Groups in Eastern Libya Push for Greater Autonomy
Civic Leaders of Libya’s eastern Cyrenaica province, long marginalized by during Moammar Gadhafi, began an initiative for greater autonomy. Five thousand people are expected to attend the first “Congress of the People of Cyrenaica” near Benghazi, where a proposal to return Libya to a federalist system will be proposed. The National Transition Council (NTC) has repeatedly “voiced objection” to the planned autonomy, saying that the federal system “paves the way to eventual split up of the North African country.”
Mohammed al-Harizi, a spokesman for the NTC, said that while the Libyan people were free to “lobby for regional autonomy” he believes that the Libyan people do not support the idea, warning it could eventually lead to the breakup of the North African nation. The initiative calls for the creation of a 300-member “High Council for Cyrenaica,” and lobbied for Cyrenaica to receive a higher proportion of representation in the election for a new national assembly.
Mohammed Buisier, a Libyan-American involved with organizing congress, “believe[s] in one Libya” – which delegates security and defense to a central government – he wants Cyrenaica autonomy in such things as housing and education. “People in Cyrenaica have for 40 years suffered from negligence towards the east; I cannot guarantee that Libya will be united in 25 years time.” Cyrenaica is home to the bulk of Libya’s oil reserves and Libya’s biggest state oil company. Thus, the move for greater autonomy could further destabilize the central government.
How much support this initiative has received from eastern Libyans is unclear. Reportedly, several thousand eastern Libyans marched to Benghazi’s courthouse Monday to express their opposition chanting, “Libya is united! Do not break up Libya!” Libya was structured as a federal system shortly after gaining independence in 1951, but Gadhafi quickly centralized its government in 1969. Eastern Libya has already created its own army, the Barqa Supreme military Council, independent of the NTC. The army, made up of revolutionaries who fought against Gadhafi last year, is now “ready to fight for autonomy,” said Barqa commander Col. Hamid Al-Hassi.
Around 3000 delegates at the “Congress of the People of Cyrenaica” have chosen Ahmed al-Senussi as their head of new council. Al-Senussi is the great-nephew of of King Idris. He arbitrarily placed in prison by Gadhafi after trying to stage a coup d’état in 1970 and remained imprisoned until 2001. Last year, the E.U. parliament the NTC member one of the winners of its annual “Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.”