10, the head of the Barqa Political Office in eastern Libya announced that it
reached a deal with local tribes to reopen
Libya's oil terminals as soon as Dec. 15. Armed groups linked to Barqa's federalists
have been blockading the oil terminals for months, depriving the country of billions
in revenues and increasing
global oil prices.
Jathran, the group's leader, made the announcement during a tribal gathering in
the town of Nawfaliya. Saleh Latwaish, head of the region's Maghraba tribe, brokered
the deal after days of campaigning and meetings between local tribes and
federalist leaders. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and his government welcomed this
breakthrough, which will end the crisis that forced them to dip into their reserves
to cover the shortfall in government spending. Local tribe leaders were the
only party able to successfully end the crisis -- reinforcing the fact that in
post-revolution Libya, local is king.
authorities in Tripoli must reconsider their relationship with key local and
regional players in order to achieve stability and ensure a successful
democratic transition. The controversial
Political Isolation Law passed in May 2013 by the General National Congress
(the country's legislative body) bans people like Latwaish from political life
because of their links to the Qaddafi regime. Nevertheless, the government continues
to rely on these local actors to solve problems that the government cannot.
a press conference today, Prime Minister Zeidan emphasized that he does not
recognise the Barqa Political Office, and that his contacts are only working
with local tribal leaders. This indicates that the government and Jathran are
still at odds regarding the reopening of the oil terminals -- a dispute that still
has the potential to derail negotiations. To make matters worse, the oil
workers' union has vowed
to keep the terminals closed regardless of any agreement brokered by the
federalists, due to disputes over pay and work conditions. (The photo above shows a worker at the Zawiya oil terminal, which closed for several weeks this fall due to similar protests over work conditions and benefits.)
that oil terminals will open on Dec. 15 because Jathran's announcement included
three demanding conditions. He asked that the central government create an
independent investigation panel to look into allegations of widespread
corruption in the oil industry; an oversight commission led by representatives
from Barqa, Tarabulus, and Fizzan, to oversee all of the National Oil
Corporation's marketing and sales deals; and a mechanism to ensure better oil
wealth distribution to benefit local economies in oil-rich regions. The
government does not seem keen to respond to any of these conditions. The head
of the Petroleum Facilities Guards (whose units are in charge of securing oil
installations) stated in a press conference on Dec. 11 that Jathran's conditions
are only "terms of formality," and are not binding.
Jathran and his men have come under fire as local communities and tribes demand
that they reopen the terminals to ward off the looming financial crisis Libya will
face if the blockade continues. Jathran and his government tried to open the terminals to market and sell oil on their own, apart from the central government, but this plan quickly proved
unsustainable and legally suspect. Upsetting
local populations would be disastrous for Jathran's cause and could worsen the serious
divisions within the federalist movement. It is likely, then, that Libya will
resume normal levels of oil production and exports for the next few months.
Jathran and his men could easily disrupt oil production again.
the long term, the central government needs a new strategy for dealing with
conflict in its peripheries. Over the last two years, groups have repeatedly
held oil installations hostage
in pursuit of their financial or political interests. The government must
broker a comprehensive political deal to guarantee that local and regional
actors have a substantial role in Libya's transition process. Otherwise, the
country will continue to face threats to its oil infrastructure.
recent breakthrough offers the government a valuable opportunity to engage with
key local players and involve them in running the region, rather than excluding
them. This would build long-term stability and minimize the negative
impacts on the oil industry. Recent events in Libya have highlighted the
important role local communities can play in Libya's democratic transition. It
is crucial that the central authorities, the U.N. Support Mission, and Libya's
friends in the West capitalize on the untapped potential of these communities,
because they hold the key to solving many of the problems facing post-revolution Libya.
Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his blog posts here.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images