By Mathieu Galtier.
Tripoli, 5 January:
Nearly two years after the beginning of Libya’s revolution, the country is still going through a period of economic and political uncertainty.
The security situation in parts of the country remains precarious, and attacks in Benghazi appear to be on the rise again after a string of killings targeting police officers in the city at the end of 2012.
However, federalists are taking advantage of these difficulties to emerge as a credible alternative to the current system of government, and the issue of drafting of Libya’s new constitution could be decisive in helping them to win votes.
Written along the speedway in front of the Tibesti, Benghazi’s main hotel, the graffiti reads: “Yes to federalism. No to Muslim Brotherhood who are working for Qatar”. When people are asked how long it has been there for, they have no idea. The slogan seems natural to them, even if they don’t agree with the sentiment. Federalism certainly seems to be on the rise.
Federalism “won’t go away”
“Federalism is getting bigger and bigger in Benghazi, mostly because the government is failing in all sectors. MPs thought that federalists were just a group of young people who were going to calm down, but they won’t”, explained Dr. Abeir Imneina, a political science professor at Benghazi University.
The latest attacks on public buildings in the capital of Cyrenaica have not curbed enthusiasm for federalism. Quite the contrary, in fact; some have been persuaded a federalized government would be more able to deal with threats to the state.
So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the bombings. But Abubaker M. Buera, president of the federalist National Union Party (currently registering with the government), sees one group as at least partly to blame for the instability: Tripoli and its over-centralized government.
Buera promises that insecurity can be tackled in a more effective way in a federal State. “Federalism doesn’t mean weakness. We could have local police who know the field and the people and a federal police, like the FBI in the United States”, he said.
Gaining ground across the country
“We have more and more support from the population. They have understood the difference between federalism and independence. Even the Amazigh tribes in the West and the Tebu in the South have accepted federalism”, Buera told the Libya Herald.
Abdusalam Al-Furjani is looking forward to federalism. He is one the policemen working in Benghazi’s Fayyad police station which was targeted by a bomb in December. “The brigades have good cars and good weapons compared to the police. We need better material. The government is doing nothing for us”, he said. He added that he was sure a federal government would be more able to supply them with the equipment they needed to protect themselves better.
As the head of Benghazi local council’s media committee, Usama Al-Sherif insists that relations between the local executive and the General National Congress (GNC) are excellent. “What we need is more decentralization – that’s all.”
He brushes aside the issue of federalism, adding: “We have no statistics about the exact number of people who support federalism”. However, he could not stop himself from making the distinction between Easterners and Westerners: “In the East, everyone is against Gaddafi not like in the West.”
Since the end of the revolution, the federalists are sure to have won over a large number of Easterners to their vision of what Libya’s future government should look like.
Decentralisation is “a joke”
“People have understood that federalism doesn’t mean independence, contrary to what the propaganda from Tripoli is saying on television”, Buera told the Libya Herald.
But when the thorny question of decentralization is mentioned to federalists, they reject it as “a joke”, and “a way for Tripoli to steal our money”. The issue of the headquarter office of the National oil company (NOC) is a symbol for federalists. “It was Gaddafi’s decision to transfer the NOC to Tripoli, it should have been back to Benghazi since a long time now”, Buera said.
Only defence, central banking decisions, foreign policy and oil revenue should be dealt by the national government, according to federalist leaders.
This new popularity has spurred on federalists’ political ambition. Abubaker Buera created the National Union Party after a split inside the Cyrenaica Supreme Concil (CSS). He clashed with Ahmed Zuber, president of the CSS, about his “individual” conception of ruling the party.
Twenty votes out of twenty?
Federalists dream of a landslide victory at the elections for the 60 members of the constituent commission (20 in the West, 20 in the East and 20 in the South). They are sure to win all the 20 seats and even more thanks to the federalists in the West and in the South.
The GNC would like to appoint these members itself, but it would be almost impossible for them to do this. The two federalist political parties have threatened to block the eastern borders and to seize the oil refineries if the GNC decide to nominate the 60 members. What’s more, the religious movement issued a fatwa in support of the election.
Is the movement strong enough to win in a head-to-head with the GNC if it came down to it? Nobody knows for sure, but they certainly seem to have the will.
“Congress is under the control of Muslim brotherhood thanks to the support of most of the independent MPs. So, on the one hand the Brotherhood doesn’t want an election. On the other hand, the federalists are eager to press ahead with the campaign because they boycotted the general election and they have no political clout”, Imneina said.
Usama is keeping a close eye on the issue of the election or nomination of members of the commission about the Constitution, but it is just a first step for him. What he really wants is independence for Cyrenaica “by guns if necessary”. Usama’s full name is Usama Buera, Abubaker’s son. The next generation is already on the starting blocks.