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Who Controls Libyan Oil?

Politics / Crude Oil Oct 17, 2013 - 08:01 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop

Politics

LIBYA'S BEEFEATER LEAGUE DEFENDS THE OIL
In August, Reuters reported from Tripoli:  “Libya will use all means, including military force if necessary, to prevent striking security guards at the country’s main ports from selling its crude oil independently, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said”. Zeidan called the security guards a critical challenge to the government, because strikes at Libya’s two largest ports have pushed production and exports to their lowest levels since the civil war that ousted 42-year veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.


Ali Zeidan said that the leader of the protesters, Ibrahim al-Jathran, who is the regional head of the Petroleum Defence League (called the Facilities Guard by the government), “wanted to sell the oil independently of Libya’s state National Oil Corp”. Libya's oil minister Abdelbari al-Arusi estimated that the state lost about $1.6 billion in oil revenues for the one-month period July 15-August 15.

On October 13, the 'Wall Street Journal' reported that 33-year-old Ibrahim al-Jathran, who spent time in Muammar Gaddafi's prisons and led a battalion of insurgents for control of their hometowns and Cyrenaica's eastern oil port cities during the uprising is now in direct conflict with Ali Zeidan. Last year however, Zeidan's Tripoli government gave al-Jathran control of eastern Libya's Petroleum Defense League, originally a government force tasked with protecting oil facilities.

The Associate Press had previously reported on October 12 that Mohammed Sowan, leader of Libya's Justice and Construction party had announced from his Benghazi headquarters that the Libyan parliament is "seriously searching for an alternative" to Ali Zeidan. Plots against Zeidan were said to include poisoning attempts, parried by food tester and tasters, as in the Beefeater times of England.

Sowan is a regional Cyrenaica political-religious leader with close links to al-Jathran and says that “mismanagement” by Mr. Zeidan's government might have led to "irresponsible action by individuals”, referring to the earlier kidnapping of Zeidan. Under any analysis, Ali Zeidan faces mounting pressures in Parliament, first from Islamist blocs including the Muslim Brotherhood and ultra-radical Salafis, now joined by Independents, who criticize Mr. Zeidan over allegations of corruption, linkage with Gaddafi, waste of public funds, rising prices and unemployment, and deteriorating security.

BREAK-UP OF THE LIBYAN STATE?
Cyrenaica flourished from 1951-1969 when it enjoyed the patronage of Libya's first and only king, King Idris I. After Gaddafi came to power in his 1969 coup the province fell into decay and was denied its share of the country's oil wealth. A powerful Senussi leader, Idris was considered a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed through his daughter Fatimah. Idris, who died aged 94 in the 1980s became Chief of the Senussi Order in 1916.

Idris was first recognized by the British under the new title Emir of the territory of Cyrenaica, a status also conferred by the Italians in 1920. He was later highly active supporting the Allied's campaign against Italian and German forces in Libya, during World War II. Making things much more complex however, another more recent member of the Senussi Order which was founded in Algeria in 1837, was Abdullah Senussi. Married to a sister of one of Gaddafi's wives, Senussi in 1999 was convicted in absentia in France for his role in the 1989 bombing of a UTA plane over Niger that resulted in the deaths of 170 people. Also wanted for questioning by Scottish police about the Lockerbie bombing, Abdullah Senussi was usually called the secret police chief and leading confidant of Gaddafi. He is also “credited” with several spectacular killings, abductions and poisonings of Gaddafi's rivals.

For Gaddafi, one of his main long-term roles was ensuring Benghazi city was under full control. Benghazites claim several thousand persons were killed, and many more tortured by order of Senussi who fled during the civil war but was finally extradited from Mauritania to Libya in late 2012. For Libya's Islamists, Senussi was a traitor to the Order. Working for Gaddafi, using assassination, deportation and bribery he personally prevented the Senussi Order from maintaining its former strong presence in Tripolitania.

After the rebellion which felled Gaddafi in 2011, many in the east expected an immediate injection of money and development. They have been frustrated at the slow pace of change coming from the interim government in Tripoli. This fed plot and coup rumors to the extent that Cyrenaica's political leaders now fear assassination, poisoning or abduction by agents of Tripoli, who would claim to be defending national unity. Despite this however, there is no consensus in favor of local leaders' plans for independence. More important for national unity, the Petroleum Defence Leagues, operating in all three of Libya's major regions, are able through their firepower, mobility and “petrodollar” wealth to create and maintain a major base of popular support.

The Leagues claim they do not presently want to destroy the nation state or create a federal system, but defy attempts by the weak central authorities to control them, and claim the central government is infiltrated or controlled by Gaddafi-era criminals, and foreign hostile powers. In Cyrenaica under al-Jathran, his 17 000-strong League defends Senussi Order claims, for example the restoration in Barqa and Tripoli of Imam Mohammed Ali El Senussi’s great mosques which were suppressed by Gaddafi. The Leagues claim they are the first line of defence and the legitimate powerbrokers for Libya. Many are connected to or directly sponsor their own political representatives in Parliament.

BINARY OPPOSITION
The Senussi and other orders in Islam are mostly grounded in what anthropologist Levi-Strauss called moiety (from the French word moitie for “half”) marriage systems where the whole society operates a marriage and clan system where it is split down the middle. The two halves intermarry but with constant tension and opposition. Any one person is born in one moiety, but has to marry somebody from the other moiety. Levi-Strauss' theory was attacked by many anthropologists because, unlike his claim, it was not at all universal – in fact only some societies use or used the moiety system. Levi-Strauss did not go on to argue that for Islamic societies with the Sunni-Shia dualism or split, the moiety system was especially acceptable.

The school of anthropology due to Levi-Strauss is now called cultural and political ecology, and its focus for example includes the duality of genes-versus-culture and arguments about capitalism creating a binary opposite of communism. Several anthropologists and political economists using this type of analysis, like Gunder Frank and Wallerstein, Edward Wilson, Edmund Leach, Mary Douglas and others argue that Third World and primitive societies, upon culture contact with the West, inevitably mutate.

When the Senussi Order was founded in Algeria in the 19th century, the French colonial authorities banned and repressed it – forcing  it to move to Libya as well as becoming both more 'political” and including sub-orders or branches which are Islamic fundamentalist or orthodox. Later, Gaddafi also repressed the Order in Tripolitania, resulting in Benghazi and the east becoming its main base.

Historians using cultural anthropology theory say that inside Europe, from well before the Industrial Revolution, social mutation due to economic, religious and political change was a powerful factor in creating large regional and local power systems such as the Baltic League of city states. Inside Libya today, the Petroleum Defence Leagues are operating major change of the nation state - that can be claimed to have almost never existed. After the first and only Senussi King Idris of Libya, the state of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi emerged and then fell. Gaddafi often said: “I am Libya”.

To be sure, the claimed 'constitutionalists' like Ali Zeidan will say that 'Islamic political rivals' briefly abducted him in an attempt to terrorize the Tripoli government and in Zeidan's words “turn the country into another Afghanistan or Somalia”. Somalia, out of interest, has a special role for anthropologists by having the most intensive moiety system in the world. Zeidan was forced to add that he believed his kidnappers were possibly members of the so-called Libyan Revolutionaries Operation Room, the militia umbrella group loosely affiliated with and partly paid by his own Interior Ministry. Like the other ministries, it has clear geographical powers with “turf war” conflict on its fuzzy borders.

In other words the Tripoli government is a moiety, split down the middle between Tripolitanians and Cyrenaicans (with the very low population Fezzan region forming the third “moiety”), as well as the Petroleum Defence Leagues either directly or indirectly financed and armed by rival oil companies, refiners, transporters and traders.

At present and until all traces of former Gaddafi chiefs and powerbrokers have been purged – as demanded by all main parties in parliament, and the Leagues – Libya can only be in mutation. This can possibly be mutation towards a federal, regional state, or city state form of government. A continued unified nation state with a single government and single capital in Tripoli is probably unlikely.

Until the its state and governance issues are solved, Libyan oil production will necessarily be erratic.

By Andrew McKillop

Contact: xtran9@gmail.com

Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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