Federalism 101: why federalists movement emerged in Cyrenaica?

The Historical Regions in Libya
The Historical Regions in Libya

After 17th, Feb 2011, a group of people mostly from the East emerged as federalism supporters. The federalist movement ask for applying federalism in Libya as it was applied in 1949 for regional autonomy. They face oppositions from all Libyan regions, including the East. I opposed them at first for several reasons. However, things have changed in the last 4 years that we all could be wrong about the federation. We should clearly understand that there are reasons behind federalists movement. The only thing we did for them is accusing them for splitting Libya.

The main reason is neglecting for 42 years. The East is known for their opponents to Gaddafi. Therefore, Gaddafi has neglected the East on purpose. He managed to reduce the effectiveness of this part. He kept most of Libya’s institutions in Tripoli, where he controlled the entire country. He also moved some public entities from Benghazi, where it was originally created, to Tripoli, such as the National Oil Corporation and the Libyan Airline. People are afraid of continuing this neglecting especially with a centralized government.
Gaddafi built his empire in Tripoli, 1000 km away from Benghazi. He created a powerful centralized government that controlled everything. The other Libyan parts don’t have any authority to get things done fast. Every legal aspect needs to be authorized (signed) in Tripoli first. Therefore, people face delays to get their work done by the government. Personally, I’ve suffered a lot of this centralized government.

This neglecting comes with geographical obstacles. Libya is a huge land. Most of this land is empty. The three regions (east, south, and west) are not directly connected. They divided by this huge desert in the middle. Traveling from Benghazi to Tripoli by car is the same distance between Georgia and New York (I guess). The only difference between the two routes is there is nothing between Tripoli and Benghazi. This geographical obstacles will magnify the painful effort if there is a centralized government that controls people’s lives 1000 km away.

That truth is that natural division created cultural divisions as well. There are cultural differences between the three regions. For example, there are different languages and accents. This cultural variation is obvious in today’s crisis. The different regions take each side in this civil war.

Many people say Gaddafi neglected every part in Libya. Yes, that’s true, but no one denies the East has taken the largest portion in his neglecting plan comparing to its rich-full history in Libya. Libya started from Barga (Cyrenaica), the history says that, when King Idris united the three regions to create one country. In addition, the eastern part was the stronghold for the harshest resistance for Italian colony. People of Cyrenaica are proud of this short history. In other words, Cyrenaica has a unique history and identity, and Gaddafi simply has ignored these facts.

One of the most important point is the oil resources in Libya. Most of Libyan oil fields located in Cyrenaica, which the centralized government controls it all. For more than 60 years, Oil outcome revenues were distributed unequally. People in the East don’t mind sharing these resources with all Libyans equally. However, when people suffer by inequality, they will pursue their rights first, and oil resources are the first they will seek because it located beneath their feet.

There are many examples of successful countries that adopted federation recently, India and UAE, for example, are good federal countries. Other examples are still suffer from recent federation, such as Iraq and Sudan.

We have to distinguish between decentralization and federation. Most of federalists are hesitated with the new decentralization law (empowering the local authorities instead of local governments). They keep saying it’s not the solution for Libya.

“The solution is by adopting federation, while each region clean its house” one of federalist told me. The solution could be empowering the three region and tribal areas while keeping the strong united federal government.

Adopting federation is not going to be easy, especially in this time. One of the issue is the boarders. Each region will claim their geographical boarder. There is a debate now between people from Tripoli and Cyrenaica about where is the historical boarders for each region. Instead, we should adopt only the administrative boarders.

Many people say federalist movment started with the wrong people who are fighting for the right cause. Federalism is like the crack. If we keep neglecting it, it would become larger and larger and to destroy everything. There is a new group in Cyrenaica asking for independency now. Libya could split to 3 or more countries. The number of people who become federalist is increasing everyday nowadays as Libya is divided to two governments. We have to deal with them as soon as possible. Either by adopting federalism or creating something fixes all issues. The upcoming constitution is the key for creating the best solution.

One thought on “Federalism 101: why federalists movement emerged in Cyrenaica?

  1. johnoakes July 11, 2015 / 7:47 pm

    More than fifty years have passed since our daughter was born in Benghazi. Even then, and despite the King’s preference for Cyrenaica, the dominance of Tripoli was a constant irritation. As you say, the distance by road between Tripoli and Benghazi is great. It is hard for Europeans to understand that much of the road passes through desert. The journey by road around the Gulf of Sirte was not undertaken lightly.
    The ancient history of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan still seemed to exert an influence. Tripolitania was still drawn to Rome, Cyrenaica to Greece and Ptolemaic Egypt and the Fezzan to the ancient Garamantes and to Sub Saharan Africa.
    It seemed to me all those years ago that it was the common ancestry of the nine Sa‘adi tribes of Cyrenaica which gave the old province a greater sense of cohesion and explained the reason for the long and heroic resistance to colonial rule. Is it the feeling of strong ‘family ties’ which now makes federalism popular?
    There was one major problem with the three provinces. There were three provincial governments and one federal goverment! Dealing with one was bad enough. Bureaucrats are strange beasts.
    John Oakes

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