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article imageOp-Ed: Fears of Libya break-up as eastern region declares semi-autonomy

By Katerina Nikolas     Mar 8, 2012 in World
Libya is becoming increasingly divided as events this week unfold. On March 6 tribal leaders in the oil rich eastern region, where last years uprising in Benghazi began, declared Cyrenaica a semi-autonomous zone, prompting fears of Libya's break up.
Mustafa Abdel Jalil, interim leader of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC), reacted to the declaration of autonomy by saying "We are ready to deter them, even with force. We are not prepared to divide Libya.” (RT)
Jalil also warned that “remnants of Gaddafi regime" had infiltrated Cyrenaica, a surprising viewpoint considering the region was sidelined since the fall of King Idris in 1969. Under the Gaddafi regime Cyrenaica housed his political opponents and did not benefit from an equal division of the country's oil riches. Nevertheless the region is of crucial importance due to its oil reserves.
Since the fall of Gaddafi the NTC has been unable to fully exercise control of the region, with out of control militias, extremists hoisting the al-Qaeda flag in Benghazi, and the recent incident of rebel Islamic extremists desecrating British and Commonwealth war graves.
Jalil also reiterated an earlier claim that “some Arab countries” are involved in this “conspiracy against Libya and Libyans." As before it is apparent his words refer to Qatari influence in the east of Libya. The emirate exercises its influence by providing arms and cash to eastern Libya rebels under the command of former Libya Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj. Belhaj advocates a caliphate state under Shariah law, with the backing of Qatar.
Alarabyia reported that the congress in Benghazi "named Ahmed al-Senussi, a relative of Libya’s former king and a political prisoner under Gaddafi, as leader of the self-declared Cyrenaica Transitional Council."
The announcement of semi-autonomy was not unexpected: indeed many analysts predicted it would occur as an inevitable consequence of NATO's meddling in Libya. An opinion piece in November's Economist jumped the gun when it dismissed claims that "tribal affiliations would continue to split the country, and that NATO intervention on one side would only lead to a prolonged civil war" by saying "the most salient point about all of these arguments is that they turned out to be wrong."
Those who took that view are the ones now proved wrong as tribal affiliations come to the fore. The NTC says it may need to use force to protect its increasingly shaky hold on Libya, but should remember that a large body of the rebels that comprised NTC support against Gaddafi are now prepared to operate against the NTC.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Cyrenaica semiautonomy, libya divided, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, Benghazi, libya's oil
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