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Federalists in Cyrenaica, home to most of Libya's oil, opened their own independent parliament in Benghazi in late October 2013, in a step that may herald the breakup of the country. There is no consensus in favor of local leaders' plans for independence. Tripoli cannot allow this succession to succeed, nor are they in a position to stop it. Several powerful Benghazi militias backed these federalists, including some the leaders of the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia, whose members stand accused by US authorities of having participated in the 2012 attack on the US consulate that led to the deaths of four Americans including US Ambassador Chris Stephens. Federalist leaders named a prime minister and a 24-member cabinet 03 November 2013.

Cyrenaica federalists declared self government on 01 June 2013, the 64th anniversary of Emirate of Cyrenaica independence. Sheikh Ahmed Zubair Senussi, head of the Cyrenaica Transitional Council, declared Cyrenaican self-government. “Cyrenaica is a federal territory within the framework of the Libyan state and as of this day June 01 2013 will start to run its own affairs,” he declared at the event, designed to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the 1949 declaration of independence by the Emirate of Cyrenaica. “Cyrenaica will activate Libya’s 1951 constitution, establish a Senate and Congress to form Cyrenaica’s Parliament, as well as a regional Government,” Zubair announced. But this group did not have the backing of any large militias.

The 01 June 1949 declaration of independence by Cyrenaica followed negotiations by the Emir, Idris Al-Senussi, later King Idris, and the British military forces which had run the province after expelling the Italian colonial authorities in 1943. Cyrenaica was not fully “independent” and the British continued to control aspects of its government. The Emirate joined with British-administered Tripolitania and French-administered Fezzan to form the fully independent Kingdom of Libya in 1951.

Sheikh Ahmed Zubair Senussi also called for the formation of a defense force to protect Cyrenaica. Najib Suleiman al-Hasi will be commander-in-chief of the Cyrenaica defence forces, based in the town of Brega, while Abd Rabbo Abdul Hamid al-Barasi will head up the executive bureau based in al-Bayda, the regions' political office chief announced 02 October 2013. The defence force of Cyrenaica, which comprises more than 20,000 troops, was to protect the vast oil fields of the region.

In July 2014 Libya's Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia said that it seized complete control of Benghazi, declaring the city an “Islamic emirate”. Ansar al-Sharia militants captured a Libyan Army base inside Benghazi, forcing troops loyal to retired Army Chief of Staff Khalifa Hafter to retreat. It is not yet clear how badly Hafter's forces have been defeated, but a government security compound was also attacked and set ablaze several times, before much of the structure collapsed.

Cyrenaica, or, as it was called under the Ptolemys, Pentapolis - the region of the five cities - is a little district of hills and table-lands, insulated amid sands and water, yet itself so well watered with frequent rains and perennial springs, that, although in the present day, like many other beauteous spots in Africa and in Asia, it presents little more than the ruins of its former opulence and splendour, still does it ever, as far as nature is concerned, seem to be a fit place for an earthly Paradise - the chosen site of the Garden of the Hesperides. The country is like a most beautifully arranged Jardin Anglais, covered with pyramidal clumps of evergreens, variously disposed, as if by the hand of the most refined taste; while bosquets of junipers and cedars, relieved by the pale olive and the bright green of the tall arbutus-tree, afford a most grateful shade from the mid-day sun.

The Cyrenaica consists of a long strip of table-land, bounded on three sides by the desert, and on the fourth by the Mediterranean. Its geological formation consists of limestone, and the rock is much hollowed by caves. The country is remarkably fertile, and nothing can exceed the beauty of the scenery on the heights and among the ravines. From the upper plateau, on which Cyrene was built, the land descends in terraces to the coast.

Cyrenaica, or Pentapolis, in ancient geography, a district of Africa, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, lying exactly opposite to Greece, at the distance of about 250 miles. Cyrenica was contiguous to Marmarica on the E. and to Syrtica on the W.: it lay in the projecting curvature of the coast which bounds the Syrtis Major: it is now called Dernah or Jebel-Akhdar. Its position was favorable, being the nearest point to Greece, and equidistant from Egypt and Carthage; and from its position, formation, climate, and soil, this region is perhaps one of the most delightful on the surface of the globe.

It received the name of Cyrenaica from Cyrene, its chief city; and that of Pentapolis from the fact of its containing five principal cities, Berenice or Hesperus, Barce, Cyrene, Apollonia, and Arsinoe or Teucheira, now identified respectively with Benghazi, El Merdj, Grennah or Shahat, Marsoe, Sousah, and Tocra. The district extended inland about 80 miles, and included that portion of the African continent which stretched from the frontier of Egypt on the east to the borders of Africa Propria on the west which were marked by the tumuli of Ane Philsenorum. On its southern frontier Cyrenaica is protected from the scorching winds of the Sahara by a range of lofty mountains which descend in gradual slopes to the sea, and produce within a small compass a great variety of climate and temperature. Its vegetable products consequently comprised all the more important species to be found in the tropical and temperate zones; and, as its position was admirably adapted for commerce, nothing was wanting but an enterprizing population to make it one of the most valuable countries in the world.

Conventional wisdom held that the east was poorer and more disenfranchised in part by deliberate design; however, in the final years of the Qadhafi regime senior Government of Libya officials made a point of spending more time and investing more effort there. Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi, the regime's most public face of political and economic reform, chose to hold the first and second meetings of his annual Youth Forum in Benghazi in 2006 and 2007, and gave important addresses to large crowds there. In the run-up to both events, he spent considerable time in and around Benghazi, promoting economic and social development projects under the auspices of the ostensibly non-governmental Qadhafi Development Foundation, which he headed. Among them was a billion dollar-plus "green" project for development of an environmentally-friendly tourism/business zone adjacent to the Graeco-Roman ruins at Cyrene, near Benghazi. Work on an extensive renovation of Benghazi's port, designed to help rejuvenate shipping volume and create local jobs, also continued.

Prior to Qadhafi's downfall, eastern Libya remained a locus of extremist activity over which Government of Libya security services had comparatively limited control. Eastern Libya suffered from a disproportionately high level of unemployment, particularly for young men between the ages of 18 and 34. At least half of the young men in that demographic were unemployed or only intermittently employed. The situation reflected in part the Qadhafi regime's belief that if it kept the east poor enough, it would be unable to mount any serious political opposition to the regime. The rationale is explaining in the Libyan proverb: "If you treat them like dogs, they will follow you like dogs".

Residents of eastern Libya in general, and Derna in particular, viewed the al-Qadhafa clan as uneducated, uncouth interlopers from an inconsequential part of the country who had "stolen" the right to rule in Libya.

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Page last modified: 03-09-2014 19:50:55 ZULU