Christopher Lee writes from the United Nations HQ: Libyans are supposed to be electing a new parliament Saturday next. (That would be July 7, in case you like to keep track of the dates when important things happen.) That’s great, scream the whackos who in October 2011 swam in the sea of self-congratulation, following the assassination/murder (depends where you read law) of the deposed tyrant Muammar Gaddafi. (How come he was only a colonel?)
So, Saturday should be living proof that the NATO/Qatari-led attack on the Gaddafi regime was a success and justified by what has followed. And that in turn should signal that all is quiet on the Libyan front of diplomacy.
But things are not that simple in the new democratic Libya.
Behold, a mob ransacking the Libyan electoral authority offices in Benghazi this week. Who let them steal, or who could not stop them stealing the ballot boxes containing election papers and making a bonfire of these democratic vanities? And anyway, why would they want to spoil the fun of the free (if not entirely fair) election processes?
The answer to the last point is simple: not everyone in Libya believes they are getting a good deal, in spite of the bloodshed of the glorious NATO sponsored revolution. Just as the military action demonstrated in 2011, the people of Cyrenaica which is best described as Eastern Libya, are getting what they think is a bum deal.
When, or even if, the new 200-seat parliament gathers in Tripoli, Western Libya will be given 102 seats, 38 seats will be scattered throughout the regional districts and Eastern Libya will get just 60 seats. The next key point to grip is that the parliament’s first task will be the drafting of a new constitution.
The Eastern Libyans are perfectly numerate. Even if the 38 ‘other’ seats joined with Eastern Libya (which they most certainly will not at this stage) Western Libyans would still have a majority and so the new constitution will be as they want it to be. Eastern Libyans will be marginalized, as they were under Gaddafi
All this is encouraging more people of Cyrenaica to want greater autonomy. We all know what cries of greater autonomy sound like in the palace – separatism. That’s how civil wars start – ask the Syrians.
But here comes the juicy twist in the tail: more than 60 per cent of Libyan oil is in Cyrenaica.
Fifty years ago, Libya was split into a tripartite federation – Cyrenaica in the east, Fezzan in the south-west and Tripolitania centred on the capital in the north-west. After the 1969 revolution, Eastern Libya became marginalized especially when it was understood that its oil paid most of Gaddafi’s hefty bills, but the revenues were spent mostly elsewhere to maintain loyalties to the colonel and his regime.
In Cyrenaica, they reckon that could happen again. But most of all, what we’re seeing is a two-fold phenomenon. Factions and heavily armed militia remind us that old scores are still to be settled and no one is going to lay down their weapons, even when the dirtiest deeds are done, because memories are still creating animosities.
Secondly, and most curiously, much of Libya appears to have no authority organizing the people. In other words, it’s ungoverned. But many of those apparently aimless people are very happy with the idea of not being governed. They quite like the idea of simply making those things that they need work.
It can’t go on like that, of course, because modern democracy always gets in the way of a peaceful way of life among people who simply want to get their breath back. But that of course is not why NATO and the US went in to Libya. They went for the oil.
Whoever controls things in Libya will sit on a major oil pipeline and they’ll need to sell it to the highest bidder which is why a lot of people in the would-be semi-autonomous region of Cyrenaica are learning a little Chinese. But that’s another story altogether.