After Qaddafi, Libya's east tires of Tripoli too
Oil-rich eastern Libya is looking for greater autonomy after playing a major role in deposing Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
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The monarchy that ruled from 1951 to 1969 was based in eastern Libya. The aristocratic elite came from eastern cities. Foreign ambassadors called Benghazi home. For the first 12 years of the monarchy, Libya comprised three republics: Cyrenaica in the east, Tripolitania in the west, and Fezzan in the south. To mitigate fears that heavily populated Tripolitania would dominate the sparsely inhabited provinces of Cyrenaica and Fezzan, colonial powers pushed through a federalist form of government with a high degree of regional autonomy.Skip to next paragraph
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The federalist system was abolished in 1963 after Libya began pumping oil and regional veto power over the nascent industry's activities proved unmanageable. Qaddafi overthrew the monarchy six years later, leading to a steady decline in the east's fortunes.
When revolution erupted in Benghazi last year, many easterners were optimistic the uprising would restore the province's past glory. Most of the members of the interim government, the National Transitional Council (NTC), hailed from the region.
Tripolitania controls parliament
When the capital of Tripoli fell, though, easterners' hopes were dashed. The NTC moved its offices from Benghazi to Tripoli. The top positions in the first post-Qaddafi cabinet were allocated to Tripolitanians. When the NTC announced its election law in February, Tripolitania was allocated 102 seats in the 200-seat parliament, while Cyrenaica only received 60.
While the allocation was supposed to be proportionate to population, it was based on the 2006 census, conducted under Qaddafi and now distrusted.
"Qaddafi manipulated figures for his own purposes," says Farag al-Kaza, a US-trained engineer and leading proponent of federalism. "People from Chad, Niger, and Mali were taken from the desert and given Libyan citizenship."
Same as the old boss?
It is not only technocrats who support federalism. Among those attending the March conference were a number of military defectors and militia leaders who fought to overthrow Qaddafi.
"We did not battle the old regime so a new one could rule us," says fighter Muhammad Mismari, who lost a brother during the revolution. But when asked if easterners were prepared to fight again to achieve their aims, he dismissed the suggestion. "We are one country and one people. But we want our rights, and we won't let Tripoli dictate to us."
Muhammad Kikhia, a college dean whose brother Mansur was Libya's foreign minister in the 1970s, agrees. "We have to go through a democratic system to convince people. This is a peaceful movement, there will be no violence." But others, such as Mr. Bueira, are more uncompromising: "If no federal system is adopted across Libya, and we still feel the east is threatened, there is a possibility of separation."
Such talk has unsettled the NTC. "We are not prepared to divide Libya," NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil said March 6. Despite hailing from the east himself, he vowed the NTC would "use force" to defend the country's integrity.
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