- - Monday, December 23, 2013

AJDABIYA, LibyaIbrahim Jedran, the leader of eastern Libya’s rebels, is exercising a three-part strategy to dominate this beleaguered North African nation.

First, surround Libya’s oil fields, proving the rebels’ military might. Next, flex some political muscle and proclaim an autonomous government. Finally, assure the viability of the breakaway province by creating a state oil company.

So far, so good. If all continues on target, Mr. Jedran’s plan could spell the beginning of the end for Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s embattled government in Tripoli.

Mr. Jedran’s rebel group has named itself the Council of Cyrenaica, after the Libyan state whose capital is Benghazi, the cradle of the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. As militias today control large swaths of the country, the council is profiting from the Zeidan government’s inability to rule. This power vacuum has translated into multiple killings and assassinations in Benghazi, nearly all of which remain unpunished.

“Zeidan’s government is infuriating. He is just not effective,” said Salah al-Bakoush, a co-founder of the Union for the Homeland political party, based in the northwestern city of Misrata. “And that is easy for men like Ibrahim Jedran to take advantage of.”

In October, militiamen kidnapped the prime minister and released him unharmed hours later. Last month, militias turned over their bases in the capital, Tripoli, to the military after residents protested militia infighting that left nearly 50 people dead and more than 500 wounded.

Mr. Jedran swung his rebels into action this summer with a series of worker strikes at oil refineries, which they surrounded and in some cases occupied. Their aim was to highlight corruption at the plant, he said, because federal functionaries there were siphoning off oil revenue.

A return to ‘federalism’

These days, months after their protest began, Cyrenaica’s rebels show no sign of leaving those oil fields. Talks this month with the federal government broke down after Tripoli refused to concede a share of oil revenue. Still, the central government has not moved to push the rebels off the oil fields.

That decision, analysts say, is costly. Oil generates about 90 percent of Libya’s gross domestic product, and the strikes already have cost the government nearly $13 billion since the summer, official statistics show.

The strikes also have driven Mr. Jedran’s rapid rise in Libya’s political landscape. He has won a reputation as a man of action and integrity among certain sections in eastern Libya after having served as head of security at oil facilities in the region of Sirte, whose capital is Gadhafi’s birthplace.

The rebels look to Mr. Jedran as the face of the movement to inspire the region. His contribution to the cause already? About 17,000 former security guards, analysts say.

Mr. Jedran, 33, says it’s easy to explain why his group will succeed.

“Tripoli has fallen into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood but they have failed,” he said, sitting at the four-star Amal Hotel in Ajdabiya, wearing an Italian suit with a rhinestone watch instead of his usual military fatigues. “Meanwhile, we have the support of 90 percent of the tribes in the East.”

Rebel leaders say they are not seeking full independence for Cyrenaica. Instead, they want autonomy within Libya, said Abd-Rabbo al-Barasi, chief of the Council of Cyrenaica, when announcing the composition of his 24-member Cabinet in October.

Story Continues →