Magharebia (Washington DC)

5 November 2012

Libyans Debate Federalism

Benghazi — Libyans are torn between whether to pursue the current decentralisation policy or adopt the federalism model that empowers the country's diverse regions.

Thousands of people in eastern Libya took to the streets Friday (November 2nd) after Asr prayers to demand a federal system.

Demonstrators in Benghazi met opposite the Tibesti Hotel to call for recognition of the Cyrenaica region. Proponents of federalism argued the region was side-lined under the Kadhafi regime.

"Young people from near and far took part in the federalism demonstration," Tarek al-Sahati said. "A joyful atmosphere prevailed among all, and we were all convinced that we can no longer keep silent about marginalisation and injustice which have become clear for all. None is a separatist, secessionist or has a tribal spirit; we're all tolerant young people."

For his part, Youssef al-Jahani said, "They have the right to express their opinions, but the most important thing is to do that without violence or making charges of treason against others."

"My heart wishes them good," Derna resident Moussa Ali said. "The reason I'm demanding federalism is to preserve the identity of Cyrenaica which the world knows and some Libyans deny."

But not everyone came out in favour of federalism.

"We respect all those who express their opinions and present solutions for the interest of Libya to bring it to shore safely. Libya is for everyone, but there are some who want to deprive Libya of its wealth and to see it always in conflicts," Mohamed Karkara told Magharebia. "Federalism supporters are out on the streets to express their opinions, and we're supposed to allow them to have that experience."

Walid al-Amami said, "I'm against chaos. Everything can be resolved through dialogue. The details are clear: there are people who have demands regardless of our opinion about federalism. They are demanding federalism because they didn't get what they asked for."

Youssef Afat, a resident of Misrata, also opposes the campaign for federalisation.

"I also strongly condemn anyone who accuses those demanding federalism of treason, as such treason charges are a trait of dictatorships. My personal opinion is no to federalism, no to centralisation, and yes to decentralisation," he added.

Abdelwahab Elourfi said he originally rejected federalism but now supports it, especially after events such as the storming of the Congress headquarters.

"We tell ourselves that Libya is just one country, and that there is no east or west. However, in the Tripoli region, Libya is only the west," he said.

"I don't blame those who call for federalism; it might be a solution for our problem after all. If a referendum is held, I will certainly vote for it without any hesitation," Elourfi added.

Others suggested that the new government should be given a chance to prove itself and restore order.

"Due to the high sensitivity of the current era, I believe that we should postpone such a demand until state institutions have been activated and armed manifestations have disappeared," Fawzi al-Ghawil commented.

He also urged state institutions to be "distributed to all areas in Libya based on the conditions and capabilities of every region, and income-generating entities must also be fairly distributed".

Jemal al-Zubair said that "the solution lies in forming a national unity government that can solve problems and draw up a strategy for the country's stability."

Hassan al-Mislti said he opposed federalism "because Libya is a simple rather than a complex state and doesn't need such a system", adding that he preferred decentralisation.

"Arguments used by the supporters of the federal system are not realistic. For example, marginalisation affects all Libya, and the state itself hasn't been established yet so they can judge whether Cyrenaica or Benghazi are suffering from marginalisation or not," al-Mislti said.

"Anyway, they have the right to express their opinion, but I just wished that they could avoid provincial slogans and statements," he added.

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