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Armed Protestors Bring Libya to Its Knees


The price of oil has risen significantly in recent weeks, and though many are attributing the spike to the prospect of a US strike on Syria, severe supply disruptions in Libya could be the more likely culprit. Armed protesters have shut down oil export ports, leading some analysts to deem the disruption “as bad as [the] 2011 civil war.” Libyan oil production is currently hovering at just 150,000 barrels a day, a far cry from the 1.4 million barrels it was pumping out daily in April. What little oil it is producing is coming from offshore platforms—places protesters can’t reach. The situation has gotten so bad that Libya’s highest religious authority issued a fatwa decrying the protests, though there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. As one analyst told Reuters, “It’s a tribal society flushed with weapons and many different groups want their share of the oil wealth, so logic calls for continued disruption.”

Libya’s budget depends almost entirely on oil and gas production, and every day the protests continue leeches money from government coffers. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan has run out of patience, telling reporters at a recent news conference that the protesters are committing “a national crime that is tantamount to treason, because [they] are cutting the income of Libyans. You are someone who had been entrusted with the task of protecting the country’s wealth, yet you are abusing it for your ends.”

OPEC oil production hit its lowest point in more than two years last month, thanks in no small part to the protests in Libya. If Obama orders a strike on Syria, expect the price of oil to spike even higher. Constricted supply and another American attack in the Middle East will serve as a reminder that despite a sharp uptick in domestic oil production, the US is by no means energy independent.

[A general view shows the Zawiya oil installation on August 22, 2013 in Zawiya, Libya. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.]

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  • Andrew Allison

    History shows that the only way to keep tribal societies under control is a ruthless dictatorship. The failure, for decades, of US foreign policy to recognize this has been the source of enormous human suffering, and is a damning indictment of the State Department establishment.

    • Fred

      I think it goes deeper than that Andrew. It’s deeply ingrained in American culture. We’ve always been a rather naive and overly optimistic people. Americans’ reaction to the “Arab Spring” reminded me of that great line in Full Metal Jacket, “Remember son, we’re here to help the Viet Namese because inside every gook there’s an American struggling to get out.”

      • Andrew Allison

        Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that, at least until recently when the BGI resurrected it, our strength was a lack of tribalism. But, IMHO, it’s the job of our foreign policy establishment to recognize the way the rest of the world works and advise our leaders accordingly. Can we agree, in retrospect, that the removal or attempted removal (or, if you prefer, introduction of democracy) of strongmen has been an unmitigated disaster for all concerned? We need pragmatists, not idealists steering foreign policy.

  • Anthony

    The vulnerability of countries like Libya to conflict, State fragility. poor governance, etc. turns on the resource curse as well as social organizational patterns. Libya can be correctly identified as an anocracy with a resource curse where control of government is a winner take all proposition. Therein lies Libya’s ongoing problem which basically extends from its former autocracy.

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