Behind the scenes and forecasts by Francesco Guidi

The old rivalry between Cyrenaica and Tripolitania reemerges

March  12, 2012 - : 

Political analysts of Libya have become used to the recurring differences over the past few decades between the two main regions of this country that, before it was united as an Italian colony, were the Ottoman Turkish provinces of Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.
The demands and aspirations of Cyrenaica
The fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime after 42 years certainly provides an opportunity for an in-depth reexamination of the conditions of a united country. It is natural that in Libya there are debates beginning about the foundations of the future Libyan state. The first appointment scheduled is the elections of the constituent assembly in June, which will draft a constitution.
Forestalling this event, a meeting was held in Benghazi on March 6 of an assembly of 3,000 delegates calling itself the Congress of the People of Cyrenaica, which is claiming Libya's eastern region's right to autonomy. This assembly set up an interim council led by Amded Zubair al Senussi to manage affairs in the region and defend the rights of the people.
On the other hand, one must bear in mind that Cyrenaica has always had autonomist tendencies and, even during Gaddafi's long dictatorship, the only movements that attempted to overthrow him matured and developed in this region, which experienced harsh repression by the regime.
Western countries, led by the European Union and the United States, are against any division of Libya and will do everything they can to avoid it.
Who is Ahmed Zubair al Senussi?
Ahmed Zubair al Senussi, leader of this autonomous movement for Cyrenaica, is 79-years-old and a member of the royal family, once headed by the late King Idris who ruled the country from independence in 1951 until he was overthrown by Muammar Gheddafi's coup. King Idris did not have any children and Ahmed Zubair is the son of his brother, Sharif.
During the 42 years of the Gaddafi dictatorship, Zubair was always part of anti-regime movements and joined attempted coups, all of which failed. Sentenced to death in 1988, his sentence was commuted to a lengthy prison sentence and he was amnestied in 2001.
After the outbreak of the February 2011 revolution that overthrew Gheddafi's regime, Zubair joined the National Transitional Council (NTC), which governs Libya while awaiting elections.
Al Senussi has denied that the decision to declare Cyrenaica's semi-autonomy is motivated by the desire to control the region's oil and also denied that the region will have its own army. "We will depend on the national army," he said, "but the region's administration will be the responsibility of the police."
The NTC's leaders negative reaction to Cyrenaica's request for autonomy
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, head of the NTC, immediately rejected Cyrenaica's request for autonomy, adding however, that he did not envisage armed intervention to stop it.
He specified that the problem will be analyzed in the appropriate institutional venue suggesting that one of these will be the constituent assembly that should be elected in June and is tasked with drafting the constitution.
Jalil said, "We are not open to a division of Libya. Our martyrs sacrificed their lives for our country's unity." He invited all Libyans to open a dialogue to resolve their problems. Ahmed Zubair, who assumed a moderate attitude, immediately complied with this request.
After March 10, protests against Cyrenaica's declaration of autonomy were held in Tripoli and in Benghazi. Fezzan, Libya's third largest region that covers the south, has repeatedly expressed a desire for autonomy and this resulted in clashes in Kufra.
On Monday, March 5 Mustafa Abdel Jalil was re-elected president of the NTC, which also appointed two vice presidents, Mustafa al Huna and Salim Ganan. This organization is expected to continue governing Libya until June when elections will be held for the constituent assembly.
Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al Kib's visit to Washington
On March 8, Libya's Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al Kib began a visit to the United States. On March 10 he was received at the White House by President Barack Obama, who congratulated him for everything Libya is achieving on its path to democracy. Obama reiterated the need for Libya to elect a constituent parliament in June that will approve the nation's new fundamental charter.
Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment, Al Kib also spoke of how in the past, Russia had for a long time supported Gaddafi's regime, adding that the new Libya is in favor of Russia's return to the country and will honor all old contracts.

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