It seems that Libya has come back on the track since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule six months ago.
However, a unilateral declaration made Tuesday by a faction of tribal and political leaders in the oil-rich east, trying to carve out a semi-autonomous territory and has called for a federal system of governance, has again raised fears of a break-up in the war-wracked country.
A conference of about 3000 delegates in Benghazi has installed Ahmed al-Senussi as head of the new Cyrenaica Provincial Council. The province would cover nearly half the country, from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and down to the borders with Chad and Sudan in the south and south-east.
It is proposed that the autonomous Cyrenaica region should run its own affairs apart from foreign policy, the army and oil resources, which would be left to a federal government in Tripoli, the capital.
The east was the cradle of last year's rebellion but complaints that it has been marginalized since Gaddafi's removal.
Pro-federalists say it will prevent the east from being sidelined as was the case for decades, while opponents fear it will spark a power struggle that splits the country well before elections.
Libya was a federal union from 1951 to 1963 under the late King Idris I, which divided the country into three states ̶ Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.
Many agree to the autonomy bill may suppose that federalism is an appropriate form of government for the future Libya but have no intention for disintegration of the country.
But, not a few political analysts believe federalism would exacerbate rather than ease tensions in Libya.
“Advocates argue that federalism is a safety valve for national unity but federalism and unity are contradictory terms that cannot co-exist,” said a Benghazi-based analyst bin Hariz.
The distribution of oil wealth, he warned, could engender conflict. “What did federalism achieve in Iraq,” he asked, pointing to the ongoing struggle between the autonomous oil-rich northern region of Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad.
Thus far, public opinions have divided on whether taking apart Libya into separate states joined by a loose federation is the best formula, since present conditions differ entirely from King Idris’ day, when Libya was a vast country with its areas disconnected. Today, telecommunications and road networks facilitate greater cooperation and cohesion.
Besides, it is far from a reality to revive Cyrenaica’s splendid past. As the monarch's power base, Cyrenaica back then enjoyed kudos and influence that was largely lost during Gaddafi's rule.
In response to the eastern region’s autonomy bid, Libyan leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil vowed Wednesday to defend national unity "with force" if necessary.
"We are not prepared to divide Libya," Abdel Jalil said as he called on leaders in the eastern Cyrenaica region to engage in dialogue and warned them against remnants of the regime of slain leader Muammar Gaddafi in their ranks.
Meanwhile, Jalil also accused some Arab nations of supporting and financing sedition in eastern Libya in a bid to prevent the so-called Arab Spring from reaching their doorsteps.
Ironically, the Western military intervention ends up a “dictatorship”, but a “monarchy” is on the point of popping up. What is discerned in today’s Libya is not a “civil democracy” satisfying the taste of the Westerners, but a real mess left by their meddling hands, and which will take a hard time clearing up.
By Li Hongmei, Specially for Sina English