Published on 7 Mar 2012

And you thought ousting The Colonel was hard?

Perhaps it really is the old adage. Seizing power – tricky. Wielding it – enormously difficult. So try using your power in a place which has no culture and history of institutional government – of a public state – of people being in charge of anything – none of this at all.

Then try it in a place five feet deep in Kalashnikovs and other lethal kit. With private militias and armies all over the shop. With tribes who suspect each other and always have. And an eastern region with little time for the west.

Oh – and the biggest money grab in recent human history as everyone with his gun reaches for a piece of the action in the world’s 12th biggest producer of crude oil.

Ladies and Gents: welcome to Libya 2012.

We’ve had the warnings. Shoot-outs in January in the capital as various armed groups preferred to handle their differences via bullets not arguments. Torture and all manner of bestial treatment of prisoners from the hapless Colonel to scores of black Africans – not welcomed by the frankly racist militias now parading around Libya and refusing orders to disarm from this thing called “government” over in Tripoli.

Read more: ‘Spy’ journalists reported killings of black Libyans

Things so bad recently that Médecins Sans Frontières pulled out of Misrata altogether, so sick were they of seeing the same patient/prisoners coming back again and again and again after routine torture.

Just the kind of thing a “minister” in the “government” assured me would never happen in the new Libya – as we stood and watched Tripolitans ransack The Colonel’s palace in central Tripoli.

But alongside all this we now have a seismic shift. Around three thousand people gathered this week in a large warehouse outside the eastern coastal city of Benghazi. There, they heard civic leaders declare that the east – Cyrenaica or Barqa in Arabic – would be an autonomous part of a federalised Libya, rather along the lines of the country in the 1950s.

Already they’ve demonstrated on the streets of Tripoli in protest at this – and that was before it even happened. But the newly declared Barqa region will take in the oil-rich areas in central-eastern Libya. It will go all the way from Sirte to the border with Egypt in fact. Roughly two-thirds of Libya’s oil and just a quarter of its population.

Tripoli is furious. It will likely use force down the line to resist these moves and that might not be very far down the line. For Barqa has already declared its own Barqa Army formed out of both militias and former units of Gaddafi’s eastern-based units. This is not a positive sign if you believe the future of the country will be peaceful.

More immediately it is likely that anybody from Russia, China or South Korea with oil or any other kind of contract in the east will very soon see said contracts being torn up and shredded. There are turbulent times ahead.

You can follow Alex Thomson on Twitter @alextomo

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One reader comment

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    I hope you manage to check out how many Western companies have gained new contracts since the “liberation,” particularly in the oil industry.

    In fact a full picture would help, West and East companies. Name the companies, the areas of activity and potential profits involved. Then compare it to the period prior to NATO’s mass murders in the civil war.

    This assumes of course you can get co-operation of the “government” and the companies involved. Don’t hold your breath though.

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