Beyond Benghazi: Libya faces converging crises
Libya's ongoing internal chaos briefly made world news Dec. 5 as a US national, a teacher at the Benghazi International School named Ronald Smith, was shot to death under circumstances that are still unclear. Whoever was behind it, it will be a headache for Obama, whose opponents are still milking the "Benghazigate" scandal. (CNN, Dec. 5) Other than when a US citizen dies, the world media take little note the near-daily violence in the city. On the same day Smith was killed, a member of Libya's Special Forces and a young cadet were gunned down in Benghazi. And the head of the Presidential Guards of the city, Anwar al-Dous, lost a leg when an explosive device detonated under his car. (Libya Herald, Dec. 5) Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, speaking at a Franco-African summit in Paris, responded by implying that Libya could be next for intervention: "Our fear is that Libya falls into the hands of Salafist terrorists and that the state becomes like Somalia... Sadly, we're seeing that the terrorists are there and that armed Salafist militia are in Benghazi, with people being killed almost every day. We must stabilize Libya." (Reuters, Dec. 6)
The conflict in Benghazi is a convergence of two fundamental crises facing Libya: control of lawless militias, with little clear boundary between these and the "official" security forces, and the contest between Islamist versus secular visions of the country's future. On Dec. 4, Libya's General National Congress voted to make sharia law the foundation of all legislation and state institutions in the country. A special committee was appointed to review all existing laws. The measure was a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood's Justice and Construction party, and is opposed by pro-secular National Front Alliance. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 4)
Another convergence has struggles for local autonomy and minority rights impacting control of the country's energy resources, with oil and energy facilities repeatedly blocked by protesters in recent months. Libyan cities may be heading for blackouts in the coming days as protesters from a Black African minority group continue to blockade fuel supplies to the Sarir power station, which supplies all the country's south and east. The protesters, from the Tibu people of the country's south, are demanding greater political rights for their remote and marginal region. Strikes and protests at oilfields and ports over wages or political demands meanwhile continue to keep exports at a bare minimum, drying up state revenues. (Tripoli Post, Dec. 6)
For weeks now, a group of Amazigh (Berber) protesters have been blocking the Mellitah gas and oil plants west of Tripoli, to press their demands for local autonomy. The protesters, many of them masked and armed, have effectively shut production at the complex, and recently raised their demands in response to the central government's intransigence on constitutional recognition of their language and culture. An ultimatum from the protesters warned: "Oil tankers won't get crude from this port until Tripoli finally meets our demands." One Berber militant, identified as Younis, said: "All this started as a move to get language recognition, but today we also want to tell all those interested in setting foot on Amazigh soil that they will have to take us into account from now on."
The Mellitah complex, run as a joint venture between the Italian multinational ENI and Libya's National Oil Corporation, is now ringed by the Berber protest camps. A banner at one camp proclaims: "We are the true guardians of the revolution." Younis told Inter-Press Service: "In 2011, we Amazighs took up arms against a regime that had treated us like dogs for decades. But two years later we are still struggling for our rights against the new Libyan government." (Intercontinental Cry, Dec. 5; IPS, Nov. 9)
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