Libya: Greed Is Not Good

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January 13, 2014: The 2011 revolution overthrew longtime dictator Moamar Kaddafi but it did not change the tribalism that Kaddafi used for decades to keep potential threats from replacing him. It was only when most of the tribes (and two-thirds of the population) united to overthrow Kaddafi that his divide and rule technique failed. Now the tribes are all out to grab what they can for themselves, no matter what the cost to the rest of the country. Nearly three years later you have the tribes and militias in eastern Libya forming a separate state called Cyrenaica and continuing to shut down most oil exports. Other tribes throughout the country are following equally selfish and greedy strategies.

The government still has warships and patrol boats off shore preventing any unauthorized oil shipments but the eastern rebels are threatening to use force against the navy. The eastern rebels want a return to the form of government Libya had before Kaddafi took over in 1969. Back then Libya consisted of three large provinces, each with a lot of autonomy. The one in the east was called Cyrenaica. Meanwhile Islamic terrorist groups in the east appear to behind the growing number of attacks against security personnel in general and intelligence experts in particular. These Islamic terrorists are also a threat to this newly declared regional government.

The months of oil export blockades means the government is running out of money. The blockades have cost the government $10 billion so far and cash reserves and borrowing ability are running out. Even some Islamic terrorist militias are calling for an end to the oil export blockades. But the Islamic terrorists also want the elected government eliminated and replaced with a religious dictatorship. That is not likely to happen if only because there are several major Islamic terrorist militias that do not agree with each other on how a religious dictatorship would work. This is a common problem with Islamic terrorists and their desire to replace government.

The blockades had cut the normal 1.5 million barrels a day in exports by 80-90 percent. Oil production has doubled in the last few weeks, but many of the angry tribes and militias that began blocking production last July are still armed, around and unhappy. In January the government managed to restart about a third of that. Unless the government can get the oil flowing quickly in 2014, the entire country will begin to suffer major shortages of food and other essentials. Libya imports most of its food and much else. All is paid for by oil. Already officials in charge of buying food are warning that shipments will halt soon because of lack of cash. The government has called for the population to rise up (peacefully) against the factions that are shutting down oil production. That may actually happen once the shortages become widespread and severe. The government is also trying to negotiate with the various factions, but that is proving difficult because the faction leaders tend to maintain the loyalty of their followers by promising more than they, or the government, can deliver.

Greed for a larger share of the oil revenue is tearing the country apart. The problem is a classic one in Arab countries where tribalism, along with political and religious factionalism makes governing difficult when there is oil wealth to be had. In this case there is a country called Libya but there are too few Libyans. That is, there are not enough people in Libya willing to cooperate with each other for the common good. There is no quick fix. The cure is messy and time-consuming. Libyans fear they will have to suffer through another round of civil war before any progress in achieving national unity is achieved.

January 12, 2014:  Tribal violence down south over the last few days has caused about a hundred casualties (27 of them dead). The violence is near the town of Sabha, which is 770 kilometers south of Tripoli and astride the main road going to the Niger border. The fighting is a continuation of ancient animosities between tribes divided by ethnicity as well as loyalty to the former dictator Kaddafi, who used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes. Some of the pro-Kaddafi tribes kept fighting after Kaddafi died in 2011. The violence is not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power, but holding on to Kaddafi era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. In this case violence continued on the southern border where the pro-rebel Tabu tribesmen were put in charge of border (with Sudan, Chad and Niger) security. There they constantly skirmished with the pro-Kaddafi tribes. Another element of this rivalry was that the Tabu are black African while the pro-Kaddafi tribes are Arab. Kaddafi tended to support Arab domination over black Africans, something many Arabs still support. However, in some cases Kaddafi favored black tribes in the north, and used them to keep the population in line.

January 11, 2014:  Near the eastern city of Sirte gunmen shot dead the Deputy Industry Minister. Police found a defective bomb hidden in the minister’s car and the shooters were apparently the backup plan. This violence is related to Islamic terrorists trying to take control of Sirte.

January 10, 2014: The U.S. declared two Libyan Islamic terrorist groups and a Tunisian one, all called Ansar Sharia, to be international Islamic terrorists. Also designated were the leaders of these groups (Ahmed Abu Khattalah and Sufian bin Qumu in Libya and Seifallah Ben Hassine in Tunisia). The Libyan groups are believed responsible for the attack in September 11, 2012 that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.  Hassine was released from a Tunisian prison in 2011. This was after the revolution and part of an amnesty for “political prisoners”. He was serving a 43 year sentence for Islamic terrorism. Hassine was a collaborator with Osama Bin Laden even before September 11, 2001 and he promptly resumed those activities by organizing Ansar Sharia and making attacks on politicians that opposed his goal of turning Tunisia into a religious dictatorship. Ansar Sharia is responsible for most of the Islamic terrorism in Tunisia and has openly claimed allegiance with al Qaeda. The Libyan branches operate in Benghazi and Derma and their leaders also have a history with al Qaeda. One of the leaders had been held in Guantánamo Bay, the U.S. detention facility in Cuba.

January 8, 2014: The self-proclaimed independent Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) in effect declared war on Libya by announcing that it would use force to prevent the navy from stopping tankers docking and taking on oil. Cyrenaica wants to sell the oil from the oil fields and export facilities it has held since July.

January 6, 2014: The government has begun withholding salaries to militias that refuse to obey government orders.

In the south production resumed at the southwestern El Sharara oilfield. Operations had been halted since October.

January 5, 2014:  The navy fired on two tankers trying to dock in the eastern port of Sedra to take on a cargo of oil. The self-proclaimed independent Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) holds Sedra and wants to sell oil to sustain their rebellion. Meanwhile the Cyrenaica leaders hired a Canadian firm to help sell their oil, preferably to someone who was willing to defy the blockade by the Libyan Navy.

January 2, 2014: The Libyan rebellion, partly in reaction to high levels of corruption has made corruption worse in Libya and other Arab countries that underwent government change. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The three most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia) and the least corrupt is 91 (New Zealand and Denmark). In the last year Libya has gone from 21 to 15 in the corruption index while Yemen went from 18 to 15 and Iraq from 18 to 16. The Middle East average is 37 against the world average (for 177 countries) of 43. Egypt, which is still suffering unrest, is unchanged at 32. The U.S. is 73, Canada is 81 (as is Australia) and Mexico 34. There are bright spots in the Middle East, with the UAE at 69.

December 31, 2013: The GNC (General National Congress), formed to create a new constitution for the country to vote on and rule until that is done, has extended its power for another year. The separatist activity has prevented any national vote and that must be dealt with before a constitution can be approved. The various factions in the GNC cannot agree on much, although there is a consensus that the new constitution would use Islamic (Sharia) law in an effort to placate the many Islamic conservative groups. This makes local Christians (native Copts, who have been Christian and present for 2,000 years and are five percent of the population).

Today was the deadline for unauthorized militias to disband. Most militias ignored the order.

December 30, 2013: In the Libyan city of Misrata Libyan security forces arrested Saifallah Ben Hassine, the leader of Tunisian terror group Ansar Sharia. Ansar Sharia claimed that their leader was not captured and it’s still uncertain if he was.

December 29, 2013: Agreements were signed with Algeria to increase economic and security cooperation. Both nations will send more troops and police to their mutual border and the forces on both sides will coordinate operations more closely.

Four American military personnel from the embassy, out scouting travel routes 65 kilometers west of the capital were briefly arrested at a checkpoint. The Americans apparently suspected it was a false checkpoint and that they were in danger. That led to a confrontation and their brief detention.

In the southwest production resumed at the Sarir and Msala oilfields

December 27, 2013: In the east (Benghazi) an army officer was shot dead.

December 26, 2013: In the east (Benghazi) another army officer was shot dead.

December 24, 2013: In the east (Benghazi) a soldier was shot dead.

December 22, 2013: In the east (50 kilometers outside Benghazi) a suicide truck bomber attacked a checkpoint and killed 13 people.

December 21, 2013: Some 150 protestors occupied a building used by the state owned company that operates the local Internet access. For much of the day Internet was shut down but was restored before the end of the day.

 

 

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