LIBYA – THE THREAT OF FEDRALISM -A DISCUSSION AND SOME NOTES
‘Speaking in Brussels, Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU High Representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, said on Friday that the EU was concerned about the use of force by armed groups against [Libyan] state institutions, including the illegal seizure of energy facilities. He said that the EU had noted the declaration of a Cyrenaican government. It hoped that these issues could be resolved peacefully.’ (Libya Herald Tripoli 12 January 2014)
As I write these words (11th January 2014) Libya’s oil production is rising for the first time in 10 months. The oil fields in the vicinity of Obari in south west Libya are now reported to be on stream again and feeding crude oil to the Zawiya refinery and oil terminal 50 kilometres west of Tripoli.
The Obari/al-Sharara oil fields have been closed for since 28th October 2013 by more than 1,500 protesters. It has been difficult at this distance to work out what was their main grievance but it seems likely that the old, and unelected, Obari local council had refused to give way to allow a properly elected body to take over. I also believe the old council may have retained its allegiance to Gaddafi for too long. There has been an additional problem. Obari is a Tuareg town and there are about 14,000 Kel Ajjer Tuareg families who live there with no Libyan ID numbers and thus with no access to state benefits. The Kel Ajjer Tuaregs believe themselves to be the genuine inhabitants of the district and complain of racial discrimination. Some of them appear to have added their weight to the protest and helped to shut down the oil fields in the hope of redressing this anomaly.
The problem of ‘federalism’ is growing in Libya’s remote South West. This was the old province of The Fezzan, one of the three historic Libyan provinces, which existed until the government of King Idris passed the constitutional amendment of 1963 abolishing the federal system in favour of a unified government. Dissatisfaction with the post Gaddafi government resulted in the appearance in September 2013 of a putative National Council of the Fezzan chaired by one Aboazom Al Lafi.
The blockade of oil facilities is more acute, and still continues, in the old province of Cyrenaica, known now as Eastern Libya. It is here that three major oil terminals have been paralysed by the very persons employed to guard them. This strange but disconcerting business is summed up in the words of Libya’s prime minster, Dr. Zeidan, when in December 2013 he stated; ‘We are producing oil at perhaps a fifth of our capacity and are carrying out some limited exporting operations. The issue is that the guards [the Petroleum Facilities Guard] who were assigned to protect the oil facilities betrayed their homeland and seized control of the facilities.’
Dr. Zeidan is here referring to the increasingly powerful figure, Ibrahim Jadhran, sometime eastern commander of Petroleum Facilities Guard. Jadhran has become the leader of the self-styled Political Bureau of Cyrenaica base in Ajdabia. He has assembled and sworn in a cabinet of 24 members and threatened to recruit and train a Cyrenaican Defence Force, similar to that which maintained King Idris in power during the 1950’s I presume.
For those readers coming anew to this story it should be said that the Petroleum Facilities Guard is recruited from armed militias or Thuwars initially formed to fight the Gaddafi regime and so far not yet disbanded. They are not regular soldiers or policemen and they owe their loyalty to their leader not, as do regular police or soldiers, to the state. That is why Dr. Zeidan calls them militiamen.
To further his aims Jadhran and his people have gained control of the three oil terminals in the Gulf of Sirte (aka Gulf of Sidra), namely Al-Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina and formed his own company, the Libyan Oil and Gas Corporation. In a recent TV address he said that this new organisation would have a temporary home in Tobruk, before moving to Benghazi at a later date.
To counter this, the Libyan government has declared force majeure and stated that it will use force to stop any ship intending to trade with Jadhran’s company. On Monday 6th January 2014 the Libya navy fired on a North Korean flagged vessel presumed to be on its way to take on crude oil from one of the ports under Jadhran’s control. The vessel escaped but the use of force by Dr. Zeidan’s government marked a step change in his policy of persuasion and negotiation and may mark the beginning of the end to the oil port blockades.
This by Ahmed Elumami which appeared in the Libya Herald on 24th October 2013 is worth reading in this context:
‘Federalists announced a government for Cyrenaica today. Consisting of a prime minister, deputy prime minister and 24 other ministers, it is viewed as largely the creation of Ibrahim Jadhran, the former Petroleum Facilities Guard commander who is leading the eastern oil terminals blockade and who was elected as head of the self-proclaimed Cyrenaica Council’s Political Bureau on 17 August.
It was Jadhran who named Abdraba Abdulhameed Al-Barasi to be Cyrenaica’s “prime minister” three weeks ago and who today said that the announcement of the government was two days late but that “we fulfilled our promise of a new regional government”.
Barasi [who was a Libyan Air Force officer] said that the reason for the move was because the central authorities “have failed and have shown incompetence and corruption”. They were not to be trusted anymore, he said. Also, Cyrenaica had suffered systematic negligence. His “government”, he declared, took its legitimacy and legal status from the 1951 Kingdom of Libya constitution ¬(which, in fact was amended in 1963, and the three-state federal makeup was replaced by a United Kingdom of Libya with 10 regions.’
So far Dr. Zeidan’s government has been unable to exploit the possible discord between the two powerful figures in the federalist movement in East Libya, Ibrahim al Jadhran and Libya’s oldest political prisoner and a cousin of the former King Idris, Ahmed al Zubair al Senussi, who are divided over the vision for the future of the federalist movement. Mr Senussi was the figure-head of the ‘Barqa Conference’, a largely tribal gathering, which met on 6th March 2012 and declared regional autonomy for Cyrenaica. The initiative failed but al-Senussi has reportedly condemned the recourse to arms by Jadhran. There does not seem to be much unanimity amongst federalists.
There Marsa Hariga oil terminal in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border in Eastern Libya, has also been blockaded for some time and there are signs that it may be reopening very soon. I suspect that the notables of Tobruk are less enamoured of Jadhran and his cronies and are likely to take their own line in this dispute. There does not appear to be a single focus of discontent in Tobruk.
The historical background to the ‘federalist’ movement may not be readily available Libya so I have taken the liberty of offering the following notes as a quick guide. They are taken from those I made when writing my book ‘Libya’ published in 2011 by the History press in UK.
BACKGOUND NOTES ON THE FEDRALIST MOVEMENT IN POST GADDAFI LIBYA
Libya is rich in the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek cities. In the south there are signs of an ancient African civilisation which the Romans called the Garamantes.
Even when these civilizations were at the height of their powers they were mostly separated by geographical barriers. The west was Roman, the east was Greek and the south African. The three Libyan provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan, which arose amongst the remains of these civilisations, were influenced by their ancient predecessors.
In 643 the Muslim general Amir ibn el ‘As invaded Cyrenaica and soon afterwards, Tripolitania. Uqba bin Nafi moved towards Fezzan in 663AD and took Germa. Afterwards, Libya was no longer part of the Dar al Harb – the House of War – but part of the Islamic world, the Dar al Islam.
After 1050 AD two true Arab Bedouin tribes from the Nejd migrated belligerently into Libya and largely pushed the Berber inhabitants into the Jebel Nefusa. They were the Beni Sulaim and the Beni Hilal. Their descendants followed their customs and way of life in Libya until recently and they still exert great influence.
The descendants of the Beni Sulaim are still spread over a large area in Egypt and Tunisia. There are two tribes which claim descent from them in Tripolitania. However, those occupying modern Cyrenaica founded nine famous aristocratic Bedouin tribes. These nine, the so called Sa’adi tribes, are divided into two branches, the Jibarna and the Harabi.
The Jibarna tribes are the ‘Awaquir, the Magharba, the Abid and the Arafa. The Harabi are the Abaidat, the Hasa, the Fayid, the Bara’asa and the Darsa. These nine tribes have pushed out a number of other Beni Sulaim, such as the Aulad Ali, who now occupy much of the Western Desert of Egypt.
The Sa’adi tribe were favoured by King Idris between 1951 and 1969 when Gaddafi’s coup thrust his own tribe, the Gaddadafa and the neighbouring tribes, the Magarha and the Warfella into predominance. The loss of power has been a festering source of discontent amongst the Sa’adi tribes. As John Wright pointed out in a kindly review of my book some time ago the Sa’adi tribes look down on the Gaddadfa as an Arabised Berber tribe.
By the end of the sixteenth century much of the Islamic world was under Ottoman Turkish domination. Tripoli fell to the corsair Dragut in 1551 and remained in Turkish hands, along with the rest of Libya, until 1911. Tripoli has always tended to be a city state and though its influence, and sometimes rule, extended to other coastal towns, it was rarely able to dominate the interior.
The Italians colonised Libya from 1911 to 23rd January 1943 when the British General Bernard Montgomery, at the head of the victorious 8th Army, entered the undefended city of Tripoli. For the Libyans this day marked the beginning of the end of a foreign occupation of notable brutality.
Despite losing the war, the Italians remained the lawful colonial power in Libya. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Britain, the USA and the USSR decided that the Italian colonies captured during the war would not be returned to her. What to do with Libya became a problem which was not solved until independence in 1951.
As the Great Powers wrangled about what to do, the cold war began to dictate the outcome. To Britain, France and Italy, countries with an early interest in Libya, were now added the USA and USSR. Unanimity was difficult to achieve between them. The Libyan people of the three provinces were of different minds about their aims. In the end they settled for a compromise because the alternatives on offer were undesirable. This meant that there was no sense of national identity in the newly independent Libya to catch the imagination of the people and drive them forward.
The compromise was this. Libya was to be a federal, constitutional, hereditary monarchy. The sometime Amir of Cyrenaica, El Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, was chosen as King. There was to be a bi-cameral parliament. The House of Representatives was to be wholly elected, one deputy for every 20,000 male inhabitants, and the upper house, the Senate, was to be partially elected and partially appointed by the King. However, both parliament and the King could initiate legislation.
Parliament was to supply and appoint federal government ministers, who were to be responsible for foreign affairs and defence. The King was empowered to dismiss them. As a compromise, reached after fierce arguments, there were to be two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi.
The three provinces were each to be governed by a Wali (governor) appointed by the King and answerable to an elected Legislative Council based in their respective capitals, Tripoli, Benghazi and Sebha. In each province there was also to be an Executive Council, appointed by the King on the advice of the Walis.
This arrangement led to a proliferation of bureaucracy and to endless disputes between provincial governments. The federal government was also hamstrung. It was forced to work from two capitals and with three provincial governments widely separated by geography and temperament and bedevilled by intermittent telephone services. There were no telephone services at all with the towns in the Fezzan. The two capitals were more than five hundred miles apart – a long way even in a powerful motor car as I was to find out for myself.
On 12th April 1959 Esso made a major strike in the Zelten field, a hundred miles or so south of the coast of the Gulf of Sirte. The company built a pipeline through the desert and a big oil port at Marsa Brega. In the autumn of 1961 the company started pumping good oil into the Esso Canterbury, the first of their large oil tankers to load in Libya. Others were queuing up behind her in the Gulf of Sirte. There was a huge quantity of oil under the desert. The oil terminal at Es Sidra was opened in 1962 and at Ras Lanuf in 1964.
King Idris had been under pressure for a long time to ditch the federal system in favour of a unitary government. The advent of oil made it impetrative but difficult to achieve in practice. Most of the oil was found in Cyrenaica and this evened up the balance of power between the provinces. The King was finally persuaded that the government, under pressure to spend the oil revenues effectively would work better if Libya abandoned the federal system. Consequently a constitutional amendment of 1963 abolished the federal formula and brought in a unified state apparatus. The power of the national government was enhanced and the provincial legislative assemblies, bureaucracies and judicial systems were disbanded.
On 1st September 1969 Gaddafi seized power in Libya. He was soon to abolish the old provincial names. Cyrenaica became East Libya, Tripolitania West Libya and the Fezzan South Libya.
For more than 40 years Gaddafi’s neglect of Benghazi in particular and East Libya as a whole was almost vindictive. That is one of the main reasons why Benghazi was the cradle of the revolution in February 2011. There are other reasons of course such as his withdrawal of patronage from the Sa’adi tribes in favour of his own Gaddadfa and its allies and also the rise of militant Islam which still is still a debilitating factor in Benghazi and Derna.
It is also significant that the old province of Cyrenaica largely aligned itself with the anti Gaddafi forces in February 2011 and was mostly untouched by the vicious fighting which devastated the towns around the Gulf of Sirte.
The weakness of the transitional government in Tripoli has led to frustration in the old provinces and the rise of federalism which has gained some tribal support.
CAN THE GOVERNMENT OF ALI ZEIDAN ASSERT CONTROL OVER THE AL SIDRA, RAS LANUF AND ZUEITINA OIL TERMINALS?
Al Zeidan has very few options open him at the moment. He is hamstrung by the constant threat of a vote of no confidence in the General National Assembly which has not yet materialised but rumbles on like indigestion.
The Libyan Army is, as yet, untrained and untested and I doubt its ability to make a successful raid on the three ports to remove Jadhran’s men.
Even if the army was capable of mounting a raid the political climate may not be favourable. A meeting of tribal chiefs and federalists was held in Benghazi on 21st December 2013. The Libya Herald carried this on 22nd December;
‘Tribal chiefs and supporters of federalism have warned the government, Congress and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) that they will not stand aside if force is used to end the closure of the eastern oil terminals. They also insisted that Cyrenaica would export oil independently of the NOC
At a meeting in Benghazi yesterday, Cyrenaica tribal elders and federalism activists said that any action or threat of action against the region or those who were “protecting” its ports and oil fields would be considered an assault on the people of Cyrenaica as a whole.’
Dr. Zeidan can deny trade to Jadhran’s oil company as we have seen when the Libyan Navy turned a North Korean registered ship away by force. However, Jadhran can continue to blockade the ports as long as he retains the loyalty of his armed militiamen. In this regard Dr. Zeidan has an ally in the form of the elders of Jedhran’s own tribe, the Moghrabi.
On 12th December 2013 the Libyan Embassy in London posted this news;
‘Tribal leaders have brokered a deal with the head of the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica, Ibrahim Jadhran, bringing to an end the federalist movement’s blockade of three eastern oil terminals.
Elders from the Moghrabi tribe entered into talks with figures from the federalist movement ten days ago in efforts to bring to a close the deadlock over the oil export terminals. Many of the tribe’s members have supported Jedhran, although they have been seen to be doing so for their own purposes.
The leader of the eastern tribe, Saleh Lataiwish, said that its members had responded to calls for the necessary reopening of the terminals. He said that the tribe had held meetings to discuss with “their sons” an end to the actions at Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina ports. The blockade is set to be lifted this weekend’
The initiative failed but it may be possible to starve Jadhran of support from the Maghrabi tribe whose homeland forms the hinterland to the three ports.
11th to 15th January 2014
UPDATE 17TH JANUARY 2014
These two pieces in the Libya Herald show clearly the problems faced by the Libyan government;
UPDATE 2nd March 2014
Whilst this report from the Libya Herald does not seem, at first sight, to fit into piece about Libya Federalism I have placed it here for a good reason. It concerns the early moves by a Libyan Army General, Haftar, to emulate Field Marshal Sisi in Egypt and take control of the country. He comes from Ajdabia and has some support in Cyrenaica where the people are becoming oppressed by Jihadist militias. It is a story worth following, especially in that he has some support from National Army officers.
This also is worth noting. It affirms, in my opinion, that the Federalist movement is strongest in Cyrenaica. There are some notable personalities mentioned in this piece:
UPDATE 13th March 2014
ALI ZEIDAN IS DEPOSED OVER HIS FAILURE TO DEAL WITH THE OIL PORT TAKE OVER
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Libya’s Prime Minster by a vote in the general National Congress on the 10t March and replaced by Defence Minister Abdullah Thinni. The reason given was that he failed to end the occupation of the Sirte oil ports. Ali Zeidan has since left the country despite a travel ban placed on him by the Attorney General, Abdel Qadar Radwan. The travel ban was issued to allow an investigation into Dr Zeiadn’s part in the alleged payment in September last year of bribes to Ibrahim Jadran, the leader of the Federalists blockading the Sirte oil terminals.
According to today’s Libya Herald:
‘Ibrahim Jadhran, the self-styled leader of the federalists occupying the ports, accused GNC Energy Committee head Naji Mukhtar and the government of trying to bribe him with LD 30 million to end the blockade in September last year.
Zeidan denied any involvement but Mukhtar admitted giving a number of cheques to one of Jadhran’s brothers Salem. He said that these could not be considered bribery because the accounts held insufficient funds for them to be honoured. One cheque for LD2.5 million was, however, reportedly cashed.’
Read more: http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/12/former-prime-minister-ali-zeidan-did-not-run-away-from-libya-thinni/#ixzz2vq6oBDdZ
An oil tanker, The Morinng Glory, took on a load of crude at one of Jadhran’s ports and has escaped the attention of the Libyan Navy to be sighted off the coast of Egypt today. Jadhran is reported to have said that another tanker is about to arrive for loading soon.
The eastern oil port of Tobruk is under force majeure again today (26th March 2014):