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Gordon Campbell on Oil (& Other Matters) in the New Libya

Gordon Campbell on oil profits (and other administrivia) within the new Libya

The fighters in western Libya who captured the supply line towns on the way into Tripoli and made the final push into the capital do not come from the same tribal/political factions that started the rebellion in Benghazi to the east, six months ago. This only begins to state the problems the rebellion’s Transitional National Council and its nominal leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil will now face in governing the country. It doesn’t help that Jalil sacked his entire interim Cabinet on August 8, and seems to be ruling by decree. This phantom is the government-in-waiting that New Zealand has chosen to formally recognise today as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people ?

That said, revolutions are very rarely a cake walk. In Libya the revolutionary task will be made even more difficult by the way that Muammur Gaddafi erased all forms of civil society and ruled by personality cult for the past 40 years. Civil society will now have to be rebuilt, from the ground up. There is also the festering matter of the murder in July of the rebel army commander Abdul Fattah Younis. Plus, the formerly besieged town of Misrata has reportedly refused to recognise the authority of Jalil’s men…

Add it all up and the claims to legitimacy of a Benghazi-led TNC government – which is the edifice that New Zealand and the rest of the outside world is now rushing to recognise – do not seem all that convincing. Getting rid of Muammur Gaddafi may have been the relatively easy part. Here’s how the international media is summing things up:

The confusion and bickering in the aftermath of the killing [of Younis] bode ill for the council's claim to be a government of all Libyans. This claim has already been all but rejected by Misrata, Libya's third city, whose inhabitants are scathing of Mr Abdul Jalil's rule and of the poor performance of the council's army units. Commanders in Misrata recently underlined to journalists that they do not accept instructions from the council. Mr Abdul Jalil's task of imposing order will suffer further because his forces in the east played no part in the twin rebel offensives closing on Tripoli.

These genuine problems can, of course, be over-stated. The people of Libya have shown immense courage and determination in taking on Gaddafi’s forces on the ground and toppling his regime, regardless of the role played by the West in neutralising the dictator’s military superiority. Jalil now has to reach out to those in western Libya who won the final battles, and include them as equals in the new government.

The next test will be to ensure that the profits from Libya’s vast energy reserves are used for the good of its people, and are not monopolised by Western oil companies. The quickest way of undermining the new government will be if events on the ground confirm the conspiracy theories that NATO has just been the military arm of BP, Shell and Chevron. The vultures from BP and Shell are already gathering.

British oil giants are eyeing their route back into Libya, amid expectations that the 42-year reign of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is in its death throes.

Prior to the Libyan revolution, BP and Shell were exploring the desert in the hope of exploiting an estimated 42bn barrels of reserves….Both are known to be keen to forge strong relationships with whatever government emerges.

Petrofac, the oil services company that supplies some 25pc of British oil producers, has never had a presence in Libya but is planning to take advantage of the expected rush when oil firms return.

Currently, there seems to be no sense that the fall of Gaddafi should involve any change in how oil profits are reaped, and distributed. The only issues to Western analysts seems to be about how long it will take to repair the oil infrastructure damaged by the fighting, and how long before oil exploration and production can be ramped back up again. No one seems to be considering whether the fall of Gaddafi could – or should – create an oil dividend for the Libyan people. Lets hope the West gets a surprise on that score.

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