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Libya celebrates as Gaddafi’s remote strongholds rise against him

Martin Chul, Guardian
… Just over a week into the revolution that few, even here, thought possible when it started, the eradication of a despot is well on the way to completion.

The town of Ajdabiya, 160km south of Benghazi, the regional capital, has long been one of the east of the country’s most forsaken enclaves, a place where people were thought to have been tamed and cowed during Gaddafi’s 42-year rule. No one seemed to get on in life from round here. This city has few heroes.

Now, the spoils of a remarkable victory are everywhere, along with the scars of an ignominious defeat. Every official building in town has been torched and ransacked, just like the state institutions to the east.

… All around eastern Libya, there is a sense of cavalier euphoria – a collective sigh of relief. It may also be a time to draw breath before the next phase – an assault on one of Gaddafi’s last two strongholds in the land: Sirte to the west and then the final prize – the capital.

… Oil is pivotal to which direction Libya post-Gaddafi heads. In the east of the country the presence of so much black gold under the soil has long been more resented than appreciated.

“We never see any of the profits from it,” said Mohammed. “Gaddafi has all these compounds and offshore money and there are no jobs, not much health service and no way of improving ourselves. Now the people will decide how the money is spent, not him.”

Abdul Salam Nagem, a petroleum engineer from Bregga, said that opposition groups – many using former military weapons – were now firmly in control of the levers at the refineries and oilfields and would not be letting them go until Gaddafi was finally ousted.
(26 February 2011)

Building a new Libya

The Economist
… Mr Qaddafi did nothing for this region. Despite its oil wealth, the east appears devoid of infrastructure apart from its oil industry. Oil is stored in first-world depots, water in concrete pits. The only ships docking at Tobruk’s jetties are tankers, and despite the energy flow there are blackouts. So poor is health care that Libyans with enough money head to Egypt or Tunisia for treatment. An elderly teacher points out the spelling mistakes in the graffiti daubed across the town. Until recently, foreign languages were banned from the syllabus; they were enemy tongues, and talking politics with foreigners carried a three-year prison term. “None of us can speak English or French,” laments the teacher. “He kept us ignorant and blindfolded.”

… That was why electronic media, from Al Jazeera to the internet, were so vital. They offered forms of communication beyond Mr Qaddafi’s grasp. The regime shut down the internet as soon as the uprising started, but by then it was too late.

… To a man, Cyrenaica’s new landlords insist they are the launchpad for a countrywide liberation, with Tripoli as the capital, and not a separatist movement. Delegates to the new assembly paint Libya’s future as a liberal parliamentary democracy, and have decked Beida’s parliament building in portraits of King Idris and his tricolour. Lawyers from Tobruk and Benghazi claim to be running civilian committees, and have called for the restoration of the 1952 constitution, amended to uphold a multi-party republic. But the hold of the lawyers seems uncertain in Benghazi. The royal tricolour—which sprouts on lampposts across Beida—is a rarity, as if people are uncertain which way the tide of history will go, and though the police have finally left their posts, they have not helped the civilian leadership fill the resulting vacuum, apparently for fear of appearing in public.

… Although the roots of the uprising are internal, Cyrenaica’s opposition is disgusted at the perceived lack of external support. “They care more about oil than our blood,” says a Tobruk history teacher.

Feeding their grievances is an ingrained resentment of foreigners that verges on xenophobia. The easterners see Western contractors reaping the benefits of their oil wealth to the tune of millions of dollars, while propping up the regime in return. And although a third of Libyans are jobless, 1.2m Egyptians and hundreds of thousands of other migrant workers have found work in Libya—the result of Mr Qaddafi’s aborted attempts at African and Arab unity.
(24 February 2011)

Britain and Libya: “No line in the sand”

James Blitz and Lina Saigol, Financial Times
Stood near a Bedouin tent outside Tripoli on Wednesday March 24 2004, Tony Blair offered what he called “the hand of friendship” to Muammer Gaddafi. That five-second handshake with the Libyan leader was one of the most remarkable moments in Mr Blair’s decade-long premiership and in the recent history of the Middle East.

For years, Col Gaddafi had been the pariah of the western world, the man US President Ronald Reagan dubbed the “mad dog” of the Middle East, the instigator of terrorist attacks across Europe. Yet here was Britain’s charismatic leader standing alongside him, declaring that the whole world would benefit from Libya becoming a “strong partner of the west”.

That handshake quickly came to be known as the “deal in the desert”. Col Gaddafi promised to cease sowing terror, in return for which international oil companies would help him extract Libya’s huge oil reserves.

… Why and how was British business seduced by Libya? There were two prizes. First, oil and gas. With 44.3bn barrels of proven reserves, Libya has more oil than any other African country, four times as much as Britain and Norway combined. A confidential document recently released by the UK government declares that Libya is one of the few countries “with medium-term capacity to bring significantly more energy to world markets”. For BP, a company with close relations to the UK government, this was immensely attractive. In 2007, it agreed to invest $900m in a deal to explore Libyan fields. As Tony Hayward, then chief executive, said at the time, this was BP’s “single biggest exploration commitment anywhere in the world”.
(25 February 2011)

The Vacuum After Qaddafi

Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times
… Colonel Qaddafi spent the last 40 years hollowing out every single institution that might challenge his authority. Unlike neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, Libya lacks the steadying hand of a military to buttress a collapsing government. It has no Parliament, no trade unions, no political parties, no civil society, no nongovernmental agencies. Its only strong ministry is the state oil company. The fact that some experts think the next government might be built atop the oil ministry underscores the paucity of options.

… Experts also believe Colonel Qaddafi used the threat of a Muslim takeover the way many Arab leaders did — exaggerating the menace to win sympathy from a United States prone to seeing Islamic revolutions under every Koran.

“People seem to be adopting a new identity based on their common experience of standing up to a dictator,” Mr. Malinowski said. “That doesn’t mean peace and love and brotherhood forever. But it’s a reason to hope that our worst fears about a post-Qaddafi Libya may not be realized.”

For the most part, though, few experts believe that any group can dominate.

“The current opposition movement in Libya is diverse and includes secular, nationalists, monarchists and Islamist elements,” said Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “I don’t think that any movement is in the position, in terms of resources and ideological power, to monopolize the political process.”

But he said that some hybrid of Islamism and nationalism was likely to emerge. In Libya, the strong nationalism that has run through all the recent uprisings is more likely to take on a religious tinge, experts believe, because it is a conservative society whose royal family once drew its authority in part from its spiritual role.

Probably the greatest insurance that Libya will not descend into Somalia-like chaos is its oil. The oil — once production fully resumes — can buy social content during a rocky transition period and offers insurance that Western powers cannot afford to sit by and watch such an important oil exporter disintegrate. Last year Italy, Germany and France together bought a substantial proportion of Libya’s 1.55 million barrels of petroleum pumped daily, about 2 percent of world production.
(27 February 2011)