Libya: 1951 Colonial Plan for Three Governing Divisions Moves Closer to Reality

التطلعات المعلنة لقيام النظام الفيدرالي تخفي وراءها حسابات الأحزاب واللوبيات وأمراء الحرب والأفراد ممن يرون أن تأثيرهم في محيطهم الإقليمي يتجاوز بكثير تأثيرهم على مستوى الوطن

Behind the declared aspirations for the establishment of the federal system is the agenda of parties, lobbies, warlords and individuals who see that their influence in their regional surroundings far exceeds their influence at the national level.

December 24th will mark the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the United Kingdom of Libya. The situation today does not seem different from what it was then, except with oil and gas, political Islam, and the overlapping identities of external parties. And on another important matter; as much as the fathers and grandfathers were inclined to solidarity and unity under the cover of a sweeping Libyan nationalism, the current actors seem inclined to fragmentation and division to prioritize ideological, regional, partisan, factional and personal interests over the public interest.

Last week, it was announced in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, the formation of a new political body under the name “Tripoli West Region”, following a meeting hosted by the Policy Support Office at the Cabinet, in which representatives from the cities of Tripoli, Misrata, Al-Zawiya, Zintan, Zliten, Sabratha, Gharyan, Jado, Qasr Al-Akhyar, Rishvana, Msalata and Shwerf participated. They are divided between mayors, tribal leaders, warlords and militia leaders.

The participants affirmed, after extensive discussion, that the meeting comes in response to what they called the necessities of the phase that requires the establishment of a political, economic and social body that meets current  needs in negotiating on behalf of the people of the region, considering that the UN mission was not impartial in dealing with the Libyan file and the launch of its movement from the Skhirat agreements was based on a  triple division according to a colonial plan. They also demanded defining the borders of the region containing all orientations and blocs, calling for building the region of Tripoli in the West through the creation of  a legislative and executive body according to departments approved in the selection of the National Congress, provided that clear goals are set, in addition to communicating with those in charge of the Supreme Council of the Amazighs of Libya to convince them to rescind their claims to establish a fourth region.

Activists denounced the meeting and considered it an attempt to perpetuate division and fuel separatism, accusing the Brotherhood and its allies of playing on division to secure its centers of influence in the west of the country, to maintain its penetration of the joints of state  in light of the defeats of political Islam in the region, especially after events in Tunisia .

Attempts to divide

 The Brotherhood is attempting to pre-empt the elections by establishing isolated authorities in the west of the country.

The announcement of the formation of the Tripoli region came when the High National Elections Commission, the House of Representatives and the Political Dialogue Forum are preparing for the presidential and legislative elections on the twenty-fourth of December.  31 members of the Political Dialogue Forum requested an emergency session and presented a list to the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Head of its Support Mission in Libya, Jan Kubis, in which they justified their request to “address the grave breaches” in implementing the roadmap emanating from the forum, in addition to the dangerous developments affecting the political dialogue, the country’s unity, stability and civil peace. They also highlighted that the demand for holding this session was to ensure the achievement of a just peace, the preservation of stability, and preparation for holding the elections within the deadlines set for the preliminary stage.

The announcement came within the context of events in the country facing a struggle over the triad of power, wealth and weapons and multiple regional and tribal fanaticicisms.  Behind the declared aspirations for the establishment of the federal system, are  warlords and individuals who see that their influence in their regional surroundings far exceeds their influence at the national level. Therefore, they are trying to create a political framework that achieves their goals within a limited  social framework.

In July 2020, a group of activists in the city of Sebha announced the establishment of the “Fezzan Regional Council,” stressing that the new entity would “heal the national components of Fezzan, including Arabs, Tabu and Touareg, away from tribal and regional strife,” hoping that it would “be a nucleus for the reunification of Libya, which does not accept division“.

The founding statement included the basic principles of the Fezzan Regional Council, including the affirmation of Libya’s unity and territorial integrity, which “is the base of the pyramid for the decentralized entity ruling Fezzan,” and the need to “transform to decentralization through the creation and settlement of a decentralized entity governing Fezzan that has broad powers and an independent financial edifice.” It explained that “the national capacity of the Fezzan region lies in the presence of a fair political representation for it, in accordance with the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly issued on the twenty-first of November 1949 and in accordance with the historical reference emanating from the Independence Day on the twenty-fourth of December 1951, which is that the Fezzan region is geographically distinct and his sons have the right to full representation – at the rate of one third – in any political process, or economic, military or security arrangements, and breaching this or not implementing it prejudices and weakens initiatives for political settlement and national and societal justice.

The statement stressed that the people of the region “have the right to be within its decentralized entity without excluding or marginalizing anyone,” and the new entity’s keenness to “lay the foundations of societal reconciliation and peaceful coexistence among all the people of Fezzan and to renounce violence and hate speech, passing to comprehensive national reconciliation.” It continued, “National unity, decentralization, freedom, equality, democracy, peaceful transfer of power, separation of powers, citizen’s rights, children’s, women’s and youth rights, respect for the cultural diversity of society, transitional justice and equal opportunities, are national constants guaranteed by the decentralized Fezzan entity, which will be keen to include and implement them in the country’s constitutional document and all relevant charters, stressing that “the equitable distribution of wealth, equality in assuming sovereign positions in state ministries and institutions, delegation and representation abroad, respect for the role of competencies, the presence of cultural components, and the participation of women and people with special needs are essential pillars for the development of Fezzan and are considered as consolidating the principles of community participation at the national level.”

In September 2020, a grouping of social and political forces, experts and academics in Cyrenaica announced the establishment of a political and social entity under the name “Cyrenaica Supreme Council” based on several principles and goals. The founding statement affirmed that Libya is a complex state consisting of three regions: Cyrenaica, Tripoli and Fezzan, linked by brotherly ties. Considering that “the Supreme Council of Cyrenaica” is the representative of Cyrenaica in any political dialogue with the country’s partners in Tripoli and Fezzan, and at the regional and international levels.

The assembly pointed out that one of the goals and principles of the Council is to demand the political and economic rights of Cyrenaica stipulated in the 1951 constitution when the Libyan state was established, stressing the right of the residents of Cyrenaica to choose the form of the state that meets their national and local aspirations and regulates their relations with the rest of the country’s regions. The statement said, “The Libyan state has gone through several political stations after its establishment, the last of which was the central system, which contributed to the concentration of all state institutions in the city of Tripoli, which helped a group of individuals and outlaw militias to seize power and monopolize state institutions for their own interests, wasting national wealth, collapsing the economy, deteriorating the living conditions of the citizen and impeding development in the country”. This situation of chaos, administrative and financial corruption contributed to increasing exclusion and marginalization of the rest of the country’s regions, in addition to signing agreements and treaties outside the framework of national consensus, which contributed to the growing state of mistrust.

The statement said that the establishment of the Supreme Council of Cyrenaica arose due to the current circumstances in the country, and in response to the calls of the people from various regions to take the initiative to present visions that address the increasing exacerbation of the political and economic crisis, stressing that the social and political forces in Cyrenaica, conscious of the importance of the role placed upon it, calling for sound rules and pillars that establish a state that preserves the dignity of the citizen, and meets aspirations towards freedom, development and social justice.

However, these declared regional entities remain outside the contexts of real political action, and they do not have powers of actual social influence, especially in the face of the main tribal actors that often assert their rejection of any attempt to divide the country. The region of Tripoli, declared a few days ago, was welcomed only by some activists in Cyrenaica and Tripoli. Historically, Tripoli was at the forefront of the forces calling for unity, and Cyrenaica echoed its calls. Fezzan was the solid southern fortress, whether for the federal state or the unified central state.

After 70 years, the United Nations is seeking to restore its role in Libya, the country that was founded on a resolution the General Assembly issued on the twenty-first of November 1949,  proposed by the delegations of India, Iraq, Pakistan and the United States, which stipulated that Libya should become independent before the first of January 1952.  48 countries voted in favor of the resolution, with Ethiopia opposed, and nine countries, including France, and five communist countries abstained. The resolution stipulated that a constitution for the new state would be drawn up and decided by a National Assembly that includes representatives from the three regions in consultation with each other as a single body. The resolution also stipulated the appointment of a special commissioner from the United Nations to assist in drafting the constitution and establishing an independent government. The Libyan constitution, which was adopted by a decision of the National Assembly, was issued on October 7, 1951, and on December 24, 1951, Libya declared its independence under the name of the United Kingdom of Libya with a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The constitution was approved by the Libyan National Assembly in Benghazi on October 7, 1951.

The decision of the United Nations came in time to block the way for the Bevin Sforza project, a secret agreement made in March 1949 between British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin and Italian Foreign Minister Carlo Sforza that Libya would obtain its independence after ten years, and that its three territories would be placed during this period under international trusteeship. Britain assumed the guardianship of Cyrenaica, Italy administered Tripoli, while France would take over the administration of Fezzan.

At the United Nations session, a member of the Libyan delegation succeeded in gaining the support of the representative of the State of Haiti, thus making his vote the most likely one that led to the fall of the Bevin and Sforza project. That moment was the starting point for building a state from nothing. Tripoli, Cyrenaica and Fezzan were independent provinces from each other, whether under the Ottoman or Italian occupation, and in November 1918 the establishment of the Tripolitania Republic was announced as the first Arab republic, but it did not last, and in 1934 Italy adopted “Libya” the old historical name of the country (which the Greeks used for the regions west of The Nile Valley and North Africa) to be the official name of its colony in North Africa, and the features of the Libyan state did not emerge until 1951 after the independence of the three regions by a decision of the United Nations and the establishment of a federal system bearing the name of the United Kingdom of Libya led by the Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris Al-Senussi.

When Libya gained its independence in 1951, the population of the Kingdom exceeded one million, most of them in the state of Tripoli and the rest in the states of Cyrenaica and Fezzan. In 1954, the first official census of the population was conducted in Libya, and its results were announced in 1955. According to the census, the population of the Tripoli region was 1,090.83 people, the Cyrenaica region was 290,328, and the Fezzan region was about 54,438 people. At independence, the Kingdom had no natural resources before the discovery of oil, and it also lacked trained labor, while 72 percent of males and 95 percent of females were illiterate, and despite all the economic challenges, the Kingdom relied on its agricultural sector as it hoped to pump investments to increase agricultural crops and expand the agricultural area. During the fiscal year 1951-1952, Libya received $4 million to support the budget deficit, while the Fourth Point Program provided $1 million. In the 1952-1953 budget, revenues were estimated at no more than 3.6 million pounds, corresponding to about 5 million pounds in public expenditures, and the United Kingdom provided $4.2 million to support the budget deficit, while the US Fourth Point Program provided one million dollars.

In 1963, the constitution was amended, the federal system was abolished and a central system was built in the name of the Kingdom of Libya. The situation remained as it was until the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi’s regime in 2011, when the divisive discourse returned, and it was perpetuated through political consensus through the adoption of quotas in executive and sovereign positions. The announcement of the establishment of the Cyrenaica region in March 2012 was the starting point for a wide debate over the principle of going far back. However, the vast majority of Libyans stand with the dedication of local government to a fair distribution of wealth and building a strong central system that preserves the sovereignty of the state and defends its sovereignty.

Any federal system in Libya will be distorted and will end in failure, because it is founded on the basis of factional and individual interests. The real solution for Libya is a just, strong and open national state that benefits from its capabilities and the energies of its people, consistent with its cultural and civilizational uniqueness,  location and role.

Al Arab

Translation by Internationalist 360°