By Ahmed Ruyahem.
Benghazi, 14 February 2013:
In a surprise announcement on Al-Ro’ya TV last night, Wednesday, the Cyrenaica federalist block announced that it would not be taking part in demonstrations tomorrow that it had originally instigated. It called on its supporters not to turn up. It had made the decision, it said, “for the safety of our communities, the preservation of national unity, our social harmony and to avoid the public getting involved in conflicts at the behest of various political entities and groups.”
The last point refers to concerns that other groups either opposed to the revolution or with different agendas might try to use the occasion for violence.
The block said that the decision was also in response to “a request by the GNC and government in their recent visits for more time to answer the public’s demands”.
On Sunday and Monday, a 26-man delegation comprising members of Congress, NGOs, political figures and led by the leader of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, held talks in Benghazi with Ahmed Zubair Senussi, head of the self-proclaimed Cyrenaica Transitional Council, and other federalists leaders. The delegation also included two members of Tripoli Local Council and Mohamed Harari, the former Minister of Local Government in the Kib administration.
“We were warmly welcomed and had several meetings in which we talked about Cyrenaica’s demands,” Elbadri told the Libya Herald today. “These included the return to Benghazi a number of organisations such as of the NOC and Libya. We said we have no problems with that.”
The delegation is seen to have been acting on the government’s behalf. Elbadri has a good relationship with Ahmed Zubair whom, he says, he first met in secret in Alexandria in 2005.
The Tripoli Council leader said that Zubair and the federalists had complained to the delegation that they had been misrepresented by the previous government and the media and that the name “Cyrenaica” was being deliberately shunned on political grounds.
The federalists said they wanted positive dialogue with the present government, Elbadri stated, noting that he had no issues with referring to the east of the country as Cyrenaica.
In the announcement pulling out of tomorrow’s demonstrations, the federalists said that they nonetheless would continue to “stand behind the legitimate demands” of Cyrenaica and continue to the “struggle for our rights” if their demands were not met. At the same time, they pointedly bowed to the authority of the government and Congress, saying that “the security of the demonstrators, public institutions and private businesses is the sole responsibility of specialised security branches of the government”.
The decision to pull out of the protests has been welcomed by a number of leading Cyrenaica federalists. Faraj el-Kezza, a federalist involved in the setting up of a political party believed to support strong decentralisation, told the Libya Herald it was the right thing to do.
“I think it is the proper move because of the security situation today. We cannot be responsible for any suspicious or violent acts during the demonstration given the large number of political groups and varying agendas participating in the demonstration. On the streets today we see many small tents with young men dresses in civilian clothing and armed with weapons, we assume that they represent the government but we are not really sure who they are.
“The federalist block is seeking to maintain its gains and to work on having a considerable representation on the 60-member Constitutional Commission,” he said.
It is not known what effect the federalists’ eleventh hour announcement will have on tomorrow’s Cyrenaica protests. Many of those planning to turn out see the demonstrations as a means of pressurising the government into investing more in Benghazi.