Stability in Libya Threatened Amid Struggle for Power

Following the announcement of the Barqa council by thousands of tribal and political leaders in eastern Libya, and as expected Tripoli strongly condemned the move and employed all possible resources and means to mobilise the public against the Barqa council. There has been a fierce exchange of allegations and accusations by both sides.
A date was set for an anti-federalism demonstration on Friday 09-03-2012, and throughout Libya thousands have come out on the streets especially in western Libya to show their opposition to the unilateral announcement of autonomy by the leaders in Barqa. However, Ahmed Elzoubair Elsenousi leader of the newly established Barqa council said citizens have the right to protest and oppose federalism calls in the country, but insisted that their decision is final and there is no going back and he called for a referendum on the issue in the region of Barqa in collaboration with the NTC and under UN supervision.
The situation is further complicated by the support of the tribal leaders to the Barqa council, as Mustafa Abduljalil and the new government are aware that these people have huge societal influence in the region. These tribal leaders feel the need to make their presence felt in the new Libya especially after the formation of the interim government where they claim favouritism was exercised in the allocation of important government posts such as Defence and Interior and tribes from western Libya landed those posts.
Tribal leaders were an important pillar for Gaddafi’s rule. Gaddafi knew the importance of the tribal support for his rule, and ensured at all times that this support was maintained. When the uprising started in eastern Libya anonymous support by tribal leaders for the uprising was vital to dismantle Gaddafi’s presence in the Barqa region. However, there was no anonymous support by tribal leaders in western or southern regions of Libya, and that was one of the main reasons why Gaddafi managed to stand grounds for few months despite the continuous air strikes and attacks on the ground from the revolutionaries.
Despite the vital role tribes played in the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in eastern Libya there is clear move towards reducing the tribal influence in the Libyan society by the new authorities and some of the established political parties. The recently announced elections law proposes 120 seats for party lists and 80 seats for individual candidates and that clearly favours political parties, as most individual candidates will rely on the tribal support to win their nomination to the National Assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood campaigned heavily and ensured allocation of seats favoured party candidate lists and that gives them a clear advantage, due to the fact that they are the best organised political movement in the country. Naturally, the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties were strongly opposed to the idea of federalism in the country because it would ensure power is concentrated in the hands of tribal leaders instead of political parties.
It has also been reported that tribal leaders from Werfalla the second largest tribe in Libya were arrested in Benghazi after receiving a formal invite to join the Barqa council meeting. It was also reported that government personnel were behind the arrest in a bid to distort the significance of the Barqa council announcement. This indicates consensus between tribal leaders throughout Libya that their role in the new Libya has to be protected especially with the NTC and the interim government crowded by Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and advocates, as well as, other interest groups and power brokers.
It is not yet clear how will the Barqa council react to the demonstrations that have taken place throughout Libya. However, it is expected that the tribal leaders will not give up that easily and will instead start to play a political game with the new authorities and try to influence the decision making and the writing of the new constitution. The tribal leaders will need to be assured that their role in Libya will still be vital, and only then consensus can be reached to get on with building the new Libya. If the tribal leaders are excluded from the political process, they will destabilise any new government in Libya by relying on their societal and popular influence. Such divisions will only prolong the road to democracy in the country and cause unnecessary confrontations that could result in catastrophic scenarios for the stability of Libya. The Barqa council has recently announced that the second assembly of its leaders will be in mid-April to discuss the upcoming elections, and it is expected that they would refuse to participate in the elections unless safeguards are given for the Federal governing system to be adopted in the constitution as was the case in 1951.
It is also safe to say that the Federalism Movement in Eastern Libya is the most organised political movement in the region, due to the fact that all the political parties and activities are based in Tripoli. This arrangement leaves Federalists and their advocates an excellent space and environment to operate in. The gathering of over 3000 delegates is the biggest and first of its kind in the region of Barqa by all accounts. The authorities in Tripoli have to address and fill this political vacuum created in the region by their complete re-location to Tripoli.
There has to be mutual dialogue between all the power brokers involved in the new Libya to come up with a satisfactory deal for all. Mohamed Eljarh is a UK based Libyan academic researcher and political, social development activist. He is from the city of Tobruk in Eastern Libya. [Email: ] follow on Twitter: @Eljarh Copyright © 2012 Mohamed Eljarh