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Oil binds Libya together

There are times when it seems oil is the only element binding the various aspects of Libya together, writes Vahe Petrossian.

Throughout the more than five years of on-off civil war, Libya has managed to pump and export enough crude to keep the country going. Social and civil services may be in a mess, but there have been few, if any, reports of people starving.

For a while at least, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) was even producing at the pre-revolution level of 1.6 million barrels per day. 

More usually, output has been at a still respectable 800,000 bpd or so, only occasionally collapsing to about 300,000 bpd.

The secret formula for keeping the oil wells pumping has of course been the selfish financial consensus between the UN-sponsored central government in Tripoli and the government-in-exile in the east. And the mechanism for this arrangement is the agency of NOC, acting almost as the only source of central authority. 

This week, the government in Tripoli, long accused of political and managerial inaction, seemed to have decided to show some leadership by moving in on the long-defunct Oil Ministry and symbolically taking over its basic functions at the expense of the state-owned company.

Such an act would anger rival politicians in the east.

NOC chairman Mustafa Sanalla was quick to rush to the rescue, asking the Presidential Council to withdraw its proposal. 

The NOC can perhaps be said to have been the effective glue that has so far bound the nation together. The council would be unwise to ignore Sanalla, possibly the only man respected on both sides of the political divide.