BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) — Libyan rebels want to install a parliamentary democracy in place of longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi, one of their top leaders said Sunday, dismissing Western fears that their movement could be hijacked by Islamic extremists.
…”Libyans as a whole — and I am one of them — want a civilian democracy, not dictatorship, not tribalism and not one based on violence or terrorism,” Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga, vice chairman of the National Provisional Council, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The quotation above represents the best and least likely out for the citizens of Libya, who lack a sense of national consciousness. Tribal alliances established through patronage, a form of feudalism, were at the heart of Muammar Gaddafi power structure which allowed him to rule Libya for decades. He maintained a weak military force based upon tribal battalions while a core of heavily armed followers constituted his power base to forestall a coup.
Libya is another artificial country created through Italian colonialism. In order for a democratic form of government and free institutions to rise from the anti-Tripoli revolution, the educated class and youth yearning for a better way of life must eschew tribal tradition. These numerous power centers are unlikely to bow to the wave of change which was made possible because of modernity and NATO.
If Libya remains a united territory, it’s likely that a strongman will emerge as leader while lurking in the shadows are the Islamists who can not be discounted. Until Europeans intervene on the ground or Gaddafi flees into exile, the military and political stalemate will continue.
Libyan Tribal Map: Network of loyalties that will determine Gaddafi’s fate
By Abdulsattar Hatitah
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Libyan tribes played an important role in the country’s fight against Ottoman, and later Italian, colonialism, with many Libyan tribal members sacrificing their lives in this war. It is believed that there are currently around 140 different tribes and clans in Libya, many of which have influences and members outside of the country, from Tunisia to Egypt to Chad. However Dr. Faraj Abdulaziz Najam, a Libyan specialist in Social Sciences and History, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Libyan tribes and clans that have genuine and demonstrable influence on the country number no more than 30 [tribes and family clans].
In a country that has lived under the brutal dictatorship of one man for more than forty years, namely Colonel Muammar Gaddafi – of the Gaddafi tribe – the majority of Libyans depend on their tribal connection in order to obtain their rights, and for protection, and even in order to find a job, particularly in the state apparatus. In a study conducted by Dr. Amal al-Obeidi at the University of Garyounis in Benghazi, it was revealed that the two largest and most influential Arab tribes in Libya originated from the Arab Peninsula, and these are the Beni Salim tribe that settled in Cyrenaica, the eastern coastal region of Libya, and the Beni Hilal that settled in western Libya around Tripoli. However other Libyan researchers and expert also revealed that around 15 percent of the Libyan population have no tribal affiliation whatsoever, being descendents of the Berber, Turkish, and other communities.
The degree of political allegiance to the ruling regime in Tripoli varies from one tribe to the next, particularly over the forty years that Gaddafi has been in power. The tribe which has the strongest, and longest, ties to the Gaddafi region is the Magariha tribe, who which has yet to announce their position on the bloody demonstrations that have been taking place across the country for the past week. Former Libyan Prime Minister Abdessalam Jalloud, widely regarded as Gaddafi’s right-hand man for much of his reign, is a member of the Magariha tribe. Gaddafi’s own tribe, the Gaddafi tribe, had historically not been an important tribe in Libya prior to Colonel Gaddafi’s ascent to power, and the Gaddafi tribe was not known for playing a major role in Libya’s right against colonialism over the last 200 years.
The leadership of the Magariha tribe acknowledges a debt of gratitude to Gaddafi and his regime for securing the return of one of the tribe’s members, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, from prison in Britain after he was convicted of being behind the Lockerbie bombing. However sources also told Asharq Al-Awsat that this has not prevented a number of youths of the Magariha tribe from participating – with members from other tribes – in the demonstrations and protests against Gaddafi’s rule, especially in cities in eastern and southern Libya.
Experts say that the Magariha tribe is in the best position to carry out a coup against the Libyan leader, as many members of this tribe are in sensitive and senior positions of the Libyan government and security services. Whilst the Zawiya tribe is also in a strong position, and has threatened to stop the flow of oil into western Libya unless the authorities stop their deadly crackdown against the Libyan protestors.
Tribal influence in Libya is extremely important, particularly since the 1970s, with tribal affiliation being important with regards to obtaining employment in Libya’s General People’s Committees, as well as in the country’s security apparatus.
The largest and most influential tribe in eastern Libya is the Misurata tribe, which takes its name from the Misurata district in northwestern Libya. The tribe has particularly strong influence in the cities of Benghazi and Darneh.
As for the Cyrenaica region, the most prominent tribe’s in this area are the Kargala tribe, the Tawajeer tribe, and the Ramla tribe.
However the Misurata region has, over the past 50 years, become divided between those who belong to the traditional tribes that follow traditional tribal pursuits, and those who have given up this lifestyle and live in the region’s urban centers.
Some of the more prominent tribes and families that have given up the Bedouin tribal culture in the Misurata region are: the el-Mahjoub clan, the Zamoura family, the Kawafi tribe, the Dababisa tribe, the Zawaiya tribe, the al-Sawalih tribe, and the al-Jarsha tribe.
As for the Kawar tribe, this is comprised of many sub-tribes of Arab descent, with some analysts saying that this tribe – which takes its name from the Kaouar region – is made up of as many as 15 smaller tribes.
The al-Awaqir tribe is centered in the Barqah region of Cyrenaica, and this tribe is well known for the prominent role that it played in the war against Ottoman and Italian colonialism. The al-Awaqir tribe has also historically played a prominent role in Libyan politics, including during the previous era of the Libyan monarchy as well as during Gaddafi’s reign. Al-Awaqir tribal members have held senior positions within Gaddafi’s regime, including ministerial positions.
As for Tobruk and the surrounding region, there are a number of prominent tribes in this area, including the Abdiyat tribe, that is made up of around 15 sub-tribes, and which is one of the most powerful tribes in the Cyrenaica region. The Masamir tribe is also an important tribe in this region, and although this tribe is known in Libya for its religious inclinations and piety, members of this tribe played a prominent role in fighting against Italian colonialism, particularly during the first half of the twentieth century.
As for the al-Mujabra tribe, this tribe has a strong presence south-west of Tripoli near the Al Jabal Al Gharbi district. Brigadier General Abu Bark Younis Jaber, Libyan head of the army, is also a prominent member of this tribe.
The Libyan Farjan tribe is centered west of the city Ajdabiya, and members of this tribe can be found in most of Libya’s costal cities, including Sirte, Zilten, and Tripoli. The Fizan district, and the area around Tripoli, is the home to the Zawiya tribe, the Warfala tribe, the Magariha tribe, and the Maslata tribe. The majority of people in the city of Tripoli are affiliated to the Masrata tribe, such as the Muntasir clan, the Suni family, the Qadi family, the al-Bashti family, and many other prominent families.
Defeat the Libyan regime. And then?
Libya’s overstretched military won’t be difficult to defeat. Creating a coherent government when the fighting stops will be a bigger challenge, says our Diplomatic Editor, Praveen Swami.
By Praveen Swami 6:49AM GMT 21 Mar 2011
In 1975, Muammar Gaddafi told the Italian journalist Mirella Bianco: “When the people takes power it becomes its own government; and at that moment it is I who will find myself in opposition.” Now, with British and French combat jets targeting the Libyan regime’s murderous campaign to regain rebel-held cities, part of that statement appears prophetic: 42 years after Col Gaddafi seized power, dusk appears to be upon a man Anwar Sadat, Egypt’s late president, once described as “100 per cent sick and possessed by the devil”.
Libya’s anaemic military won’t be hard to defeat. From the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though, we have learnt that the real test of an intervention isn’t the defeat of the regime it targets: it is what comes next. There is good reason to fear that the people’s own government of which Col Gaddafi spoke won’t be much better than the dystopia that preceded it.
Power in Libya’s rebel-held regions now lies with a disordered mosaic of tribal patriarchs and mid-ranking military officers who have abandoned the regime for more primordial allegiances.
Eastern Libya’s Zuwaya and Misratah tribal chieftains, who enjoyed great power before Col Gaddafi took over, sense an opportunity to seize control of oil revenues. In the west, the Warfala, under pressure from the regime since an abortive 1993 rebellion, see a chance to settle scores.
For the most part, this leadership seems to have a moral compass that points in much the same direction as that of the regime. Tarek Saad Husain, a Benghazi-based rebel commander, warned the residents of Col Gaddafi’s home town: “Either you join us, or we will finish you.”
Libya’s tribes, moreover, aren’t the only ones flying their flags on the streets. Fighters have established an Islamic emirate in Derna, 775 miles from Tripoli, while jihadists trained in Sudan and Afghanistan are said to be fighting alongside tribal rebels.
To make sense of this exceptionally muddy landscape one needs an understanding of Libya’s complex political history. Libya has been described as “anti-state”: deriving power not through taxation but rents from oil; through the provision of patronage, rather than real institutions; through terror rather than a functional military. The country’s armed forces, for example, were only 91,000 strong at their peak in the 1980s – about a third of the number needed, the expert Anthony Cordesman has estimated, to operate its gargantuan equipment stockpiles.
In 1969, when a group of military officers led by Col Gaddafi overthrew King Idris bin Muhammad as-Senussi, they won neither a nation nor a state – and kept it that way.
Libya’s Ottoman rulers had left large swaths of the country ungoverned. Italian colonialism brought together Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and arid central Fezzan, through a ferocious war that ran from 1922 to 1935, and involved the liberal use of poison gas against tribesmen.
Eastern tribes, who played a key role in the struggle against the Italians, won out in the negotiations that led to Libya’s independence. King Idris, their figurehead, received the throne as a Christmas Eve gift in 1951.
King Idris was the grandson of Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali as-Senussi, the founder of a religious order inspired by the fundamentalist Wahhabi order of Saudi Arabia. The Senussi commanded great influence in eastern Libya, where they successfully arbitrated between feuding tribes.
The monarchy soon accumulated unprecedented wealth. In 1953, Britain obtained the rights to station troops in Libya for £3.75 million a year; the United States leased an airbase at $4 million a year. The last nine years of King Idris’s rule also saw Libya become the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter.
But the boom led to growing income disparities and a surge of migrants into Tripoli. The city doubled in size between 1960 and 1964, creating joblessness and social tensions on a scale the monarchy simply couldn’t handle.
King Idris’s regime, the scholar Carole Collins has noted, needed “to perform the functions of a national bourgeoisie – to regenerate and reinvest capital, and to develop infrastructure”.
Instead, the monarchy, described by the former American diplomat James Akins as “one of the most corrupt in the world”, survived by funnelling funds to its clients among the eastern tribes.
Following the coup, Col Gaddafi continued with the system – though his own Qadhafa tribe and its allies became the principal beneficiaries of the patronage system, instead of their eastern rivals.
In return for their loyalty, tribal leaders received benefits such as key jobs and contracts in projects like the £7.5 billion man-made river that sucks water from underground aquifers to feed Libya’s cities and farms.
Gaddafi’s manifesto, The Green Book, applauded the tribe as a form of “natural social protection”. The state, by contrast, was an “artificial political, economic and sometimes military system which has no link to human values”.
Luis Martinez, in his book The Libyan Paradox, pointed to the pre-modern regime-building practices of revolutionary Libya. Khuwaylidi al-Hamidi, the chief of police, married his son, Khalid, to Gaddafi’s flamboyant daughter, Aisha Gaddafi, and one of his daughters to the ruler’s son, Saadi.
The army became the stage on which tribal tensions were played out – just as they had been before the coup.
In 1993, for example, Abdel Salam Jalloud – Libya’s long-standing second-in-command and a trusted lieutenant who had, in 1970, been dispatched to offer China £75 million for a nuclear weapon – attempted to seize power.
Mr Jalloud’s Magariha tribe backed him, along with the Warfalla and al-Zintan – much the same coalition that is fighting Col Gaddafi today. Intense fighting was seen in the Bani Walid area, 80 miles south-east of Tripoli. But the air force, packed with recruits from Col Gaddafi’s Qadhafa, held fast and the regime won.
Eight plotters were executed in January 1997. Later that year, new laws institutionalised collective punishment of tribes through the denial of entitlements as the punishment for rebellion.
Even as Col Gaddafi moved to suppress tribal tensions, though, a new threat was emerging. In the 1980s, he had encouraged thousands of Libyans to join the jihad in Afghanistan, as part of his desire to emerge as a leader of the Islamic world. But when they returned to Libya, they served a different god.
In 1984, Libyan authorities hanged two students alleged to have been members of Islamist groups on the campus of the al-Fateh university in Tripoli; nine more were executed at Benghazi in 1987.
Fighting between the al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and regime forces in Benghazi claimed dozens of lives in 1995. In 1996, there was further fighting around Derna and Benghazi. Britain, according to David Shayler, a former MI5 officer, funded the LIFG, to punish Col Gaddafi’s support of terrorists in the west. Even though the LIFG was eventually crushed, and, following the events of 9/11, internationally proscribed, the jihadists had gained political legitimacy. In May 2009, thousands attended the funeral of Ali Mohamed al-Fakheri, a high-ranking al-Qaeda member who died in a Tripoli prison.
Libyan Islamists have, worryingly, been winning battles for the first time this year. Last month, jihadists led by rebel military officer Adnan al-Nawisri seized hundreds of weapons and vehicles from depots in Derna and proclaimed what they are calling the Islamic Emirate of Barqa, the ancient name for western Libya.
Abdelkarim al-Hasadi, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, appears to have de facto control of the Derna Emirate. Men like al-Hasadi are certain to get what support al-Qaeda can muster. Osama bin Laden’s inner circle includes Muhammad Hassan Qayid, known also as Abu Yahya al-Libi, the younger brother of the LIFG leader Abdul Wahhab Qayid Idris.
For decades, the social conditions for an Islamist insurgency did not exist in Libya. In a 1999 interview, LIFG spokesperson Omar Rashed lamented that Libya’s people had not “passed beyond the stage of sentiments to the stage of action”.
Paradoxically, the neoliberal economic policies ushered in by Shokri Ghanem, the prime minister, and Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the ruler’s son, may have helped just that to happen, by weakening the patronage networks on which the regime was built.
Libya’s tribal patriarchs may wish only for a redistribution of the spoils of power, not a revolution. But many young people see the regime’s pro-western policies as the root of their problems and want more fundamental changes.
If the Libyan war drags on, warring tribal factions will seek support where they can find it – and the jihadists will be happy to oblige them.
“War is the father of all things,” wrote the Greek poet and philosopher Heraclitus, “the king of all: some it has shown as gods, some as men; some it has made slaves, some free.” His lesson is simple: we must beware the consequences not just of defeat, but also of victory.
Libyan Rebels Don’t Really Add Up to an Army
By C. J. CHIVERS
Published: April 6, 2011
BENGHAZI, Libya — Late Monday afternoon, as Libyan rebels prepared another desperate attack on the eastern oil town of Brega, a young rebel raised his rocket-propelled grenade as if to fire. The town’s university, shimmering in the distance, was far beyond his weapon’s maximum range. An older rebel urged him to hold fire, telling him the weapon’s back-blast could do little more than reveal their position and draw a mortar attack.
The younger rebel almost spat with disgust. “I have been fighting for 37 days!” he shouted. “Nobody can tell me what to do!”
The outburst midfight — and the ensuing argument between a determined young man who seemed to have almost no understanding of modern war and an older man who wisely counseled caution — underscored a fact that is self-evident almost everywhere on Libya’s eastern front. The rebel military, as it sometimes called, is not really a military at all.
What is visible in battle here is less an organized force than the martial manifestation of a popular uprising.
With throaty cries and weapons they have looted and scrounged, the rebels gather along Libya’s main coastal highway each day, ready to fight. Many of them are brave, even extraordinarily so. Some of them are selfless, swept along by a sense of common purpose and brotherhood that accompanies their revolution.
“Freedom!” they shout, as they pair a yearning to unseat Col. yt-per Muammar el-Qaddafi with appeals for divine help. “God is great!”
But by almost all measures by which a military might be assessed, they are a hapless bunch. They have almost no communication equipment. There is no visible officer or non-commissioned officer corps. Their weapons are a mishmash of hastily acquired arms, which few of them know how to use.
With only weeks of fighting experience, they lack an understanding of the fundamentals of offensive and defensive combat, or how to organize fire support. They fire recklessly and sometimes accidentally. Most of them have yet to learn how to hold seized ground, or to protect themselves from their battlefield’s persistent rocket and mortar fire, which might be done by simply digging in.
Prone to panic, they often answer to little more than their mood, which changes in a flash. When their morale spikes upward, their attacks tend to be painfully and bloodily frontal — little more than racing columns down the highway, through a gantlet of the Qaddafi forces’ rocket and mortar fire, face forward into the loyalists’ machine guns.
And their numbers are small. Officials in the rebels’ transitional government have provided many different figures, sometimes saying 10,000 or men are under arms in their ranks.
But a small fraction actually appear at the front each day — often only a few hundred. And some of the men appear without guns, or with aged guns that have no magazines or ammunition.
For the nations that have supported the uprising, the state of the rebels’ armed wing — known as the Forces of Free Libya — raises many questions. It seems unlikely that such a force can carry the war westward, through dug-in Qaddafi units toward the stronghold of Surt, much less beyond, toward Tripoli, the Libyan capital. And a sustained war of attrition could quickly bleed their ranks dry.
Unlike many anti-government militias in other countries, the rebel-armed column has not had the benefit of years of guerrilla fighting, which could have winnowed and seasoned its leaders and given them a skeletal field structure to build on.
Instead, Libya’s rebels have entered the grim work of waging war almost spontaneously, and would need time, training, equipment and leadership to develop into even a reasonably competent force.
For now, their ranks have three elements: a so-called “special forces” detachment of former soldiers and police officers; a main column organized into self-led cells of fighters built around a few weapons and pickup trucks; and a sort of home guard that is undergoing quick training to man checkpoints and serve as a civil defense force.
There is also the “shabab,” milling groups of youngsters who arrive at the front each day hoping to pitch in, but with scant idea of how. Officially, the shabab are not part of the fight.