By Ahmed Ruhayem.
Benghazi, 7 June, 2013:
There was dancing and fireworks in Benghazi yesterday as local residents celebrated the government’s decision on . . .[restrict]Wednesday to return the NOC, Libyan Airlines, the Libya Company for Insurance and the Internal Investment Company to the city. They were removed to Tripoli in the early 1970s by Qaddafi as part of his policy of centralising everything in one place.
An estimated 2,000 supporters of a federal system in Libya gathered in front of the Tibesti Hotel to applaud the decision. It is seen in the city and elsewhere in the region as a response to the 1 June declaration in Marj of self-government in Cyrenaica.
“This will create a lot of investment in Benghazi and eastern Libya overall”, a senior AGOCO official told the Libya Herald, expressing his happiness at the return of the NOC.
Benghazi-based AGOCO is Libya’s largest oil company.
“It means that international oil companies will also have to establish offices in Benghazi as well as many support service companies,” the official said. “All this investment will create a lot of opportunities for many unemployed highly qualified professionals in eastern Libya.”
“This is a positive step in the right direction although the Central Bank is not part of the package”, said Abdel Jawad Al-Badeen, a former thuwar commander who supports federalism.
Cyrenaica federalists had demanded that all institutions removed by Qaddafi be returned to where they were before the 1969 coup, including the Central Bank.
“For us the question is not a matter of moving institutions around for political favouritism,” Al-Bardeen insisted. “We want to have an equal distribution of public institution across Libya. For instance the Agriculture Ministry is best suited to be located in Marj where much of Libya’s agriculture goods are produced. Moreover, a division of state powers between the regions is absolutely necessary, especially for state-service type ministries. Sovereignty ministries such as the Foreign Ministry, Justice and Defence should be in the capital, Tripoli.”
The man seen as the spokesman for the federalist movement, Isam al-Jahani, warned against efforts in Tripoli to block the decision.
“The transfer of institutions is not my demand and I think the Tripoli centralising lobby may be simply trying to buy time by this move,” he told the Libya Herald.
“Our main objective is to have an equal distribution of wealth throughout all Libya so that a person in Benghazi has the same opportunities as someone in Al-Jmail or Sebha. I have warned my friends in Tripoli not to push for a rally against Cyrenaica federalists because that may only increase tensions on the street and people might now think that it was a mistake to allow political parties to participate in Libya’s transition to democracy.
“History is repeating itself, just as in the late 1940s when western Libyan communities argued and fought among themselves without agreement, only to turn to Cyrenaica and the establishment of a federal state in 1951.”
A sense of history being remade as a result of the announcement was common among many of the celebrants.
“Today’s young Cyrenaicans are repeating their grandfather’s glory, a part of history that the regime of Qaddafi sought to eliminate from both the minds of Libyans and the history books,” said one.
“The Constitutional Commission should return to the 1951 Constitution and adjust the system and form of the government to the one Libyans desire,” said Sheikh Ali Al-Moghrabi, a leading federalist supporter who agued against power being “concentrated into that hands of a small group of political party leaders”. That way, he said, “we might return to another form of dictatorship”.
He continued: “The world is laughing at us! We had one the best constitutions ever written but neither the National Transitional Council nor the General National Congress ever mentioned the 1951 Constitution. Qaddafi never annulled the 1951 constitution.”
Other residents said that the decision would improve the economy and with it, standards of living in the city. Benghazi would now become an economic centre and attract foreign investment, they believed.
“I’m happy about the return of these institutions. They will give Benghazi an economic role as well as help to break up the abhorrent centralist system,” said local resident Qais Mohammed Faitouri.
“The move is a step in the government fulfilling its promises and will boost people’s confidence in it,” said Khalid Al-Warfali, another Benghazino, who pointed out that there would be major celebrations in Benghazi’s Tahrir Square tomorrow.
Benghazi Local Council has already welcomed the decision, also stating that it demonstrated the government’s commitment to its obligations.
With input from Ayman Amzein [/restrict]