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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora