Benghazi Update: May-June 2012

Despite a spate of attacks on high-profile targets in Benghazi (A grenade attack on UK Ambassador’s convoy last week, injuring two, and was followed by an IED attack against the U.S. ‘consulate’), the surface impression given to those visiting Benghazi is one of relative calm and order. Residents appear to be getting back into ‘normal’ life patterns, particularly compared with months previous.  May 17th elections for the Benghazi council (44 representatives, of which 11 are seconded to the National Transitional Council) constitute one of the unrecognized successes of recent months. Polling went off remarkably smoothly, prompting Tripoli-based papers to suggest the rest of the country look to Benghazi for inspiration. Further, the highest vote-getter was a woman, Najat al Kikhia, a faculty member in the statistics department at Gar Younes University. A major civic demonstration against ‘spoiler’ factions in the East was scheduled for today. We have found no evidence of pervasive ‘secessionist’ feelings in the East, though frustration with weak central control, and more specifically, the absence of robust transitional government presence in Benghazi, is palpable.

The NTC administrative apparatus/processes appear to be working somewhat better, some liquidity issues have been resolved; oil production is back to pre-War levels several months ahead of predictions, secondary government institutions are being funded, and public services in the major coastal urban areas are more reliable. 50,000 thuwar (rebels) have been integrated into a quasi-standing army. Attacks by internal and externally-funded ‘spoilers’ in advance of National Assembly (Al Mu’tammar al Watani) elections (originally scheduled for June 19-23, now set for July 7) are to be expected. Tripoli remains besieged by four principal militias, and one sees an increasing number of Western security agencies setting up their own anti-militia militias. Libya is transiting a crucial period – in which psychological factors are just as important as military / political considerations.