Benghazi, 3 November:
More than 1,000 demonstrators massed outside the Tibesti hotel in Benghazi following Friday prayers yesterday calling for greater economic autonomy in the Cyrenaica region.
The protests, which came two days after Prime Minister Ali Zeidan succeeded in getting his government through Congress, renewed calls for key financial institutions to be based in Benghazi, including the central bank, the National Oil Company and the ministries of oil and finance.
Resentment towards Tripoli has been gaining momentum in recent weeks, following a bungled plan to give the NOC’s Benghazi branch effective control over oil production in eastern Libya, which accounts for almost 80 per cent of the total.
The move was proposed by the NOC on 4 October but was put on hold less than a week later following protests by employees in Tripoli, sparking a series of protests in Benghazi. Officials decided to defer making a final decision until after the new government was formed.
Yesterday, protesters held up banners warning the government not to neglect Benghazi a second time. “Ignoring our demands for federalism has dire consequences on the future of Libya,” read one banner.
According to AFP, the demonstrators also circulated leaflets expressing support for the Zeidan government, whilst calling for a return to the 1951 constitution, in which powers were heavily devolved to each of Libya’s three regions.
“We declare our full support for the elected government, which won the confidence of the General National Congress, in order to draft a constitution on the basis of the legitimate constitution of 1951,” read their statement.
Support for federalism gained momentum in the east in the run-up to the 7 July National Congress elections, but the increasingly violent actions of some of its members cost the group much support, and calls for an election boycott were largely ignored.
Confusion still exists as to what exactly is meant by federalism in Libya, with many of its proponents merely advocates of greater decentralisation, a policy supported by almost every major political grouping, whether in Tripoli or elsewhere.
When understood as autonomy with significant political and legal ramifications, or even effective independence, the concept enjoys far less support, including in the east.