Militias in eastern Libya said this week they would sell oil from seized facilities to foreign companies and protect arriving tankers, leaving government officials scrambling to keep the country unified as multiple groups demand autonomy and threaten to pull the country apart.
As Tripoli has steadily lost ground in certain quadrants of the country’s east, rebels have put the nation at risk economically. Libyan oil revenue is already down because of the capture of three port terminals in August. The insecurity in the east and the disruptions in Libyan oil exportation are putting the government in a precarious position.
An OPEC member, Libya has always relied on its oil revenues to keep the country flush, but now the government is worried it won’t even be able to pay public wages because of the militia problem, according to a report by Reuters.
The separatist rebels are backed by the self-appointed leader of Cyrenaica, Libya’s eastern coastal region, and have formed the Libyan Oil and Gas Corp. as the front business to deal with international buyers. According to the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, a letter stamped the “‘Government of Cyrenaica’ … was circulated to the Libyan oil sector Tuesday” and was confirmed by an assistant of “Ibrahim Jathran, the head of the rebel militia,” who said he has “the right to market the oil.”
The Libyan Navy reportedly fired warning shots at a ship on Monday, blocking the Maltese-flagged tanker from docking at the Es Sider terminal. That show of strength is vitally needed if the central government wants to control the country. The rebels who have hijacked the three oil-loading terminals want autonomy.
Libya is warning buyers and traders not to deal with the militias. The confrontation has analysts worried that Libya’s security problem could lead to the collapse of the country. The central government has had a difficult time managing Islamist militias and armed tribesmen, and the uprisings could force the country to break apart as multiple groups demand self rule. Weapons flow out of Libya to other countries, and the chaos makes it easy for terrorist groups like al-Qaida to gain a foothold. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the U.S., are all supporting a myriad of politicians and religious groups who they consider to be vehicles of their interest.
And these developments, in turn, could affect the price of Brent crude oil on the international market, reported MarketWatch on Wednesday.
Overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi was the easy part for rebels who fought against him. Tribal, ethnic and religious rifts, which were violently suppressed, are now breaking into the open and many of the young revolutionaries remain deeply traumatised by the fighting.
So is the real revolution just now starting?
Roughly two years since the government fell, post-Gaddafi Libya is as unstable as ever. As the government and break-away militias continue their stalemate, the situation will only worsen.
Before Gaddafi’s rule, there was a revenue-sharing agreement for oil exports with other provincial tribespeople in Libya, but now that the dictator is gone, it could be wise for the government to consider appeasement and going back to the way things were more than 40 years ago. At least that way, the revenue would keep coming in and the state could function, because if Tripoli is unable to pay salaries, the government — already unsteady — could face a national uprising.