Libya is the second-largest oil producer in Africa, Europe’s largest supplier, and an important source of gas. For a period of 42 years, the only decision maker in the country was Muammar Gaddafi. After the revolution, things changed. Decisions arose out of an interaction between the government and the demands of the people. But when the government did not perform satisfactorily, and no longer seemed to be meeting the people’s demands, the ground shifted again.
As popular frustration with Libya’s interim government grows, the oil industry has become the target of violent attacks, strikes, and civil protests, as well as a vehicle of opposition for those with more specific political agendas. Local leaders, tribal groups, Islamists, and factional militias all appear to be working against the new government’s efforts to consolidate its power. It seems that workers in oilfields around the country are now guiding the course of national politics, and have in a sense become the new and powerful decision makers.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has threatened to use force against people who are attempting to decentralize government power by targeting pipelines, refineries and oil export terminals. But still a number of facilities have been disrupted. In November 2013, the Mellitah oil and gas complex, in the west of the country near the Tunisian border, was seized and closed down by members of the local Amazigh (Berber) minority, who were demanding acknowledgement of their ethnic identity (which they say the new regime continues to deny), extension of their political rights, and that their language be guaranteed by the constitution. In Tobruk, in the east of the country, federalists took over oilfields, attempting to stop production or take it under their own control. Here and elsewhere a range different anti-government factions are using closure of oilfields as a political weapon.