LIBYA – THE OBEIDAT (A third post about Libyan tribes) UPDATED 20th JULY 2013
The 17th February 2011 revolt against Muammar Gaddafi hinged, to some extent, on tribal loyalties. Following his fall from power tribal loyalties are reasserting themselves. Whilst a great deal of attention has been focussed on the armed militias which are hijacking the Libyan democratic process the importance of tribal allegiance tends to be overlooked. This ‘post’ sets out to examine the role of the Obeidat tribe in the rebellion and its aftermath. Firstly, members of the Obeidat tribe identify themselves by adding al Obeidi to their name. There is a spelling problem. Obeidat is the current form but Obaydat, Abaydat,Abaidat or ‘Ubaydat are also correct and appear occasionally.
A young law student, Iman al-Obeidi, entered the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli on 26th March 2011 and found some members of the international press corps in the restaurant. She told them that she had been gang raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers who had arrested her on the Tripoli to Tajura road. Her story found its way on to international TV and the furore that ensued drew attention to the plight of rape victims in Libya and the brutality of Gaddafi’s loyalist. Iman was born in Tobruk, the port in Eastern Libya, where the late King Idris preferred to live quietly amongst the amongst loyal Obeidat tribesmen.
Also in February 2011 Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi, commander of the Tobruk military region, defected to the anti Gadaffi rebels along with the Tobruk military garrison. More significantly Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi, Gadaffi’s old friend and interior minister, announced his defection to the rebels on Al Arabiya television on 23rd February 2011. He became the front line commander of the rebel army but was murdered under strange circumstances on 29th July 2011.
The Obeidat tribe had opted to join the 17th February anti-Gaddafi rebel confederation based in Benghazi. Whilst acknowledging the role of personal ambition, I argue that both of these senior officers are very likely to have been under pressure from their tribe when they made their decisions. Both officers had clearly received assurances from their tribe that their actions on behalf of the Gaddafi regime would be forgotten; a not inconsiderable factor, especially in the case of a minister of the interior. As a result of their defection rifts occurred amongst the senior officers loyal to Gaddafi and his power began to crumble. Their defection also gave weight to the rebel claim for assistance from the NATO powers.
Maj. Gen. Suleiman Mahmud al-Obeidi’s defection secured for the rebels the port of Tobruk and the Marsa El Hariga oil terminal. Crude oil from Sarir field is pumped through a 400 km pipeline to the terminal which has three berths with a loading capacity of 8,000 tons/hour for tankers of up to 120,000 metric tons deadweight. (There was a loaded tanker in the port at the time of the major general’s defection and the oil it carried was sold with the aid of Qatar to help fund the rebellion.)
Al Obeidat is the largest tribe in East Libya and its homeland, its watan, is extensive, varied and often difficult. It stretches from the strategically important border with Egypt in the east to the highlands above Derna in the west and includes the key port of Tobruk. This was known as the Marmarica region of Eastern Libya.
During the 18th century it pushed the Awlad ‘Ali tribe out of Libya into Egypt’s western desert but cordial relations still exist between the two tribes though the Egyptian border has become unruly and arms and drug smuggling has increased alarmingly.
The Obeitat is a ‘Saadi’ tribe which traces its ancestry to the founding mother of the nine aristocratic tribes of Eastern Libya. In theory all the true members of the tribe own their territory by right and are, therefore, Hurr or free. Infact there are fifteen sub-tribes which have their own homelands and also their own sheiks. These sub-tribes tend to act independently and there are often disputes amongst them. When there is a major threat to the tribe as a whole they tend to act in unison but not always. This is the case for most of the Libyan tribes and that is one of the reasons it is difficult to govern the country. Other tribes that use the Obeidat territory do so as tenants. They are known as Marabtin or client tribes. There are a number of these client tribes which use the Obiedat homeland. One such is the Minifa tribe to which the Libyan hero Omar Mukhtar belonged.
Omar Mukhtar was a sheik of the Sufi Senussi order which was led by King Idris al Senussi. It formed a theocracy which knitted the tribes of Eastern Libya together. King Idris gave prominence to the Eastern tribes and the Obeidat was loyal to the Senussi order. Gaddafi destroyed the Senussi order along with the power of the nine Saadi tribes. These tribes will be looking to redress the balance of power in their favour, a factor for the new government to address soon.
John Oakes – 6th November 2012
For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Update 10th November 2012
A very interesting development in the trial of those accused of murdering Staff Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi. See this:-
Update 8th January 2013
The trial of a member of the Obeidat has just commenced in Tripoli and will be worth following:
Update 9th January 2013
Some details of the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi
Update 25th January 2013
The Benghazi ‘hit list’ has become world news. One senior officer assassinated in that city in September 2012 was a member of the Obeidat. Air Force Colonel Badr Khamis Al-Obedi was assassinated by unknown gunmen as he left the city’s Saida Aisha mosque after prayers.
Update 30th July 2013
The new Libya Chief of Staff has just been announced. He is Colonel Abdulsalam Jad Allah Al-Salheen Al-Obaidi.
Update 30th October 2013
Another twist to the mystery surrounding the killing of Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis al-Obeidi: