Posts Tagged ‘Ras Lanuf’
Since the 11th century the nomadic and semi nomadic Bedouin tribes of Libya lived out their traditional lives on land they owned by right of conquest. They moved their tents, their animals and their goods about their homelands according to the seasons. The Libyan Desert and the Sahara are reluctant to yield food and water to those who choose to live in them. Libyan tribes, therefore, protected their water sources, their plough land, their seasonal grazing lands and their date palms. They won a frugal living from a harsh environment with which they remained in a finely balanced equilibrium. Consequently the appearance of strangers in their homelands was treated with a degree of suspicion which underlay traditional desert hospitality.
The Bedouin humour needs a practiced ear to appreciate it. You can hear it in the phrase they used when strangers overstayed their welcome amongst them. They would say, ‘The camel has got its nose in the tent’.
In the middle of the last century oil was found in abundance in Libya’s tribal lands. Tribesmen found employment in the oil industry and the old pastoral life faded. For more than 40 years Libya was ruled by the eccentric Muammar Gaddafi, a man born in a Bedouin tent near Sirte. His rule was despotic and he was removed from power in 2011. Since his demise Libya has been wracked by strife and armed discord. The seed of religious extremism, ruthlessly suppressed throughout Gaddafi’s rule, has germinated in the Arab Spring and now threatens to overwhelm Libya.
The brutal Caliphate which calls itself ‘The Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ exploded out of Syria and seized territory and minds in Iraq with bewildering speed. It has become a de facto state with much of the apparatus of statehood. It is expanding rapidly and has looked for vulnerable and profitable places into which it might expand. It clearly has a greedy eye on Egypt which it threatens from the Sinai Peninsular.
Egypt’s western neighbour, Libya, became a magnet for ISIL. It harbours rich reserves of oil. It is a very large country and thus hard to police. It has fallen into armed discord since the demise of Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles of arms have been looted and the country is awash with weapons. The armed militias which fought to topple Gaddafi have remained in being and are vying for power. There are two governments which are unable to reconcile their differences and one of them, that which is based in Tripoli, has Islamist leanings. Neither government has, so far, been able to exercise control over the numerous armed militias many of which are led by militant Islamists. There is no effective national police force or judiciary. The militias have assumed both of these roles from which they enrich themselves.
In the near anarchy of Libya, the ‘Islamic State’ was guaranteed a ready source of recruits and also a sufficiency of fellow travellers in positions of power. Now it has a foothold in Derna and Behghazi and is in complete control of the coastal city of Sirte and its neighbouring town of Al-Nawfaliyah.
Sirte was Gaddafi’s home town and he poured a great deal of money into it. He was killed trying to escape from it in 2011 and the city of Sirte has been a pariah ever since. It was thus virtually outlawed and an easy target for IS. It lies between the de facto government based in Tripoli and the internationally recognised government based in the eastern city of Tobruk. These ‘governments’ as so badly at odds that they are unable to combine to root IS out of Sirte. The Islamic State is thus safe in Sirte until a government of national unity exerts sufficient force to attack and eliminate it.
I vividly recall making the journey from Tripoli to Benghazi by road in the 1960s. The Tripoli oasis ends as the road turns south east at Misrata and dives into the desert through which it continues with little let up but for the towns and oil ports for more than 650Kms until it reaches Ajdabia. It is hard to convey in a few words how daunting that desert journey was in the mid twentieth century. It may have become somewhat easier now but is clear – to me at least – how difficult it would be to mount an attack on IS in its stronghold in Sirte.
So safe does IS feel in Sirte that it is from there that it now operates ISIL’s satellite TV station Al Bayan on which it broadcasts the brutal Islamic State propaganda.
There is one other major factor which has not so far been emphasised. Sirte lies to the west of the major oil ports which are spread along the southern shore of the Gulf of Sirte. This is significant in the light of this report by Maha Sulaiman which appeared in the Libya Herald on 3rd November 2015.
‘There has been another assassination attempt in Ajdabiya. Gunmen last night attempt to kill a local imam, Salem Rahil. Several shots were fired at his car as he was leaving his home. Rahil, who is also a member of staff at the University of Benghazi’s Islamic Studies Department, was unhurt.
Ajdabiya is currently the most dangerous place in Libya in terms of assassinations and attempted assassinations, which are on the rise.
Last week, a Salfist imam was murdered when a car bomb exploded beneath his vehicle. Ten days earlier the local army intelligence chief Colonel Ataya Al-Arabi died in a hail of gunfire as he drove up to his home. The day before that there was an attempt to kill another Salafist imam in the town in a similar car bomb attack. Sheikh Mohammed Bodiam escaped serious injury but his nephew was killed.
At the beginning of October, Hassuna Al-Atawish Al-Magharbi, the commander of the LNA’s Brigade 302, which is currently fighting in Benghazi, was shot dead in the town. In September, local militiaman Nasser Al-Rugaieh and political activist Belgassem Al-Zwai were killed in separate incidents and there was an attempt to kill local journalist Usama Al-Jarred.
Almost all the attacks have been blamed on Islamic State (IS) forces or the Islamist Ajdabiya Revolutionaries’ Shoura Council.’
The Islamic State is bidding to take over Ajdabia. Why is this significant? Ajdabia is a strategic city in Libya. It lies to the east of and very close to the oil ports on the southern shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I have already pointed out in earlier blog posts that Adjdabia lies at the point where the coastal road from Tripoli around the shores of the Gulf of Sirte branches north east for Benghazi, almost due east for Tobruk and south east for Kufra. It is a hub for people trafficking from the Sudan. It is also the base of Ibrahim Jhadran who commands the Central Petroleum Facilities Guard and has the power to shut down the oil ports in the Gulf of Sirte.
It is not difficult to see what would happen if IS controls Ajdabia as well as Sirte. It would lie across the sole road access to Libya’s major oil terminals which lie between Sirte and Ajdabia at Marsa Brega, al-Sidr and Ras Lanuf. It would also command the hub of Libya’s eastern highway system. That would not be desirable. The IS camel would have its nose firmly in the Libya tent.
6th October 2015
Update 2nd December 2015
This, in the British Daily Telegraph today, makes disconcerting reading:
Update 5th January 2915
IS has launched an attack on the Libyan oil terminal at Sidra. This from the BBC is worth noting as it has a useful map showing the various ‘power bases’ in Libya.
The Libya Herald is today carrying a report listing the names of the IS fighters killed in the attack. They are all Sudanese:
‘As with almost all other IS suicide attacks, there are no Libyans involved. All four were Sudanese. IS names them as Abu Muad Al-Ghurhani, Abu Hamam Al-Ansari, Abu Abdalla Al-Ansari and Abdulrahman Al-Mohajer.’ ……….. ‘At least two members of the Petroleum Facilities Guard were killed this morning during a two-pronged attack by IS on the Sidra and Ras Lanouf oil export terminals.
It appears that IS launched two suicide car bombers at the security gate guarding Sidra in a diversionary strike while another force of up to a dozen vehicles looped south and attacked Ras Lanouf, 32 kilometres further east. In this assault one of the storage tanks in the tank farm was set ablaze.’ From Libya Herald, Tripoli, dated 4t January 2015.
Update 6th January 2015
This by Mustafa Fetouri, a Libyan academic, makes the case for intervention:-
Update 24th April 2016
This from the Libya Herald.
Tripoli, 23 April 2016:
The head of the central region Petroleum Facilities’ Guards (PFG), Ibrahim Jadhran, was injured this morning in fighting with convoy of vehicles from the so-called Islamic State. According to a PFG source, one guard was killed and, in addition to Jadhran, three others wounded. He claimed that a number of IS fighters had been killed and six of their vehicles captured.
Jadhran was not seriously wounded, the source stated and, after treatment at Ajdabiya’s Imhemed Al-Magarief Hospital, returned to the fighting.
The convoy of around 100 vehicles was spotted around dawn this morning south of Brega. PFG forces from Ajdabiya were called in and engaged them some 50 kilometres from Brega. Fighting continued until around midday.
According to the source, the convoy was not that of the IS fighters who retreated from Derna on Wednesday. With less than 40 vehicles, it was reported to have reached Sirte on Thursday.
The PGF source was unable to say where today’s convoy was heading, although with 100 vehicles it was thought to be taking part in a fresh military operation, possibly an attack on the oil facilities in Brega itself. In January, IS attacked the Sidra and Ras Lanuf export terminals and then attempted an attack on the Zuetina terminal.
Meanwhile there are separate reports of IS fighters pulling out of the village of Ben Jawad, 170 kilometres west of Brega and returning to Sirte, but these have not been confirmed.
Ben Jawad was captured by IS in January.
Update 27th April 2016
It is clear that a concerted attempt to deal with the IS lodgement in Sirte is underway as this in the Libya Herald shows:
Tripoli and Khartoum, 26 April 2016.
There are reports of the movement of two groups of Libyan National Army troops towards Sirte from the south-west and east. Meanwhile at least one Misratan brigade has announced it is moving eastwards toward the 200 kilometre-long coastal strip controlled by IS terrorists.
An army source told this newspaper that a force of more than a thousand men had left Ghabghab, the main army base at Marj and was heading for Sirte. It seems likely that the convoy will include some of the armoured personnel carriers and pickups delivered to Tobruk from the UAE on Saturday.
It is also being reported that the LNA commander in the west, Colonel Idris Madi, is pushing towards IS territory from the south-west. He is said to be accompanied by Colonel Mohamed Ben Nail, the commander of 241 Brigade and Colonel Ali Seedi Al-Tabawey, commander of the Tebu 25 Brigade. This unit, which fought against IS and Ansar Al-Sharia forces in Benina in Benghazilast year is based around the Sarir/Messla oil fields, the Sarir power station and the Shula oil compound.
On its social media site today Misrata’s Marsa Brigade has said that forces belonging to the city’s Military Council were concentrating before advance eastwards toward Sirte.
It is unclear if the Misratan move is being made in coordination with the Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Khalifa Hafter.
It is significant that the army has named its part of the move against Sirte “Qurdabiya 2” after a battle near Sirte at Wadi Al-Hamar (The Red Valley) fought against the Italians in 1915. This was notable for the fact that it was the only major occasion on which Libyans from Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan fought side by side against the Italians,
An elder of the Magharba tribe said today on 218 TV that his people will do whatever they can to help the movement of army units from the east. Meanwhile, Petroleum Facilities Guard commander Ibrahim Jadhran, a long-standing Hafter opponent, is understood to have agreed not to interfere with the army advance. Jadhran, who is himself from the Magharba, is believed to have sought to extend the PFG’s control over more oil fields to the south.
There has been considerable social media chatter in recent days about an impending operation against IS. A series of pictures has been posted claiming to show various units advancing.
Reports from inside Sirte this evening indicated that the town in unusually quiet and that the local radio station is broadcasting an almost constant diet of IS songs.
(A UN sponsored meeting of key political figures from Libya is scheduled for today, Thursday 5th March 2015, at a venue in Morocco. Will it result in a government of national unity with sufficient resolve to save Libya?) ‘The sense of fear and concern within Libya regarding the threat of terrorism is very palpable. In meetings I have had over the past week, Libya’s counterparts have expressed grave concern about the danger that terrorism poses to Libya’s security and stability, and of the very limited capacities of the Libyan State to effectively confront this challenge. It is crucial to create the right conditions to address this threat, while at the same time we should be ready to support Libyan efforts to tackle terrorism and extremism. We should be careful to not underestimate the sense of urgency and alarm underpinning this request for international support on addressing the threat of terrorism.’ From the briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya to the Security Council Mr Bernadino Leon, on 4th March 2015
On the eve of the crucial meeting in Morocco of the opposing factions in Libya’s disintegrating state the UN Support Mission in Libya has stated that -‘’The Libyan people have paid a huge price and have suffered much over the past months. At this critical juncture in Libya’s transition, and in view of rapidly diminishing window of opportunity for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Libya, UNSMIL appeals to all parties to approach the next round of talks with a spirit of constructive engagement and strong sense of national responsibility’’……“As difficult as the past few years may have been for their country, the Libyan people have not given up on their hopes and aspirations for a modern Libyan democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights,”
There must surely be sense of urgency about the proposed talks. In stark and simple terms Libya now has two governments, two legislatures and two armies. The elected government is based in Beida and Tobruk and is headed by Abdullah al-Thinni whose tenure is not all that secure. The unelected Tripoli-based government is led by Omar al-Hassi is backed up by the military might of the Misratan Militias. Both governments are unable to protect their ordinary citizens or maintain the supply of essential services. So busy have they been trying to maintain some semblance of government that they failed to stop the Islamic State (ISIS) establishing foothold in Derna, Sirte and elsewhere. News is leaking out of Libya that the ‘Islamic State’ has attacked the Shara and Bahi oil fields in the Sirte Basin. Whilst the raid was short lived and curtailed on 3rd March for lack of ammunition much damage was caused. The oil terminals at Es Sidra and Ras Lanuf, which contribute half of Libya’s oil output when operating normally, shut down in December due to the conflict. Libya currently produces around 400,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to 1.6 million bpd before Gaddafi was toppled. What is more the desalination plants which supply water to Tobruk are becoming unserviceable for want of maintenance, the fall in oil revenues has led to a run on Libya’s foreign exchange reserves and is threatening to weaken the exchange rate of the Libyan dinar, the Misratan steel works has been forced to cut production for lack of gas and the Misrata Free Port is not attracting business because ships are no longer docking there. From Benghazi we hear that that there is an acute shortage of bottle gas, frequent power cuts, little fuel at the filling stations, the hospitals are running out of supplies and staff, random rocket and artillery fire is making the streets hazardous, many schools are closed and the port is a battleground.
Writing about a recent visit to Libya in the New Yorker Magazine John Lee Anderson states – ‘Many shops are closed during the day, opening for a few hours after evening prayers; there are no women to be seen on the streets. There are sporadic bursts of gunfire and explosions, and it is impossible to tell whether someone is being shot or someone is cleaning a gun on a rooftop. Nobody asks; Libyans have become inured to war, and, in any case, decades of secret-police surveillance (under Gaddafi) have conditioned them not to inquire into the causes of violence.’
More important in my view is this, written by Mustafa Fituri in a piece for Al Monitor dated 14th February 2015 – ‘Libyan society has been more divided than it ever has been. It will take years to get back the social harmony and peaceful way of life Libyans enjoyed before February 2011, as the war has wreaked havoc on daily life of almost every Libyan family. The tribal society used to have a well-entrenched frame of reference, where religious and social norms were observed and respected by all. Disputes and quarrels used to be settled amicably outside the court system thanks to wise elders who were respected and enjoyed high esteem. This unwritten code of conduct has disappeared and is being replaced by another in which groups without social roots and lacking any social cohesion dominate. They are mostly armed gangs and social outcasts who call themselves “thawar” and have arms ready to use whenever they like. Libyan social life itself has been badly hit, as reflected in the increasingly weak family relations, even within the same family.’
There are those who argue that the efforts of the United Nations to bring a government of national unity together in Libya is doomed to failure and we must wait for a military solution. There are two major military forces in Libya. Both appear to have political objectives. In the west, and centred on the two major cities of Tripoli and Misrata, are the forces of Libyan Dawn. These are principally made up of the battle hardened Misratan militias and have the political support of war lords who have seats in the unelected General National Congress in Tripoli. The Libyan Dawn forces are said to have Islamist leanings and are opposed to two tribal armies, the Zintanis and the Warsifana, who are fighting in loose cooperation with the Libyan National Army of Lt. General Khalifa Hafter of whom more later. In the east, the old province of Cyrenaica, Lt General Khalifa Hafter has just been confirmed as Commander General of the Libyan National Army by House of Representatives President Ageela Saleh Gwaider. His forces are in alliance with the Petroleum Facilities Guard led by the young military entrepreneur, Ibrahim Jadhran, and units of the Libyan Air Force recently strengthened by the arrival of an Ilyushin-73 cargo transporter and – some sources are reporting – four Russian made Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets. It is said that Lt General Hafter is now exercising considerable influence over the internationally recognised government of Abdulla al Thinni. It is not unusual to suggest that no political settlement will survive without the agreement of General Hafter on the one hand and the leadership of the Misratan Militias on the other.
John Oakes 5th March 2015
Update 6th March 2015
This from the Libya Herald today. It is a warning from the Libyan National Oil Corporation following a series of attacks on oil fields –
‘The NOC warned that if the poor security situation continues it will be forced to close all oilfields and oil terminals with all the resulting deficit in state revenues and the direct effects on the lives of Libyans in the form of power cuts as a result of cuts in gas supplies and liquid fuel and shortages in fuel, if the interest of the country are not put first.’
See this from Reuters today for the full story:-
Update 6th March 2015
This from the Libya Herald dated 6th March 2015 must surely concentrate the minds of all Libyans and of the international community:-
Islamic State militants this afternoon attacked another oilfield (Ghani) killing eight people and damaging equipment and installations before apparently withdrawing. There are unconfirmed reports that a Filipino and an Austrian worker were abducted by the attackers.
Update 7th March 2015
This series of photographs is of children playing war games in Benghazi. A more chilling set of pictures would be hard to find. It is clear that the effects of the conflict in Libya will have repercussions for many years to come:-
Update 9th March 2015
Arms shipments to Libya are embargoed by the UN Security Council. In view of the deteriorating security situation Libya has sought U.N. permission to import 150 tanks, two dozen fighter jets, seven attack helicopters, tens of thousands of assault rifles and grenade launchers and millions of rounds of ammunition from Ukraine, Serbia and Czech Republic. However, the UN Security Council has received a report on the matter part of which states:- “While the threat posed by terrorist groups in Libya is a major challenge for the authorities, the panel is concerned about the possible use of this materiel in attacks on areas and installations under the control of rival militias, which are not terrorist groups.”
It is important to note, however, that the Libyan Sanctions Committee named Libya as the primary source of the illegal weapons trade that is fuelling conflicts in at least 14 countries around the world according to a report to the UN Security Council in March 2014.
The panel noted that ‘the control of non-state armed actors over the majority of stockpiles in Libya as well as ineffective border control systems remained primary obstacles to countering proliferation and that Libya had become a primary source of illicit weapons, including MANPADs [portable air defence systems]. Unable to secure its borders, Libya has let weapons fall into the hands of radical elements on several continents. “Transfers to 14 countries reflected a highly diversified range of trafficking dynamics; and that trafficking from Libya was fuelling conflict and insecurity – including terrorism – on several continents.’
As though to prove the point the Libya Herald reported today that an arms cache had been found in near Moussarref, 15 kilometres from Ben Guerdane and 45 kilometres from the Tunisian-Libyan border. It contained 24 RPG shells and rockets, 40 anti-tank landmines, 23,000 cartridges, as well as 30 electric fuses and a quantity of fuse detonators.The cache is believed to have been for radical groups in the Chaambi Mountains, on the Tunisian-Algerian border.
‘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):