The resignation of Libya’s Interior Minister Col. Mohammad al-Sheikh on Aug.18 after less than two months in office revealed the size of the political turmoil in Libya.
A group calling itself the Barqa Youth Movement has declared the eastern area to be an autonomous federal province within the framework of the Libyan state. The movement’s statement said that Islamic Sharia “is the source of legislation in the province,” declared the appointment of a temporary president for the province, and declared the establishment of a defense force that would protect the province and maintain security.
It is not the first time that the establishment of the Barqa province with its capital Benghazi has been announced since the overthrow of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Political activist, former detainee and member of the National Transitional Council, Ahmed Zubair al-Sanusi, had already announced the secession of the eastern region. But the move failed when it triggered demonstrations rejecting it.
However, the recent announcement by the Barqa Youth Movement is different because of the figures who stand behind it. Most of those figures are leaders of armed groups that have demonstrated their ability to control the ground. The figures include Al-Saddiq al-Ghaithi, the former proxy assistant secretary to the Libyan defense minister who was in charge of securing the country’s borders and its oil installations.
Al-Saddiq al-Ghaithi … from the Mujahideen Brigades … to protect the oil installations?
Those in Libya who know Ghaithi assert that he used to be an activist in the Islamic jihadist movement years ago and that he was imprisoned by the former regime. He was also a close associate to Abdul Hakim Belhadj, a leader in the Mujahideen Brigades, which belong to the Islamic Fighting Group.
After Gadhafi’s fall, Ghaithi found himself at the top of the country’s military leadership. But Libya’s Islamist current had a quarrel with the country’s new leadership. The Islamists saw that some were attempting to “secularize the state.” These differences resulted in Ghaithi’s dismissal from his post after Defense Minister Mohammad al-Barghouthi accused Ghaithi of trying to assassinate him. Ghaithi denied the charge.
Ghaithi’s announcement about the establishment of the Barqa province with its capital Benghazi came after a meeting of armed groups and political organizations that support Barqa seceding from the central authority in Tripoli. Ghaithi read the meeting’s final statement, which said there was an agreement to form a political office tasked with administering the territory and supervising the institutions. The statement also specified the powers of the president of the province and appointed Ibrahim Saeed Jizran as that president.
Although some Arab tribes in Libya’s eastern region announced that they reject secession and refused to participate in the meeting, observers warn that the conflict between the advocates of federalism and the central government may get worse because of the conflict over oil.
That was embodied on the ground through the establishment of armed groups that support the federal system and that control a number of oil installations as well as the oil export port. Moreover, an armed group contacted international oil companies with the intention to start selling Libyan oil on behalf of the new federation. A foreign oil company has confirmed being contacted by the Barqa federal spokesmen in order to sell oil shipments through the Sidra oil port in Ras Lanuf. The latter is under the control of groups that support Barqa becoming a federal province.
Oil installations’ guards exported a 700,000-barrel shipment
Libyan oil and gas workers union has claimed that elements guarding the oil installations in the al-Hilal region has illegally exported a 700,000-barrel shipment to a certain company.
Although Libyan PM Ali Zaidan threatened to bomb oil tankers and intervene militarily if armed groups decide to sell Libyan oil illegally, news from Libya indicates that groups loyal to Ghaithi have tightened their control over several oil facilities, which may force the Libyan government into an armed confrontation to recover these facilities, especially since Ghaithi has announced the formation of a unified force to defend the federal province. So Libya is threatened with civil war over who will control the oil fields.
That is happening at a time when Libya is in security chaos in light of the country’s inability to form a unified national army that can extend its control on the ground. There are many armed groups, each loyal to a different leader. Libya is politically unstable and two interior ministers have been forced to resign within a short time. Interior Minister Ashour Shuail has submitted his resignation to Zaidan. Before him, Interior Minister Sheikh also resigned after he accused the prime minister of interfering in his affairs. Within all that lawlessness, there were news reports on Aug. 19 that a resigned Libyan judge, Muftah al-Khafifi, was shot dead by an unidentified armed group in Benghazi.