Libya divided before unified
Special forces soldiers from the National Army of Cyrenaica take part in a military parade graduation ceremony in Benghazi. Tribal leaders declare a semiautonomous region in oil-rich Cyrenaica region. REUTERS photoTribal leaders and militia commanders declared a semiautonomous region in oil-rich Cyrenaica yesterday, a day after the National Transitional Council (NTC) and the prime minister have repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region, warning it could eventually lead to the breakup of the country.
Thousands of representatives of major tribal leaders, militia commanders and politicians made the declaration in a ceremony held in the eastern city of Benghazi. They vowed to end decades of marginalization under former dictator Moammar Gadhafi and named a council to run the affairs of the newly created Cyrenaica region, extending from the central coastal city of Sirte to the Egyptian border in the east.
The gathering appointed Ahmed al-Zubair, Libya’s longest serving political prisoner under Gadhafi, as leader of its governing council. Al-Zubair is also a member of the NTC. Al-Zubair pledged to protect the rights of the region but also said his council recognizes NTC to run Libya’s international affairs, the Associated Press reported. The gathering also rejected an election law which allocated 60 seats for the eastern region out of 200-member assembly set to be elected in June.
Back to 1950 era
A day before the declaration, Libya’s interim prime minister has rejected calls to fashion Libya into a federation. “We do not need federalism because we are heading toward decentralization and we don’t want to go back 50 years,” Abdurrahim al-Keib said during the program “Meet the Minister” without going into detail. His address to the country came after the interim government held an emergency session March 4 to discuss a draft bill proposing the “principle of decentralization” in the country. “The law promotes the strengthening principle of decentralization,” a government statement issued late March 4 said.
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil told Agence France-Presse on March 5 the project was being reviewed by more than 50 local councils across the country. “These councils will be given budgets and administrative competences to get rid of central rule, which caused Libyans so much suffering in the past,” he said. He also said the calls for the implementation of a federal system, which would constitute a throwback to the 1951 to 1963 monarchic era, were likely to meet a cool reception. “Libyans fought for a united Libya so these clamors will be of no consequence,” he said.
Another purpose of the meeting was to set a date for a national referendum on the 1951 constitution, which divided Libya into three administrative regions: Cyrenaica, Tripolitana and Fezzan. The federal system was abolished in 1963. Any moves for greater autonomy for eastern Libya could unsettle the central government, as well as foreign oil firms, because the bulk of Libya’s oil reserves are in Cyrenaica and its biggest state oil company is based in Benghazi.