Today is the 64th anniversary of Cyrenaica’s Independence! For those of you unfamiliar with Libyan history, Cyrenaica (known as Barqa to Libyans) is the name of the Eastern part of Libya, and was a division under the British administration of Italian Libya, and a province under the Kingdom. If you’re interested in a more in depth history of the region, the Wikipedia page has some excellent facts.
Basically, Barqa refers to everything from Sirte eastward and southward. Along with Tripolitania and Fezzan, they formed the three federal provinces of the Kingdom of Libya. However, 6 years before the reign of Gadhafi, the King removed the three-state system in favour of a single entity.
After the revolution, several organizations and blocks formed which lobbied for a return to the federal system. The backlash was shocking.
There was a strong outcry, especially from the Western regions, against the idea. Local media dedicated hours of air time to people who verbally bashed the system as ineffective and pointless. Conspiracy theories regarding separatist elements were put forth by individuals who barely had an inkling of what federalism was. Arguments broke out, both on the streets and online. The other regions of Libya considered the call for federalism an insult to the unity of the country.
At the height of the controversy, the ‘Grand Mufti” Sheikh Gheryani issued a fatwa declaring federalism to be ‘haraam’ (forbidden, or a sin). Yeah, go figure.
I believe the call for federalism was poorly timed, and did not have necessary preparation. In a country where political experience is still rare, suggesting a new government system will cause confusion and, if manipulated properly, fear.
To properly understand, you need to know that much of the country’s oil is located in the East. The call for federalism was wrongly interpreted as an attempt by eastern fronts to monopolize on the oil gains. The rest of the country became frightened by a threat that was never made. This is because the issue was twisted by the media and government into something it wasn’t.
Another mistake was the formation of the ‘Cyrene Council”, a group of tribal and military leaders who announced the region to be semi-autonomous from the capital Tripoli. This move came after the federalist movement was discredited and rejected by the government as a legitimate system, and so federalism was seen not just as a damaging political idea, but a disguise for rogue anti-government forces.
Demands are now being made for a referendum on the issue, and the implementation of at least a more decentralized government. Under Gadhafi, the “government” was heavily centralized, with all major institutes and organisations being located in Tripoli. This system is still in place, and things as simple as documents and paperwork must be completed in Tripoli.
I strongly believe that a federal system will work for Libya. It has proved successful in the past with other countries. Implementation of federalism has even minimized the influence of separatist elements in Germany, for example. Having a regional government creates a more personal bond with the citizens, it organizes and makes lighter work of redeveloping the country, essentially dividing the work load. Federalism will also give residents of Barqa a chance to feel like they can determine their own futures, after decades of disenfranchisement by Gadhafi’s government.
But obstacles still pose a threat to the country’s stability. Misinformation, the lack of knowledge on the subject, and the animosity Gadhafi tried to sow between the regions are still a problem.
It’s also a very personal issue for many Libyans. There are people in the Western and Southern part of the country with family in the East, and vice verse. When you have some pseudo-analyst spouting nonsense about having to apply for a visa to visit family members in other parts of the country if federalism is instated, of course people will reject it. Brain washing and fear mongering are easiest after a complete political upheaval.
From what I know, there is no hope for federalism for the time being. The constitution hasn’t been drafted yet, and we’re still hitting speed bumps on our road to rebuilding. The political isolation law was passed under duress, the president of the GNC resigned, and Benghazi is still trying to establish security. What we can do now is spread awareness on these issues and let the people voice their opinions.
(If you’re interested in the topic, you can find an old article I wrote here back when the federalist rallies in Benghazi were still going strong).