Tuesday, 12 March 2013



Associated Press
Libya has recently witnessed a series of tribal clashes that left several people dead and wounded.  These clashes are not restricted to one group or geographical area of Libya. They happen across the country and have become significantly deadlier since the revolution. 

Since Libya is home to over 140 tribes and clans, strife and competition between these groups has always been part of the Libyan landscape.

In theory, Gaddafi’s ‘Al-Jamahiriya’ system was supposed to function through direct democracy and popular committees. In reality his regime survived with system of patronage coupled with the exploitation of tribal cleavages and brutal repression.  Yet the recent of these clashes can be directly linked to the fallout of the revolution. 

The fall of the old regime brought with it the mass proliferation of weaponry and the collapse of the thinly stretched state security apparatus. Furthermore, the revolution deepened the polarization of allegiances, often pinning tribes supporting Gaddafi against those that rose against him. All of this creates an environment of insecurity and animosity that can make a simple dispute between individual members spiral into a deadly fight between entire communities.  

The most recent clash took place on 11/03/2013 in Sebha between members of the Wirfalla and Qadhadhfa tribes.  At least four people are reported dead and a dozen wounded. Sebha has been the theatre of tribal clashes involving other tribes. Earlier in January the area saw clashes between Qadhadhfa and Awlad Suleiman tribes that left scores of dead and wounded.  

Both the Wirfalla and Awlad Suleiman tribes were hostile to the former regime and fought against Gaddafi’s Tribe of Qadhadhfa during the revolution. Such conflicts are not limited to Sebha; the Nafusa Mountain town of Mizdah has also seen significant tribal strife that began on 02/03/3012. Mashashiya tribesmen fought members of the Al-Qantrar tribe. Both groups have a history of violent clashes. In 2012 fighting between the two tribes and their respective allies left over 100 people dead.

Given the magnitude of the changes sweeping the country and the fragile state of Libyan stability, there is no space and time for whimsical tribal ideologies in this day and age. Libyans cannot afford another revolution. Regardless of which tribes are involved or where it is taking place, the outcomes is always the same.
Besides the unnecessary death and injury of combatants/civilians, violent clashes often cause the suspension of all social activity. Schools and local businesses are often closed down during these disruptions. Furthermore, attacks on property can destroy local infrastructure and amenities causing disruptions to civil life. Yet the responsibility for these affairs cannot be entirely blamed on conflicting tribes. The current government should do more to help these regions overcome their differences.      

The lack of a strong governmental presence in the region exacerbates the Crisis:

Unrest and insecurity have continued to plague the south of Libya since the end of the revolution, with the state exercising minimal control over many areas. In December 2012, Congress representatives for the region walked out of parliament in protest of the deteriorating situation of their constituencies and the “crippling silence” of the central authorities in Tripoli.

The political vacuum and the absence of central government from the area foster an environment suitable for the proliferation of gangs and armed criminals that are often behind many of the clashes. The central government should make its presence felt in these troubled areas and dedicate more resources on the ground.

To be fair, tribalism in Libya runs deep and cannot be eradicated overnight.  Only a gradual and relentless approach will eliminate tribal violence from Libyan society.

The most important factor behind the violence remains the absence of basic security and the widespread availability of weapons. In the short term, these are the first issues the government should tackle not only in areas of tribal fighting, but throughout the Libyan territory.

 Secondly, the central authorities need to establish the primacy of the rule of law and build the necessary institutions to maintain it.  This is a long term effort that cannot be imposed from Tripoli and has to arise from local consent. The current relationship with the influential tribal elders need to be strengthened and weaved into the structure of new institutions or these would fail.

Libyans should embrace their eclectic culture and how each tribe contributes to the country’s social fabric. Cultural/tribal differences and allegiances should not be exploited by petty politics. Such instrumentalization is a divisive force than can only lead the country down the path of violence and destruction. Gaddafi relied on such strategies to maintain his grip on power. Yet, the new authorities possess something far more powerful: democratic legitimacy and the opportunity to create a Libya where inclusive institutions and the rule of law trump old ideologies and tribal kinship. 


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