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article imageOp-Ed: Libya's new parliament holds crisis meeting in Tobruk

By Ken Hanly     Aug 3, 2014 in Politics
Tobruk - Libya's new parliament elected earlier this year held an emergency meeting to discuss Libya's deteriorating security situation in the eastern city of Tobruk. Handover of power to the new parliament was scheduled to happen August 4 in Benghazi.
The caretaker government voted to move parliament from Tripoli to Benghazi in the east. The purported reason was to show that the eastern part of the country that has declared itself the autonomous republic of Barqa or Cyrenaica was to be given an important role in Libya and not dominated from the capital Tripoli as under Gadaffi. I expect that another reason was that some parliamentarians allied with CIA-linked General Haftar and his Operation Dignity wanted to be in Benghazi because that is where his headquarters are, and it's also a base for Special Forces who allied themselves with Haftar and who provide security for Benghazi.
The east
is also the location of the "Government of Cyrenaica" whose head was Abd-Rabbo al-Barassi as of November 6, 2013. Al-Barassi was supported by none other than Ibrahim Jadhran who is the militia leader who led the blockade of the four main oil exporting ports in the east: In 2013, Jadhran set up the Cyrenaica Political Bureau and secured control of eastern ports, namely Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina.[3] In August 2013, Jathran issued the “Ras Lanuf Declaration”, the declaration asks for the right to “govern our own affairs”.[1] By October 2013, Jathran’s militia , the Cyrenaica Self-Defense Force, was estimated to number 17,500 men.[1] The ports were blockaded for almost a year before a recent agreement to open them with the caretaker government.
Earlier Jadhran had been a commander of the Petroleum Defense Guards whose job was to protect oil facilities. When Jadhran became unhappy with the federal government and no doubt the cut of oil revenues going to the east and the pay for his guards he did as militias do in Libya. He used his militia power to take over the ports. He also said that he opposed the Muslim Brotherhood that he claimed held the central power in Tripoli. It is not clear that this is true but nevertheless it makes Jadhran a likely ally for General Haftar who wants to rid Libya of Islamists. Haftar also opposes the Brotherhood and may see himself as doing in Libya what president el-Sisi did in Egypt. What is the relationship between Haftar, Operation Dignity, and Jadhran's militia and what are the likely consequences for Libyan unity given that Jadhran is associated with an autonomy movement? Such questions do not even seem to be on the radar of the mainstream media. One wonders if the US is supporting Haftar. Perhaps there may even be a hope that if the east cannot create a government that satisfies its demands it will separate and provide a fertile ground for investments for Big Oil. If on the other hand the Haftar forces are able to defeat Islamists this will provide the basis for a more investor-friendly central government in Libya with improved relations with the west.
A coalition of Islamic militias just recently over-ran the main base of the Libyan Special Forces capturing a large amount of ammunition, weapons, and even tanks and the coalition also claims to have driven Haftar and his allies completely out of Benghazi leaving him in control only of an area by the air port. It remains unclear how much truth there is to this. Haftar claims that his forces still control Benghazi but this also appears untrue.
The House of Representatives(HoR) are attempting to set out a political framework to lead Libya out of the spiral of violence it is experiencing at present. The actual handover of power was scheduled for August 4 in Benghazi. Jalal al-Shwehdi a member of the house elected from Benghazi said; "We want to speed up the handing over of process, because Libya cannot wait much longer, We have to legitimise the military institutions in Libya and stop the legitimisation of forces who are militia groups." That could very well be an impossible task. Militias are much more powerful than the Libyan armed forces and some of those forces have joined General Haftar whom the caretaker government had earlier ordered arrested to no avail. He seems to have many supporters in both the old government and may have even more in the new government. We will see.
In the elections there were two hundred seats to be filled but there were elections in only 188 because of the security situation in some areas including Derna in the east where Islamists were able to prevent voting. Sam Zaptia, a Libyan journalist and analyst claimed to be optimistic about the new House of Representatives compared to that elected in 2011: "Libyans made a [more concerted] effort in choosing their candidates. We hope they are the right people for the job," He does not give the grounds for his optimism. Turnout was actually much lower this time than in 2012. There was no election in 2011 it was in 2012.
Papers such as the NY TImes headlined the 2012 results: Election Results in Libya Break an Islamist Wave. Yet this General National Council is often claimed in reports to be dominated by Islamists. By May 25 2014 we get reports like this in CNN: Libya's interim parliament Sunday approved a new government, led by Prime Minister Ahmed Mitig, in a controversial vote that threatens to deepen the country's political and security crisis.A total of 83 of 93 members present voted in favor of Mitig's government.
Lawmakers in the Islamist-dominated General National Congress (GNC) defied a threat issued by militias allied with renegade general Khalifa Haftar, who promised to storm, raid and arrest members.
The threat was issued by the same group that attacked the GNC headquarters in Tripoli last week, triggering fighting across the capital that left at least four people dead and dozens injured.
Notice that now the GNC is Islamist dominated. Somehow the rout of the Islamists in the 2012 elections resulted in an Islamist-dominated GNC. Mitig by the way accepted the decision of the Libyan Constitutional court that the rival caretaker prime minister al-Thani was the legitimate prime minister. However, the Islamists obviously were not routed in the first place. This time around all delegates were elected as individuals so it will be even more difficult to tell for a while what the division along Islamist, anti-Islamist lines are. I expect that there are many more factors at work as well.
We need some serious analysis of what is happening between General Haftar and militias in the east such as that of Jadhran. There is more than an Islamist/anti-Islamist conflict going on in Libya. There is a conflict between those who want a strong central government and those who are seeking more power for regions such as Cyrenaica.
The new government appears as split as ever with the chair of the GNC maintaining that the first session of parliament should be held in Tripoli on August 4 while the group meeting on Saturday in Tobruk decided it would be there on August 4. The anti-Islamists do not want to meet now in Benghazi since Haftar is not in control. They could very well experience the same sort of happening as in Tripoli when Haftar's allies invaded, and burned parliament and kidnapped Islamist lawmakers and officials.
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
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