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Libya: Benghazi Burns as Clashes Intensify in Tripoli

Bottom Line: Benghazi is heading toward a conflict climax, while myriad clashes in Tripoli are of a less cohesive nature, they are still indicative of the government’s inability to handle the security situation.

Protests in Benghazi Analysis: Protests in Benghazi have taken a critical turn, with the burning and ransacking of several parts of the city as calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan intensify. At the same time, clashes are ongoing among various militia groups in Tripoli. The eastern districts of the city are of particular concern here, and we are closely monitoring clashes that have taken place between security forces, the Misratan militia and militia from the district of Souq al-Jumaa.  

Clashes of this nature in Tripoli are common, but have shown an increase in intensity in the past weeks. Of greater concern at this time is the situation in Benghazi, where protests are intensifying along with calls for the government’s resignation—an indication of popular disillusionment with a government that cannot handle the security chaos. While the government is attempting to reopen blocked export terminals and ports in Benghazi, eastern tribes are fighting them back—vying for a greater share of the region’s oil wealth—and gaining momentum. Security in Benghazi is becoming impossible, with a series of assassinations targeting security and military personnel. The security situation is bringing protesters to the streets in much more significant numbers. The string of bombings and assassinations over the past 10 days include, among others, the 28 October murder of the director of el-Ejmaa Arab Bank in Benghazi (he was kidnapped a month ago); the failed assassination attempt on a Benghazi security officer; and a remote-control bomb that killed four members of a family, including a 2-year-old child on 4 November.

Advocates of federalism in the oil-rich region of eastern Libya have gained momentum as well, announcing the formation of their own regional administration this week, with the appointment of a prime minister and a 24-member cabinet. Last weekend, federalist leaders in eastern Libya, centering on the town of Ajdabiya, 150 kilometers from Benghazi, accused Zeidan of incompetence and corruption.

Recommendation:  While we are confined by the brevity of these intel notes, it is pertinent here to look at the leaders of the federalist movement. In particular, we have Ibrahim Jathran (also known as Ibrahim al-Jadhran), who is a former head of Libya’s Petroleum Facilities Guards (PFG). Jathran and other federalist leaders operate their own militias—those who have taken control of the oil export terminals. The 33-year-old spent some seven years in prison under Gaddafi and then became a prominent commander in Cyrenaica (eastern Libya) during the revolution. He was rewarded for this with the post of chief of the PFG in eastern Libya—one of the most lucrative posts out there, and under the charge of the Libyan Defense Ministry, funded by the Libyan Oil Ministry. He was dismissed from this post and a warrant was issued for his arrest in August. The situation in Benghazi is nearing its climax and we do not see the potential for Zeidan to retake control of security here without foreign intervention, while attempts to militarize Benghazi with local forces will be met with a bloodbath.

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