Does Federalism Have a Future?

By Padraig O'Hannelly.

Is federalism a force to be reckoned with in Libya, or just a distraction from the real work of establishing state control and agreeing a constitution?

Last week the Southern region of Fezzan declared itself an autonomous federal province, just as Cyrenaica in the East had done previously.

While tribal identity is very strong in Libya, often trumping any feelings of allegiance to the state, it appears to many that a sense of belonging to one of the regions is actually the weakest of these three forces.

But could a desire for more control, and for a bigger slice of the cake, push the tribes into closer cooperation on a regional level, making federalism a real political  possibility?map of Libya regions (Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan)

Speaking to Reuters, Claudia Gazzini of International Crisis Group said:

"[The tribes] are trying to use [their] power as a bargaining tool with the state. They want to disrupt the current political process and to do so they threaten to break off from Libya. Whether this becomes an armed confrontation that leads to greater autonomy depends very much on how the government responds to these peoples' demands."

The government faces a tough challenge in wresting control from the tribal militias, and while at one extreme there appears to be a real risk of fragmentation of the country, with all the complications that that would involve, to many it appears to be more of a distraction in the short term.

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