced Libya’s crude production.
 
Federalists have grown in strength in recent months with support for federalism increasing in eastern Libya and in the neglected south of the country, say its supporters and analysts. Benghazi is full of wall graffiti praising federalism.

Federalists tap into frustration

Some analysts argue that federalists feed off frustration with the slow progress of change and the lack of improvements in the daily lives of ordinary Libyans. "They are trying to use this power as a bargaining tool with the state. They want to disrupt the current political process and to do so they threaten to break off from Libya," said International Crisis Group's Claudia Gazzini.

But federalist advocate Mohamed Buisier, son of a former Libyan foreign minister, says it would be a mistake to downplay federalism. “There is a surge in the number of people who really want to go towards federalism," he says "It is not because they don’t understand what federalism is but because they feel it is a way out of being marginalized.”

He thinks even if Libya’s central government performed better, feelings of marginalization would remain. Federalism speaks to the strong sense of local identity Libyans harbor, he says.

Federalist demands have met strong resistance not only in Tripoli but from powerful militia leaders also in Misrata and Zintan, key towns in the revolution that toppled Gadhafi.

Earlier this year Alajami Ali Al-Ateri — the Zintan commander who captured Saif Al-Islam, Gaddafi’s son – told VOA that federalism was totally unacceptable, arguing “ it is a plot by Libya’s foreign enemies to divide the country.”

Some militant federalists have turned to violence in the past. During the national elections in July 2012, federalists downed a helicopter, killing an election worker, and they torched warehouses containing ballot papers in a bid to halt the voting.
 
Would federalist leaders use violence to force through federalism? Buisier thinks not, but unresolved grievances and festering frustration could always change that, he says.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Masoud S Buisir. from: Boston MA
November 07, 2013 2:24 AM
The writer needs to do a better job of investigating. Federalists are against those militias that are supported and financed by the Islamist central government in Tripoli. I am sure the writer didn't hear about the 900 million Libyan Dinars (600 million US dollars) to those militias. And I am sure the writer was not told about the massacre on that black Saturday where over 41 youths were killed by one of these armed thugs and the head of that clan escaped to Tripoli and was given a house, more money and a security position to secure the Capitol. The writer also doesn't know that that thug was on TV threatening certain people and tribes in Benghazi about three weeks ago and the killings know are more intense than any other time. Journalism is a responsibility and the writer here is irresponsible.

by: Khaled Saleh Amrouni from: College Station, Texas
November 06, 2013 10:11 PM
I am Libyan from the Cyrenaica, Benghazi, and I do support the federalism in Libya. I am really sad to find many wrong falls and wrong statements published in this article about the federalism movement in Cyrenaica.
1- The federalism supporters are the Libyans that want wealth to be share between all the three Libyan states (Cyrenaica State, Fazzan State, and Tripoli State).
2-The federalism supporters are in favor of forming a strong national Libyan Army forces.
3- The federalism supporters are against any armed radical militias, and they kicked out all radical militias from Benghazi, the Friday after the American Ambassadress death announcement. Six brave, federalism supporters, Libyan young men killed by the extremist militias that night.

On the contrary
1- The present day Libyan government (Controlled by Islamic Brotherhoods) wants the extremists militias to stay and give them legality and wide range authorities.
2- The present day Libyan government (Controlled by Islamic Brotherhoods) is guarde by the armed extremist militias and use these militias to kill Libyan people . For instance, in June-2012 the governmental extremists militia (called Libyan Shield Forces) opened the fire from heavy guns machines to kill more than 50 federalism supporters Libyan young men and injure more than 150 federalism supporters Libyan young men in few hours in Benghazi, Libyans.
3- The present day Libyan government is controlled by the armed Islamic radical militias and and the Islamic Brotherhoods that both do not want the Libyan national army to form.

These are very brief comments on this very injustice article. Also, you always need to cite your evidence when you accuse some one with something.

by: Libyan federalist from: Benghazi
November 06, 2013 9:43 PM
You need to get your facts straight.
Suspects in the murder of the American ambassador are anything but federalist. As a a matter of fact they are allies with anti-federalist factions from Misurata and the Muslim brotherhood.
Media outlets affiliated with the latter two have always been finding excuses for the horrible acts committed by the so called Ansar Al Sharia, while at the same time bombarding the federalists with smear campaigns.
You need a better perspective on the situation in Libya. try diversifying your sources.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs