Today was an eventful day as the many intertwined strands of the Libyan national narrative again combined to plunge the country further into chaos and uncertainty.
Federalist rebels in the East of the country have long been blockading the important and bountiful oil fields near Tobruk as part of a protest to demand greater autonomy for a region they believe has subsidised the capital, Tripoli, with its natural resources for too long.
The rebels, led by the charismatic Idbrahim Jadhran have spoken for months of their desire and ability to sell their oil independently of the state. There was even a bizarre incident where it appeared they had hired Ari Ben-Menashe, a Canadian lobbyist with close ties to Israel, to represent their cause in the international community. After one alleged failed attempt to sell their oil to a Maltese tanker which was thwarted by the Libyan navy it appears they have now been successful.
The Morning Glory has been the focus of Libya’s attention for the last three days. A Saudi owned ship flying a North Korean flag it docked at Es-Sidr port to load hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil, purchasing its cargo direct from Jadhran. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan reiterated his previous assertion that he would order the bombing of any tanker attempting such a trade as the transaction would amount to, in the view of the interim government in Tripoli, theft of Libyan oil. With the tanker continuing to load he made good on his promise. However, the orders were never carried out as the Air Force refused to attack the ship, citing concerns over danger to civilian life and the potential environmental effects of releasing a few hundred thousand barrels of oil into the Mediterranean.
Eventually a team of militia-associated boats were sent to stop the tanker. Government statements were issued stating that these boats had surrounded the Morning Glory and taken it into custody to be transported to another port not controlled by Jadhran. In a further twist, though, the tanker was able to escape its escort and head to international waters, though not without sustaining some rocket damage along the way.
All of this proved to be the last straw for an already embattled Zeidan, who has already been the subject of numerous attempted votes of no confidence in the previous months with the General National Congress (GNC) never able to collect the full 120 votes needed for the motion to pass until today. Zeidan has now been ousted as Prime Minister. His replacement, the former Minister of Defence has been installed on a short term basis with the plan to replace the PM permanently once the GNC can agree on who it should be. The problem may be whether such an agreement is a realistic possibility. The GN requires 120 votes again to make a decision and with a Congree wracked with divisions, this may prove to be politically impossible. The full number of Congresspeople has already been depleted from the original 200 as scores of politicians have quit in protest at carious policies and decisions without being replaced.
The reason behind these divisions lies in the makeup of the Congress which is dominated by the National Forces Alliance, a more liberal party backed by the Zintani militias, amongst others, and the Justice and Construction party, a Muslim Brotherhood associated party with ties to the equally powerful Misratan militias.
Although public opinion has swung against Zeidan, a fact demonstrated by the celebratory car horns and fireworks I can hear from my living room in Tripoli as I type this, many are equally frustrated with the GNC as a whole and their lack of ability to provide basic security or services throughout much of the country in which they are essentially unable to govern. Many blame the Muslim Brotherhood for deliberately hampering progress and destabilising the State to further their own political aims. A recent poll recorded that only 11% of Libyans believe political parties are essential for the democratic transition to work – a clear sign of the disillusionment amongst the general population. The Grand Mufthi, a religious figurehead in the country with enough influence to warrant his own weekly television show, is widely seen as a public mouthpiece of the Brotherhood.
With a conflict between Jadhran and Tripoli’s government looking more and more likely, no permanent Prime Minister and a country increasingly plagued by security issues, political divisions and criminality what does the future hold for Libya? A new constitution would be a positive start but as detailed in previous posts such a development is unlikely in the immediate future. A new roadmap to replace the current GNC through the ballot box has been proposed, though the precise details of how and when this would happen are unclear. In the meantime, Libyans continue to wait and see, disillusioned at the series of seemingly backwards steps taken since the revolution and afraid that their country’s future might lie somewhere between chaos and civil war.