Libya’s traditional regions
Flag of the independent Emirate of Cyrenaica (1949-1951)
Flag of the Tripolitanian Republic, 1919-1923
Idris, first and only king of the United Libyan Kingdom
Flag of the former United Libyan Kingdom—
and of the new, post-Qaddafi Libya as well
Ahmed al-Senussi, leader of the Cyrenaican autonomy movement
Cyrenaicans, and especially the Senussi dynasty, perhaps hated Qaddafi more than anyone else. But why are they still discontent now that he’s gone? Numbers tell part of the story. Cyrenaica has about 20% of Libya’s population, but 80% of its oil reserves—plus (unlike poor South Sudan) pipelines, refineries, and harbors to get it to market. (Fezzan’s population is negligible.) The autonomy they envision would allow the wealth to be distributed locally. This is a familiar pattern: relatively sparsely-populated, oil-rich areas seeking independence or autonomy so as not to share so much of their resources and wealth with the larger population. Separatist movements in Scotland, Alaska, and Kurdistan come to mind. (See my recent article on the Scottish and Iraqi situations.)
When Chairman Jalil, Libya’s current transitional ruler, responded to the Cyrenaica declaration last week, he not only exaggerated the declaration of autonomy into essentially separatism, but he blamed the autonomy movement on back-stabbing “sister Arab nations” (he must have meant Morocco or Algeria?; Egypt and Tunisia both condemned the autonomy declaration) and remnant Qaddafi loyalists. That last accusation is not only laughable but outrageous. Ahmed al-Senussi spent most of his adulthood in one of Qaddafi’s prisons after he led a failed monarchist uprising in 1970. And Cyrenaica was so much the solid heartland of anti-Qaddafi sentiment that at various points in the civil war observers wondered whether a military stalemate would lead to an independent Cyrenaica, leaving Qaddafi in charge of Tripolitania and Fezzan—a sort of Korea situation. The civil war would have been no more than a slightly messy coup d’état if it had not been for Tripolitanian Qaddafi loyalists. And Jalil himself was Qaddafi’s Minister of Justice for years until the 2011. And in Qaddafi’s Libya, believe you me, whoever claws his way to becoming the minister in charge of that dictatorship’s vast secret police network and kangaroo courts is not going to be a nice person. Jalil is hardly in a position to accuse the Cyrenaican élite of being pro-Qaddafi.
Mustafa Abdul Jalil, Libya’s transitional ruler
Second, related to the above, I will conjecture from what is happening in public that Ahmed al-Senussi and Jalil have butted heads in private on the T.N.C.—likely on the question of political prisoners and the reform of the justice system, an area of expertise for both of them, from different ends of the gun.
And, third, in this tumultuous time it is safe to say that whether Libya will be open for business and with whom is still an open question, debated within the T.N.C. Certainly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in helping the rebels win the war, hoped that Libya would reengage economically with the world, and also has been eager to ensure—as per usual in United States and western European military interventions—a transition to a Western-friendly government that is open for business. During the later Qaddafi years, especially after his 2003 rapprochement with the international community, there was quite a lot of U.S. and U.K. investment in Libya’s oil business (Italian, Canadian, and French as well). But Qaddafi’s oil industry (like Saddam Hussein’s) was nationalized; foreign firms cut deals with the Libyan state oil monopoly, but could not own any of it—and a huge amount of Libya’s oil profits was swept right back into the state’s socialist coffers. How much of that will change? and who can make the transition?
Libyan rebels during the 2011 civil war
Qaddafi’s secret photo album. He also reportedly spent a lot of time writing
“Mrs. Condoleezza al-Qaddafi” in flowing cursive all over his Pee-Chee folder.
So who will be the West’s son-of-a-bitch now? Who will be the West’s man to run Libya? Jalil, who surely, given his position, was privy to (if not deeply involved in) Qaddafi’s cooperation with the C.I.A., would be one candidate—and one with ready-made ties to the C.I.A. and to the U.S. corporations it serves. Ahmed al-Senussi, with his family’s ties to the British intelligence network and the corporations it serves, would be another. It remains to be seen just how convergent U.S. and U.K. interests in Libya are, and who their proxies are.
Obama and Qaddafi
Granted, we will probably never know exactly what is going on behind the scenes in this new regional-based power struggle in Libya—and who knows, perhaps the Cyrenaican autonomy movement will go nowhere. But it may just be that different foreign and internal powers have dogs in this fight. And, sorry to point this out, but they still haven’t quite held those elections yet, have they? No, the Libyan revolution is not quite over. And it is in the hearts and minds of Cyrenaican nationalists that the next phase may be played out.
Cyrenaica’s coat of arms
[You can read more about these and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar. The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon. Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]