By Essam Mohamed and Asmaa Elourfi
Hundreds of Libyans turned out last Friday (March 9th) in cities across the country to denounce federalism and any attempt to divide the country.
The demonstrations followed Cyrenaica’s declaration of autonomy and demand for a federal system, with Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi named head of the eastern region’s transitional council last Tuesday.
Tahrir Square in Benghazi was packed with delegations from the eastern regions gathered to oppose federalism. They called for decentralisation and national unity to meet the demands of the people, holding aloft signs that read, “The blood of the martyrs will not go in vain.”
One young woman carried a placard saying, “Libya is one, not three,” while a young man carried a sign that read, “Cut off my body piece by piece and leave Libya one piece.” Other banners read: “O Libya, O great … You do not accept division. Federalism is the shortest route to disruption of national unity,” and, “O Benghazi, say no, your children are the first martyrs.”
“The federal system does not work with us, because our numbers are few… it means division of the country,” commented Al-Bayda resident Rabai al-Mastari.
Benghazi native Amal Muftah had similar concerns. “We do not want federalism because it will divide Libyan territory, and we are against it and against those calling for it. Libya is one and does not accept division,” Muftah said.
But not everyone present in Benghazi opposed federalism. Said El-Dinala said he was convinced federalism was “an excellent administrative system to prevent marginalisation and the return of dictatorship in any form”.
While demonstrators gathered, Ahmed Zubair al-Senussi, the head of the Transitional Council of Cyrenaica, said he was ready to negotiate with National Transitional Council (NTC) chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil.
“There is no idea of division in our minds, but rather in the minds of others to exploit it as propaganda with which they are opposing this solution,” al-Senussi said in an interview aired Friday on BBC. He explained that autonomy supporters were unionists and “paid a high price for the unity of Libya”.
Al-Senussi called for more transparency in the circles of power and for the NTC to disclose the names of all its members and reveal aspects of public expenditure. Al-Senussi also rejected accusations that there were external forces behind the call for federalism.
Lawyer Mansour El-Misrati said opponents of federalism should present their own system to distribute power. “The first is changing seats in the National Constituent Assembly and distributing them evenly,” he said.
“When Idris al-Senussi united Libya, he united it with reason, wisdom and equitable distribution of seats. It was not united by demonstrations and accusations of treason,” El-Misrati added.
Tripoli-based political analyst Saih Jaaoda said last week’s Cyrenaica conference erred in rushing to declare autonomy and establish a regional transitional council. He suggested a federalist party first to persuade Libyans to support the option.
Meanwhile, NTC chief Mustafa Abdel Jalil has announced that the transitional government was striving to establish a decentralised state with more than 50 local councils. Abdel Jalil explained at a press conference in Tripoli that the proposed NTC budget would provide all these councils with potential for a bright future of harmony, prosperity and equality.
Libyan mufti Sheikh Dr Sadiq al-Ghariani also came out against federalism, saying in a March 8th statement that the Cyrenaica autonomy declaration was the beginning of the division of Libya and a move away from the law of God.
The head of the Supreme Council for Fatwas appealed to all Libyans to preserve their country as one, explaining that federalism was not the solution – rather, federalism was the start of division, and division leads inevitably to dispute and opens the door to conflict on many things, including sources of wealth.
Sheikh al-Ghariani called on everyone to keep faith, saying that the real solution to Libya’s problems was eliminating rampant administrative corruption, enforcing the law, and fair oversight and punishment for those falling short in their work.