Leaders of an autonomy movement in Libya’s eastern province unilaterally declared a regional government on Sunday, a move that had no immediate practical implications but is certain to upset the central government in Tripoli which last year denounced a similar move.
Local television stations showed more than twenty ministers taking the oath in Ajdabiya, a small town close to the oil port of Brega. They were joined by a tribal militia leader who defected earlier this year and seized the export facilities at Ra’s Lanuf and Sidra.
The eastern part of Libya, historically known as Cyrenaica, is home to some 60 percent of the country’s oil production. Industrial actions and a lack of security have knocked down crude production to about 10 percent of capacity, however.
The region that gave birth to the 2011 Libyan revolt has accused the central government of failing to provide adequate security since the downfall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi that year and pushed for a federal system in which power is shared with the west and southern Fezzan. Tribal leaders there have similarly blamed the Tripoli legislature of failing “to meet public demands” and appealed for autonomy in September.
The government is hamstrung by infighting between the somewhat liberal National Forces Alliance, led by wartime prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, and Islamists. Neither commands a majority in the interim parliament although Jibril’s party won almost 50 percent of the votes in an election last year.
The National Forces Alliance is most popular in the northwest, also known as Tripolitania, which is the home region of Jibril’s Warfalla tribe.
Cyrenaica was joined with Tripolitania by the Italians in the 1930s who revived the classical name “Libya” to describe their North African colony. After independence, Benghazi became the home of the Libyan monarchy. Before Gaddafi took over in 1969, the country was run along federal lines with each of the three regions enjoying a high degree of autonomy. The east was neglected under Gaddafi’s regime, however, who was himself an westerner and prioritized economic development around the new capital, Tripoli.
The fragmentation of the Libyan state has created a haven for drugs and weapons smugglers as well as militant Islamists who use the desert south as a transit route and staging ground for attacks.