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Power struggle over oil threatens Libya's fragile transition process

Oil production shutdowns are increasingly likely as several players in the sector push their own agenda.
A general view shows an oil refinery in Libya's northern town of Ras Lanuf on Jan. 11, 2017.

The war of words over who controls Libya’s oil sector has now spilled over into its operations. Last week, one of the most powerful men in Libya, National Oil Corporation (NOC) chairman Mustafa Sanallah, accused Oil and Gas Minister Mohammed Aoun of seeking to destabilize the NOC out of personal motives.

Sanallah's remarks contain more than a kernel of truth, but they could have been expressed with greater delicacy — possibly opening the path to reconciliation. To understand this sordid power struggle, it is crucial to keep in mind that Aoun was only appointed in March when the Government of National Unity (GNU) came into power so as to weaken Sanallah and appease Libya's eastern powerbrokers who had long sought his ouster. In fact, Aoun was likely chosen because years ago he was part of the breakaway “Eastern NOC” scheme to weaken Sanallah and the entire NOC as a technocratic, Tripoli-centric institution.

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