Libya's East Declares Domestic Self-Rule
Libyan tribal leaders on Tuesday unilaterally declared nearly half of the oil-rich east of the country to be semi-autonomous with a capital in Benghazi.
The move, which could be the first step towards carving Libya up, comes just six months after the uprising that ousted late dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
Thousands of tribal representatives, militia commanders and politicians told a conference in Benghazi that the new state, known as Barqa, would have its own parliament, police force and courts to run its own affairs.
Under their plan, foreign policy, the national army, and oil resources would be left to a central, federal government in Tripoli.
Barqa would cover nearly half the country, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south.
The move underscores the lack of a true national identity in Libya, where fractious regional and tribal rivalries were held in contentious abeyance for 42-years by Qaddafi's often erratic cult of personality.
Libya's National Transitional Council – the interim central government based in Tripoli – has repeatedly voiced its opposition to the creation of a partly autonomous eastern region.
"This is very dangerous. This is a blatant call for fragmentation. We reject it in its entirety," said Fathi Baja, the head of the political committee of the NTC. "We are against divisions and against any move that hurts the unity of the Libyan people."
However, observers note the NTC is not in a position to stop the east from governing its own domestic affairs. The NTC has been unable to establish its authority since the fall of Qaddafi in August, and his brutal murder in October.
Of significant note is that the NTC has been unable to obtain a monopoly on military power due to a refusal by militia commanders to submit themselves to its authority.
Even in its own seat, Tripoli, the NTC has little control over the militias that arose during the anti-Qaddafi revolt and have divided the city into virtual fiefdoms.
Analysts say Tuesday's announcement aimed to pose a federal system as a fait accompli before the National Transitional Council.
The goal, they say, is to revive the system in place from 1951 until 1963, when Libya, ruled by a monarchy, was divided into three states: Tripolitania in the west, Fezzan in the southwest and Cyrenaica in the east – or Barqa – as it was called in Arabic.
A strong trend towards returning to the pre-Qaddafi system exists in the east – where the monarchal Libyan flag is often displayed – but has been little reported by Western media outlets.
"The government is not doing its job. My evaluation of its performance is not good," NTC prime minister Abdel-Rahim al-Keeb admitted on state TV on Monday.
"The steps we are taking are slow," he added.
The NTC has called for national elections in June to select a 200-member assembly that will name a prime minister to form a new government and write a constitution.