How Libya’s tribes will decide Gaddafi’s fate

How Libya’s tribes will decide Gaddafi’s fate | Daily Telegraph | Ranj Alaaldin

Colonel Gaddafi has lost control over Libya’s tribes – they urgently need support, argues Ranj Alaaldin.

Win over the tribes, take the state: Colonel Gaddafi’s fate could be decided by Libya’s various tribal groups. Each is different to one another by virtue of their location, composition and their historic relationship with the regime. But each retains the same vital ability to either disrupt – or stabilise – the politics and security of the state. They should be taken seriously.

Like Saddam Hussein during his dictatorial reign, Gaddafi has cunningly played the tribal game. By offering economic privileges and fermenting intra-tribal rivalries – and combining these with a healthy doese of coercion – Gaddafi secured the loyalty of the tribes and fostered an effective network of patronage. He ensured that competing tribal groups were all represented in the army, so that he maintained his control over it and, by definition, the state. Oil revenues, meanwhile, enabled Gaddafi to spread the wealth among tribes and keep them tamed.

Libya’s biggest tribe, the Warfala, has switched sides to back the anti-government revolutionary groups. They are one million strong and dominant in the northern cities of Bani Walid, Tripoli and Benghazi. The Tarhuna, also nearly one million strong with around 350,000 followers in Tripoli, have followed suit.

Other significant tribes to have defected include the Zawiya, who have threatened to cut the flow of oil to Western countries unless the regime crackdown stops; the Zentan tribe; the Bani Walid; and the Obeidat tribe of Abdul-Fatah Younis, the former interior minister who sensationally defected and maintains he has proof that Gaddafi ordered the Lockerbie Bombing.

These various groups and their leaders have already played their part in the revolution by encouraging their “sons” to defect from the security forces and refuse orders to attack demonstrators. The oil-rich eastern region of Libya, for example, is now rebel-controlled territory. The lynchpin city of the regime, Tripoli, is yet to fall, but some of its districts have.

But the tribes can still do more with the right support. They will be pivotal if rebel numbers are to increase; they will need arms and organisational support. The international community, as it ponders over its options and the possibility of arming the opposition, often queries where arms should go if and when it takes this course of action: the tribes would be a good place to start.

Increased support for the tribes would also accelerate the downfall of the regime by persuading the other indecisive tribes to turn on Gaddafi and swell the ranks of the opposition. This includes the propped up and smaller Gaddafi tribe of the dictator himself; and the large Magarha tribe, located in the west of the country. The Magarha boasts Colonel Abdullah al-Sannussi as one of its own, the Gaddafi loyalist and powerful head of the Libyan internal and external security organisations.

Libyans are facing the possibility of a protracted conflict that destroys the social, political and security structures of the state. As a result, the tribes will be best-placed to provide social cohesiveness and a resilient social structure that can organise, mobilise and galvanise the people.

To make full and effective use of the tribes, Libyans and the international community should back the formation of a tribal council that, right now, integrates some 30 significant tribes more effectively and efficiently into the broader anti-Gaddafi strategy and, later, the post-Gaddafi Libyan reconstruction process.

This initiative would send a credible message of unity and certainty to the undecided pro-regime tribes concerned about where they may stand in a post-Gaddafi Libya, both politically and economically. It will convince them and other regime loyalists that Libya is moving on without Gaddafi.

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