By Maha Ellawati.
Benghazi, 15 February 2013:
Several thousand people turned up in Benghazi’s Tahrir after Asr prayers to celebrate the second anniversary of the revolution and call for greater economic investment in the city and the east of the country. They warned General National Congress President Mohamed Magarief that if he did not heed their demands he would be dismissed. They also demanded better security for the city, calling for the Chief of Staff, Yousef Mangoush, to be sacked.
Today’s demonstrations, marking the actual day two years ago when Benghazi rose up against Qaddafi’s forces in the city, had originally been called by Cyrenaica Federalists to demand a return to the 1951 constitutional division of the country into Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and Fezzan and the return of institutions to the city such as the NOC and Libyan Airlines. However, the federalists pulled out of the protests late on Wednesday evening, citing concerns about public security.
Possibly in reaction to the pullout, there was a mixed response from today’s demonstrators on the issue. Amid the shouts of “Libya Hurra!” (Libya is Free) and “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain”, there were chants of “We don’t need federalism”. Others in the crowd were strongly in favour of the idea and supported the federalists’ position.
However, the demonstrators were firmly united in insisting on the return of all institutions moved by the Qaddafi regime from Benghazi, such as the NOC. They demanded an end to what they called the marginalisation of the city and the east by Congress and the government, specifically warning Magarief that if he did not act on their demands he would “go the way for Abushagur”.
(Former deputy prime minister Mustafa Abushagur was elected prime minister by Congress on 12 September but removed four weeks later following intense criticism of his cabinet selection.)
There was criticism too of the local council for not taking part in today’s demonstration, with cries of “Where, where where is Benghazi Council?”.
No one from any official body turned up to what was a good-humoured event. Despite earlier fears the even was entirely peaceful and there were no attempts to take over it. There was no visible presence of Ansar Al-Sharia or any other Islamist organisations. Security was undertaken by the police and volunteers.
There was earlier a small separate demonstration in nearby Sharaja Square by protestors demanding the return of institutions such as NOC but they then headed to join the main crowds in Tahrir Square.