By Maha Ellawati.
Benghazi, 13 October:
Members of the Benghazi Local Council joined with employees of the Arab Gulf Oil Company, the National Oil Company and dozens of local residents yesterday in protest at the NOC’s recent decision to suspend a move to develop its Benghazi branch.
The demonstration, entitled “Bring back Benghazi’s oil institutions to their natural location”, took place in front of the Tibesti Hotel, which was originally designed as the Benghazi headquarters of the NOC before Qaddafi moved the operation to Tripoli in 1970-71.
On 4 October, the NOC announced plans to radically enhance the size and influence of its Benghazi branch by effectively giving it the power to run the oil sector in eastern Libya, which accounts for some 80 per cent of the country’s total production.
Resolution 100 was placed on hold on Tuesday, however, following protests by NOC workers in Tripoli who complained that the move represented an unacceptable shift towards federalism in Libya by creating separate NOCs in the east and west.
That decision in turn sparked major discontent in Benghazi, with yesterday’s demonstration being only the most recent manifestation. Protesters complained that the suspension of Resolution 100 further marginalised eastern Libya, and Benghazi in particular.
Chanting slogans such as “no to centralisation”, protesters demanded a return of the NOC to Benghazi, which, they said, was its natural home. Oil workers have also threatened to ignore future decisions of the NOC unless their concerns are addressed.
The demonstrators pointed out that Benghazi was the home of the 17 February revolution, but that it had been neglected by Tripoli in the year since Qaddafi’s capture and death last October.
They also complained of a broader cultural discrimination in Libya, highlighting the disparity in the number of television stations in western and eastern Libya, and claiming that the problem even applied to school textbooks, in which the history of eastern Libya was deliberately marginalised and falsified.
They said that they would not cease to highlight their discontent simply because Benghazi had been named the Libyan Capital of Culture in 2013.
Finally, the protest moved from the Tibesti hotel to Shajara Square in order to avoid any clashes with a newly-arrived group protesting against the plight of Bani Walid.