Libya: Taming The Tribes


February 16, 2012: Tribal fighting in the southeast has left over 30 dead in the last four days. This is one of the many expected tribal wars and is taking place in the southeast, near the borders of Egypt, Chad, and Sudan. There, the dark skinned Toubu tribe, which was persecuted under Kaddafi, is under attack by the larger and lighter skinned Zwai. The Toubu accuse the NTC (National Transitional Council) of backing the Zwai. Like many tribes in Africa the Toubu have branches in Niger and Chad. There has long been racial and ethnic conflict along the southern border of the Sahara Desert (the Sahel region), where light skinned Arabs, Tuaregs, and Berbers bump into darker skinned Africans.

Libya has a serious problem with tribes. Unlike Europe, tribalism is still a strong force in most Arab states. Libya is one of them, and Kaddafi’s tribe (the Kaddafi) was the center of power in Libya since the late 1960s. But there are over a hundred tribes and major clans in the country and the Kaddafi tribe (an Arab one, centered on Sirte, and thence south into the desert) was one of the smaller ones. The tribalism is complicated by the fact that about 60 percent of the population is Berber (mostly) and Tuareg (nomadic Berbers far to the south). The Berbers have been hostile to the Arab invaders (represented by Kaddafi and most of the other coastal tribes) for over a thousand years. Kaddafi didn’t trust the Berbers, although he tried to buy off the Tuareg (with mixed success). So Kaddafi’s main supporters were 10-20 percent of the Arab Libyans (less than ten percent of the total population). The NTC is doing what it can to prevent a guerilla war by those who have lost so much power (political and economic). Everyone knows what happened in Iraq, where the Sunni Arab minority carried out a horrendous terror campaign (mostly against the majority Shia Arabs) in a failed attempt to regain power and prosperity. So far, the Kaddafi followers have not demonstrated as much organization as Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party. But, like in Iraq, the former Sunni ruling minority still has money, guns, and followers willing to use violence to regain control of all that oil income.

Tribal and local militias contain over 100,000 armed men organized into several hundred separate groups. Many are only a few dozen local men with some weapons and a leader. Some militias have over a thousand armed men, heavy weapons, and an agenda. Over 100,000 armed men have "demobilized" but those who are still part of these armed gangs are looking to get paid. While some 5,000 militiamen have joined the new Libyan Army, nearly a hundred militias in western Libya have formed a new organization. This federation was formed partly to provide an organization that could mediate disputes between the various militias. But the main reason for the western coalition is to negotiate a larger share of the oil income from the NTC, which is still dominated by easterners.

A national survey found that 35 percent believed that within five years Libya should have "strong leaders", while 29 percent wanted a Western type democracy. Whatever new government emerges, 69 percent felt the rulers should pay attention to popular opinion.  Only 16 percent were willing to use violence to impose their political views on others.

Although the government expects to achieve pre-war oil production of 1.6 million barrels a day within six months, there are still serious problems with handling the money. Corruption and flagrant flaunting of the law is still common.

Another side effect of the Kaddafi overthrow is the return of his Tuareg mercenaries to Mali. There, for the fourth time in the last half century, the mercenaries have helped start yet another Tuareg rebellion. The rebels recently captured a major border town and nearly 100,000 civilians have fled the Tuareg rebels. Neighboring Mali is certain that the recent uprising by Tuareg tribesmen was made possible by weapons and ammo stolen from Libyan stocks during the rebellion last year. Moreover, many rebel Tuaregs served as highly paid mercenaries for Kaddafi. While a lot of these hired guns were killed most made it back home with weapons and cash. The Mali government believes it can quickly crush this uprising and expects to do so before the next elections in April. The Mali armed forces have better weapons, recon aircraft, helicopter gunships, and American advisors.

These Tuareg rebels had served in the Kaddafi era Libyan armed forces and provided security for Kaddafi himself. Many were killed during last year's rebellion but the survivors returned to Mali with their own ideas of a rebellion (to gain more autonomy for Tuareg tribes). Starting last month, there were clashes between these rebels and Mali police or soldiers. This broke a two year old truce between the Tuareg and the Mali government.

In Libya, the Tuareg were one group Kaddafi always favored. The major splits in Libya are between the east (centered on Benghazi) and west (Tripoli) along the coast (where most of the population has always lived). The third region is the dry but oil-rich interior. Here the population is largely Berber and Tuareg (nomadic tribes in southern Libya). There are people from the coast, who comprise most of the Libyan work force in the oil fields. The people of the interior are further split by past loyalties. The Berbers hated Kaddafi, while the Tuaregs were better treated and many remained loyal to the end. Kaddafi didn’t trust the Berbers, although he tried to buy off the Tuareg (with mixed success). Some Tuareg joined the rebels early on but many continued to serve Kaddafi. Most Tuareg live in northern Mali and Niger.

February 15, 2012: Tunisia has asked the U.S. for more aid in training Tunisian armed forces. This is seen as critical because of the growing number of clashes with armed Libyans (often members of militias) on the border.

February 13, 2012: Tunisian police arrested twelve men and accused them of plotting terrorist attacks and planning to establish an Islamic dictatorship in Tunisia. Some of the men admitted receiving terrorist training in Libya. Al Qaeda is allowed to operate freely in most of Tunisia and has established training camps.

February 12, 2012: The NTC announced the distribution of the 200 seats in the new legislature. The west (Tripoli and the Nafusa mountains to the south of the city) gets 102 seats. The east, including Benghazi, gets 60. The south gets 29. The central cities (including Kaddafi's hometown Sirte) get 9. While this gives the west a majority there are many factions in the west. The most critical division is the Arabs on the coast (and in the capital city of Tripoli) and the Berbers in the mountains.

February 10, 2012: Niger refused a Libyan request that Saadi Kaddafi, son of the late Libyan dictator, to be extradited to Libya. The request arrived after Saadi made several public announcements calling for Kaddafi supporters in Libya to attack the new government.





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