The Prospects for Federal Democracy in Libya

Around 3000 political, tribal and civic society figures announced a gathering in Benghazi on 6-03-2012, to discuss the possibly of announcing Cyrenaica (Barga) a federal region with its own local council with executive and legislative powers to manage the affairs of the region. This move comes amid huge criticism in the east of Libya to the allocation of seats in the National Assembly elections with 102 for Western Libya, 60 for Eastern Libya, 29 for Southern Libya and 9 for the central area of Libya. However, there are many other underlying issues that have led to such a move. Tripoli has now raised the alarms and there has been huge criticism to such a move by those figures in Eastern Libya.
There is a legitimate political movement in Eastern Libya calling for Federalism to be considered as the option for the governance system in Libya. The justification for such a call is to ensure decentralisation of governance, preventing marginalisation of cities and towns in Eastern and Southern Libya, and also to prevent a dictatorship from being reborn in Libya. However, anti-federalists are accusing federalists of betraying the unity of Libya and further accuse them of having a separatists’ agenda supported by outside powers, which would lead to the partition of Libya and possible independence of Barga from the rest of Libya. There is also the issue of the oil wealth where Barga has superiority in that respect.
Federalism is a hot topic for Libyans at the moment. However, due to the culture of black and white politics Libyans are used to and also historical fissures, the discussion about the prospects of federalism in Libya are taking the form of allegations war between the two sides. This confrontation doesn’t serve the unity of Libyans and will not benefit any of the sides involved, but instead will serve as a promising opportunity for Gaddafi’s loyalists to make what Gaddafi warned off a reality, and the situation could also be exploited by foreign powers that see partition of Libya would serve their interests in the region. Libyans should resolve to constructive and effective dialogue instead of confrontation to reach national consensus.
The NTC and the government are partly to blame for the deteriorating situation, since liberation was announced in October of last year the NTC and the government rushed to Tripoli and left Benghazi completely, and that stirred the feelings of marginalisation of the people in Eastern Libya and caused people to believe that all the promises of decentralisation are only fancy promises that do not reflect the reality. Benghazi was packed during the revolution and the society there was very active, but after the liberation activities in the city started to decline and most of the political work is happening in Tripoli away from the heart of the revolution as some in Benghazi put it.
The government announced the publication of a complete plan that supports an effective mechanism for local governance in Libya that will ensure decentralisation of services to the ordinary citizens throughout Libya. The government is a little bit too late announcing such a step now. The government has been accused of using an ad-hoc policy approach to the unfolding events in Libya, and such approach portrays the government as weak and leads to people not trusting the government and its ability to lead the country in these very critical times.
The tribal leaders in Barga will have a significant role to play in such situations. The tribal leaders in Barga are not in favour of the allocation of the National Assembly seats that the NTC came up few weeks back, and this might explain the support tribal leaders are giving to the federalism conference on 06-03-2012 in Benghazi. The NTC will be required to look into the allocation of seats in order to win support and trust from the tribal leaders in the area. There have already been reports of meetings between tribal leaders from Werfalla tribe in Western Libya with tribal leaders in the Eastern Libya and discussions are revolving around the issue of federalism and the allocation of seats in the national assembly.
The NTC will need to take very quick and practical measures to calm down the tribal leaders and people in Eastern Libya to ensure the unity of Libyans through these very difficult and turbulent times. National consensus at all costs will be the only means by which Libya can get through and achieve the democracy Libyans have hoped for. One of these steps has already been taken with the government announcing plans for decentralisation and more power for local councils, the second step will be immediate reconsideration of the allocation of seats in the National Assembly to ensure national consensus and rebuild trust between the people of Libya and the authorities.
There is also huge dismay in the south and east of Libya at the fact that armed militias are controlling almost everywhere in Tripoli and these militias are using their position to blackmail the NTC for deals that serve their own interests. The people of Tripoli need to take matters into their own hands by pushing these armed militias out of the capital by means of demonstrating against the armed militias’ culture in the capital and work with government officials to co-ordinate efforts.
The scenario of federalism or partition in Libya will lead to very catastrophic and regrettable results and could lead to civil war between the old three-province, Cyrenaica (east), Fezzan (south), and Tripolitania (west), as the administrative borders of these districts were never fully established, and they have changed at least eight times since 1951. In 2007, Libya had 22 administrative districts, not three.
The patriots in Libya need to show their unity and their support for each other, the people of Tripoli and surrounding areas should show support for the legitimate demands of the people in the east and south and vice versa, only then Libyans can ensure the unity of their country and avoid any catastrophic scenarios from emerging that would affect the transition to democracy in the country. Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is also co-founder and Public Affairs Director of the Libyan Academy for Creativity and Innovation. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya. [Email: [email protected] ] Copyright © 2012 Mohamed Eljarh