Posts Tagged ‘Fezzan’
LIBYA – THE ISLAMIC STATE IS MEETING RESISTANCE AND REACTING BRUTALLY. WILL IT MOVE SOUTH? (Update 22nd April 2016)
There are reports emanating from Derna, the port on the north east coast of Libya, that the gang calling itself the ‘Islamic State’ is murdering members of prominent families in a bid to retain control of the town with a show of ruthless brutality. There is a horrific photograph currently circulating on the internet showing the dead and brutalised bodies of three man hung by their wrists in a simulated crucifixion. The victims are said to be members of the Harir Al-Mansouri family. There are reports of armed clashes between ‘IS’ and the Harir family which have lasted for 12 hours or more. It seems that the leaders of local families and tribes have met to plan a way of eliminating the IS gang. The Islamic Sate leadership in the town are clearly rattled. Despite its alarming reputation for the ruthless and rapid exploitation of much of Iraq and Syria, ‘IS’ has experienced some unexpected barriers to its expansion in Libya. There are for four main reasons for this. Firstly, as a late comer, it has not made much progress against the numerous powerful Libyan militias which have their own powerbases and ambitions. In particular Islamic State in Derna and Sirte is in competition with the militant Islamist group called Ansar Sharia currently under attack by the Libyan National Army in nearby Benghazi. Secondly there is no Sunni-Shia sectarian divide which it can exploit in Libya as has with success in Iraq and Syria. Thirdly, the ancient and powerful Libyan tribes have proved resistant to its blandishments. Fourthly, and perhaps crucially, it has not been able get its hands on some of the oil revenue. It has thus only been able to make a lodgement in Derna and in Sirte which is somewhat remote from the military powers centred in Tripoli and Tobruk. It is notable that both of the IS lodgements have so far avoided a major confrontation from either of Libya’s rival governments. That it is meeting resistance to its expansion in Libya may be the reason for its notable brutality in Derna and also for the publication of a video of the execution of 30 Ethiopian Christians in two locations in eastern and southern Libya, two months after it beheaded 21 Egyptian Copts. The video is clearly meant to imply that the Islamic State has managed to expand in Libya from its limited presence in the eastern towns of Derna and Sirte. The west has much to fear from Islamic State attempting to infiltrate the throngs of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in order to export ruthless terrorists to Europe’s vulnerable cities. However, there is another threat which needs attention. It is the purpose of this blog to warn against ‘Islamic State’ exploitation of the lawless southern regions of Libya (by which I mean the old province known as the Fezzan). These regions, which border on the Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali and Algeria, would offer a haven for IS and allow it to exercise a perceived influence far in excess of its real power. Should they fetch up there they would find a source of revenue in the trafficking of drugs, arms and people. They would also make formidable ally for Nigerian based Boko Haram which is currently attempting to expand into Mali. It could also exploit the unrest amongst the Tuaregs and to this end has begun to post propaganda in Tamahaq. Once established in southern Libya the ‘Islamic State’ could threaten to mount attacks on the Algerian natural gas complex, Libyan oil installations and the Nigerian yellow cake Uranium mines. Perhaps a lodgement of Islamic State in southern Libya would prompt an intervention by the Sahel states and would, no doubt, disturb the Algerians and bring the French, who have troops stationed in the Sahara, into play. Possibly one of the reasons IS has not so far appeared in southern Libya is that it is within the bailiwick of Mokhtar Belmokhtar also known as Khaled Abou El Abbas or Laaouar, Algerian terrorist of the Chaamba tribe, leader of the group Al-Murabitoun, sometime Al-Qaeda Amir and kidnapper, smuggler and weapons dealer. Mokhtar Belmokhtar has gone suspiciously quiet recently. John Oakes 26th April 2015
BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES 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 17th June 2015 Mokhtar Belmokhtar has escaped death so many times. Perhaps he has escaped again? Read these:- http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/15/us-usa-libya-idUSKBN0OU0ZJ20150615 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-33146555
Update 25th July 2015
The Islamic State (IS) in Derna has outlived its welcome. Sometime in early July an IS preacher at the Derna mosque stated the Islamic State supporters were the only true Muslims. He declared all other Islamist militias in Derna ‘murtad’ or, in English, apostate. In this he revealed the true Takfiri nature of IS and its franchises.
The rival Islamist grouping in Derna, the Shoura Council of Mujahideen in Derna immediately issued an ultimatum telling IS to renounce Takfiri extremism and to stop its brutal murders or face the consequences.
The Shoura Council of Mujahideedn in Derna was formed in May 2015 to oppose General Khalifa Hafetr’s Operation Dignity. It then consisted of four Islamic militias; Ansar al-Sharia in Derna headed by Sufian Ben Qumu, the Abu Sleem Martyrs brigade headed by Salem Derbi, Islamic Army headed by Amin Kalfa and the Islamic Fighting group headed by Nasser Akkar. All of these militias have Al Qaeda links and strongly opposes General Hafter. There are reports that Ansar Sharia has since left the group.
It is now clear that IS has been expelled from Derna by the Mujahideen. It was reported to have taken refuge in Ras Hilal in the Jebel Akhdar and to have clashed with units on the Libyan National Army. The Shoura Council of Mujahideen is now in control in Derna.
According to recent reports the Libyan Air Force has made a number of precision bombing raids on Islamist Militia bases in Derna.
These two links are pertinent:
Update 21st April 2016
This in the Libya Herald yesterday tells us that a long and bitter period for Derna may have ended:
LNA claims victory as IS abandons Derna
The Libya National Army (LNA) says it has driven the remaining fighters from the so-called Islamic State (IS) out of the Derna area.
Abdulkarim Sabra, spokesman for the LNA’s Omar Mukhtar Operations Room which covers Derna and the surrounding region, told the Libya Herald that the army had taken control of Derna’s south eastern suburb of Fataieh and the area known as District 400 at the far east end of the town following a new ground and air offensive today. IS forces had, however, managed to escape, he said, claiming that they had pulled out of the town on the express orders of IS’s “caliph” himself, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The terrorists, he stated, had retreated towards the desert road to Ajdabiya, heading for Sirte, taking 32 vehicles with them. They had, Sabra added, refuelled their vehicles at a petrol station on the way before wrecking it.
However, this later report in the Libya Herald shows us that there are still some problems to overcome in Derna:
‘The spokesman from the Libyan National Army (LNA) chief of staff, Colonel Ahmed Mismari, says that LNA planes hit the convoy of Islamic State vehicles as it retreated from Derna yesterday and had killed “many” IS fighters.
The attack supposedly happened after the IS convoy, put at 32 vehicles, had arrived at Al-Mekhili, some 100 kilometres south west of Derna. There, he said, IS had found the petrol station closed and, desperate for fuel, had started shooting at it. They then continued further south. At this point, however, LNA aircraft were mobilised and bombed the vehicles.
Mismari did not say how many had been hit or how many casualties there had been other than “many”.
Following the IS pullout, the commander of the LNA’s 102 Brigade, Colonel Idris Eljali, was now in charge of Derna’s Fatiaeh area and District 400, Mismari added.
Asked whether the LNA was now going to try and take over the whole town, he said that Derna was not an immediate strategic objective. The objective now was Sirte.
However, there were negotiations by mediators with the Derna Revolutionaries Shoura Council (DRSC), he disclosed. It was being given a deadline by the army to hand over the town. He did not, however, disclose when the deadline was.
The DRSC is dominated by the local Abu Sleem Martyrs Brigade. This, Mismari claimed, was divided over dealing with the army. One part, he said, was totally opposed to the LNA. It regarded the army as “kuffar” (infidels). It and IS were, he stated, two sides of the same coin.
However, others in the brigade were more amenable, he said. They wanted to work with the army, but they were still extremists and were making demands about the army – for example, that it must contain no one deemed to be a Qaddafist.
Such demands were unacceptable, he said.
For his part, Abdulkarim Sabra, spokesman for the LNA’s Omar Mukhtar Operations Room which covers Derna and the surrounding region, is reported to have said that LNA aircraft had attacked DRSC positions at the town’s prison and its Sayida Khadija district on Wednesday evening.’
Jamal Adel, in a report in the Libya Herald dated 7th February 2014 writes; ‘A meeting at a Tripoli hotel of elders and tribal leaders from across the country descended into chaos yesterday when remarks by one of them provoked a backlash forcing the delegates to quit for an early lunch.
While the members had gathered in Tripoli to discuss the possibility of a more prominent national role, the meeting was disrupted by raucous heckling when a delegate from the Al-Awageer tribe, the largest tribe in Benghazi, accused his colleagues of various inadequacies.
The attack elicited a strong sense of dissatisfaction among most members and tempers flared to the point that lunch had to be called early. By the time talks resumed at 4:00 it was too late to make any formal decisions.
Beforehand, the head of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, had made opening statements greeting delegates, followed by an announcement of the meeting’s support for the army and police.
The delegate for the south, Abdisslam Ali Khalifa also expressed, at length and without reserve, his gratitude to Zintani and Misratan revolutionaries for restoring peace to Sebha after recent tribal violence.’
It might be interesting to use this excellent report to look briefly at the influence tribes exert in the struggle for power in post Gaddafi Libya. Before embarking on a discussion of the points raised I offer this as a working hypothesis. ‘Whilst 80% or more Libyans now live in towns and cities the influence of its historic Arab tribes is still significant but tends to be divisive.’ Secondly I suggest that the security of Libya and her near neighbours is threatened by the minority rights issues raised by indigenous Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people. Thirdly I argue that the Eastern (Cyrenaican) cites of Benghazi and Derna are the intellectual centres of militant religiosity supported by forces outside Libya and fourthly I would note that Southern Libya, long known as the Fezzan, is now perilously out of control. The consequence of this is that the trans-Saharan routes through the Libyan oasis staging posts and hubs, such as Sebha and Kufra, attract illegal trade in arms, drugs and people. The battle for control of Sebha and Kufra and the illegal trade they attract is largely between the Tebu people and Arab tribes – the Sway in Kufra and the Awlad Suleiman and its allies in Sebha.
The aristocratic Arab tribes of Libya are perceived to have descended from the Beni Hillal and Beni Sulaim, two tribes from the Nejd, now part of Saudi Arabia, which migrated through Egypt into Libya in the 11th Century. Anyone who can successfully claim descent from them is a nobleman or Hurr by birth. These pure Arab Bedouin tribes displaced the indigenous Berbers and settled mainly, though not solely, in Eastern Libya and founded the nine Saadi tribes one of which is the Awaqir. They pressed onwards and some of their descendants can be found in Sothern Libya. The Awlad Sulieman is one such tribe which has its homeland (wattan) in the Fezzan (Southern Libya) and in neighbouring Chad.
BENGHAZI – TRIBES AND JIHADISTS
The delegate from the Awaqir tribe mentioned in Jamal Adel’s report appears to have torpedoed the conference of tribal leaders and elders by expressing his frustration at considerable length. I and my family owe a great deal to one of the leading families of the Awaqir and I can empathise with the delegate’s anger whilst feeling somewhat embarrassed by his efforts. The Awaqir tribe is one of the nine aristocratic Saadi tribes which were influential during the reign of King Idris but stripped of their power by Gaddafi. It holds extensive lands to the south and west of Benghazi. It is a complex and multiethnic tribe, some braches of which were semi nomadic pastoralists and some more sedentary.
When the oil boom began in the 1950s Awaqir tribe members migrated from their homelands into Benghazi to find employment, living at first in makeshift huts on the outskirts. As employment increased the rough huts were improved with corrugated iron and Benghazi’s ‘Tin Towns’ came onto being. Gradually the tin huts were replaced by permanent buildings but tribal and sub-tribal ties were maintained in the new neighbourhoods of Gaddafi’s Benghazi, a city he disliked intensely.
This movement from the traditionally tribal hinterland into the burgeoning cites accelerated as Libya developed a society which derived most of its wealth from oil. Nowadays at least 80% of the population lives in the coastal cities supplied with abundant water from the fossil aquifers below the Libyan Desert and the Sahara via the Great Man Made River.
Benghazi presents us with an interesting case study. The fall of Gaddafi has been followed by a severe breakdown in security in Benghazi and by the rise therein of Jihadist and Salafist militias. Benghazi and Derna, the coastal city to its north east, are said to be the intellectual centres of the fiercely religious Islamist factions with Al Qaeda contacts and deriving much of their support from external sources. It is said that these two cities draw aspiring jihadists from Libya’s neighbours for indoctrination and motivation. It is this militant religiosity, long suppressed by Gaddafi, which is now one of the major wrecking factors in Libya today. Killings and abductions are now commonplace in the Benghazi. It will be recalled that a US ambassador was killed there and the culprits appear to remain above the law. In the present climate of discord in Benghazi no judge would hazard his life to preside over the trail of the ambassador’s killers
No doubt the raucous Awaqir leader described by Jamal Adel was voicing his frustration with the central government which has, so far, been unable to restore order and the rule of law. He may have also harboured some anger because the Awaqir has not been included in the higher reaches of the post Gaddafi government despite intensive lobbying.
MISRATA AND ZINTAN – TWO POWERFUL TRIBES AND THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN LIBYA.
From Jamal Adel’s piece above we read of Abdisslam Ali Khalifa’s profuse thanks to the revolutionaries (Thuwars) of Zintan and Misrata. This highlights the fact that tribal and clan allegiances are very strong in both cities. Firstly the cities and tribes bear the same name and have developed formidable armed forces which are largely independent of the state. In Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, fierce independence, a mercantile and martial spirit and civic cohesion have long been characteristic. The battle between Gaddafi’s forces and the rebels in Misrata was brutal. The battle hardened Misratan revolutionary militias are relatively well organised and disciplined. They have recently been called into Tripoli to forestall a coup and have been involved in the taming the powerful Warfella tribe, their traditional enemy to the south, which was said to harbour Gaddafi loyalists – and may still do so. The Misratan militias are said to favour the Moslem Brotherhood’s somewhat theocratic Justice and Construction Party in the current Libyan General National Congress (GNC).
The city of Zintan has a long tribal tradition. There are, in fact, two tribes in Zintan, one of which is Arab and the other Berber. Long practice of cooperation in the ‘Shura’ (the council of tribal elders) has assured strong local government and strengthened the Zintani’s. They have acquired large quantities of Gaddafi’s abandoned arms and developed considerable military clout. Gaddafi’s second son, Saif al Islam Gaddafi, remains in prison in Zintan awaiting trial, officially until the rule of law and the judiciary are restored in Libya, but more likely as a ‘hostage of influence’. The Zintani’s also maintain a strong military presence in Tripoli in order to safeguard their influence over the shaky coalition currently struggling to govern Libya. Whilst stable local government exists in Zintan there have been armed clashes with the neighbouring Mashasha tribe over a land rights dispute which has its origins in Gaddafi’s arbitrary redistribution of tribal land. The Zintani militias are said to favour Mahmoud Jibril al Warfelli’s more pragmatic National Forces Alliance in the GNC.
SABHA – TRIBAL AND RACIAL DISCORD
The modern town of Sebha has developed from the three oasis settlements of Jedid, Quatar and Hejer and now houses a population of around 200,000. It is the seat of the Saif al Nasr family, the most prominent and revered leaders of the Awlad Sulieman tribe and its historic allies and clients. The Saif al Nasr family gained heroic status in its wars with their Ottoman Turk overlords in the early 19th century and with the Italian colonists in the early 20th Century.
Gaddafi’s father migrated from Sirte to Sebha to take menial employment with the Saif al Nasr family, something which his son was said to resent. Gaddafi attended secondary school in Sebha and staged his first anti government demonstration as a school boy in the city. He also held a demonstration in the lobby of a hotel owned by the Saif al Nasr family, thus ensuring his expulsion from school. The relationship between Sebha and Gaddafi was ambiguous!
The Saif al Nasr family and the Awlad Suleiman tribe it led were the dominate force in Sebha and in much of the Fezzan throughout the Ottoman Turkish regency (1551 – 1911), the Italian colonial period (1911 – 1943), the short period (1943 – 1951) of French military government after WWII and the Kingdom of Libya (1951 -1969). During the forty or so years of the Gaddafi era the dominance in the Fezzan of the Awlad Suleiman was reversed in favour of his own tribe, the Gaddadfa and that of his closest supporters, the Maqarha tribe. This process has been dubbed ‘tribal inversion’ by Jason Pack and his colleges writing in their book ‘The 2011 Libyan Uprisings and the Struggle for the Post-Qadhafi Future’. This book is essential reading but somewhat expensive.
Apart from a number of so called al Ahali, the name given to long time town dwellers, Sebha offers a home to people from other tribes such as the Gaddadfa, Muammar Gaddafi’s tribe, which is based near Sirte but ranges south towards Sebha. There are also colonies of the Maqarha from the Wadi Shati to the north, the Awlad Abu Seif and the Hasawna tribe who, in the past, were the true nomads of the south and allies of the Awlad Suleiman.
There is one district of Sebha which has been a source of discord for some time. It is the Tauri district which is colonised by some Tuareg and many Tebu. The Tebu people are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighboring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, subsistence smuggling and date cultivation.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, Tebu militias have come to dominate the South and Libya’s borders with Chad and Niger. They are perceived by the majority of the inhabitants of Sebha to be non Libyans trying to control the city. In particular they now dominate the majority of the trade (legal and illicit) routes between Sebha and the Chad basin. Thus they have a firm grip on the regional arms and drug trade and on people trafficking. The Awlad Suleiman tribesman may still have their own trade routes in this area but perceive the Tebu to be a foreign and ethnically inferior threat to their historic dominance of the region.
There is a great deal of racism in Libya where the white Arab majority dispise black Africans. This may well stem from the trans-Saharan slave trading era which was still active in Benghazi until 1911. There are now thousands of black Africans incarcerated in Libya’s prisons and brutal reprisals were taken by some rebel militia against black Africans who may or may not have been Gaddafi’s mercenaries during the 2011 rebellion.
The Tebu make common cause with the Tuareg and the Berbers of the Jebel Nefusa in efforts to have their rights enshrined in the new Libya constitution currently under consideration.
The Libya Herald report quoted above tells us that Zintani and Misratan Militias were largely responsible for restoring a fragile peace in the Sothern city of Sebha. This from the Libya Herald datelined Tripoli, 12 January 2014 gives us some insight into events there;
‘Fighting eased today in Sebha, but not sufficiently for a newly-arrived team of mediators to begin the process of defusing the conflict between Tebu tribesmen and members of the Awlad Sulieman clan.
According to Ayoub Alzaroug of Sebha local council, 21 people have now died and 45 have been wounded, some of them seriously, in four days of fighting. Alzaroug told the Libya Herald that today the situation was “relatively calm” compared with the past three days.
According to one local resident, Tebu fighters now control some strategic areas within the city and around the airport, as well as occupying several compounds used by the Awlad Sulieman clan .
Members of the Western region mediation committee, which includes representative from Tripoli, Misrata, Zintan and the Jebel Nafusa reached the city this morning, but could not begin their work because of concerns for their safety.’
This and other reports make it clear that the mediators were called in by Ali Zeidan, the Libyan prime minister, to settle a bitter and lethal series of inter-tribal and inter-racial skirmishes which have left many dead and wounded in Sebha. The armed clashes had become so intense that Gaddafist forces drawn, I believe, from the Gaddadfa and Maqarha tribes, took the opportunity to take control of an important air base close to Sebha and spark off Gaddafist hopes of a restoration of the dread regime under the leadership of Gaddafi’s playboy son Al Saadi Gaddafi who, as I write, has arrived in Tripoli having been extradited from Niger.
GADDAFIST ‘ALGAE’ MAKE A FLEETING APPERNCE
The Gaddafist hopes were raised further by a sympathetic uprising of factions of the Warsifana tribe in the immediate neighbourhood of Tripoli. The uprising was quelled by militias who, with typical Libyan irony, refer to the Warsifana tribe as ‘algae’ because of their long allegiance to Gaddafi and his Green Flag.
The Small Arms Survey ‘Dispatch No 3’ dated February tells us of the late dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s support from the tribes of Sothern Libya. Unless the Libya government is able to project civil and military power into the region very soon it will face losing control completely. A key paragraph is quoted here:
‘The Qaddafi era’s legacies weigh heavily on southern Libya, which had been the regime’s main stronghold along with Sirte, Bani Walid, and Tarhuna. The communities in the region were among the main recruitment bases for the regime’s security battalions and intelligence services. Key units were based on particular tribal constituencies:
• The Maghawir Brigade, based in Ubari, was made up exclusively of recruits from Tuareg tribes of Malian and Nigerien origin.
• The Tariq bin Ziyad Brigade, also based in Ubari, was dominated by Qadhadhfa and Awlad Suleiman.
• The Faris Brigade, based in Sabha, was recruited from Qadhadhfa, Warfalla, Awlad Suleiman, and Tubu.
• The Sahban Brigade, based in Gharyan, was led by Maqarha.’
The many facets of this series of armed disputes are not easy to resolve unless we understand that the tribes which were dominant in Libya during the reign of King Idris (1951 – 1969) were superseded by Gaddafi’s own tribe, the Gaddadfa, which was considered to by many to be Marabtin, that is a client tribe and thus inferior. Some call the Gaddadfa an Arabized Berber tribe but I suspect that it may have originated as a faction which broke off from the greater Warfella tribe at some time in the distant past. In any event it is clear that the Awlad Suleiman are attempting to reassert their historic dominance though the suspicion lingers that they are also vying for control of the lucrative illegal trade routes with the Tebu.
TRIPOLI AND THE FALL OF ALI ZEIDAN
We might legitimately ask why Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called upon Zintani and Misratan forces to intervene in this dispute rather than the National Army. There may be two answers to the question. The first is disconcertingly significant. The army Chief of Staff Jadallah Al-Obaidi refuses to take orders from Ali Zeidan. He may also feel that the still ‘embryonic’ National Army is not yet capable of deploying sufficient force 476 road miles to the south and lacks the training to intervene in civil disputes.There are disturbing signs today (10th March 2014) of a rift between the Chief of Staff and the government. Second, the General National Congress has today sacked Ali Zeidan from his post as Prime Minster and replaced him temporarily with Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, whose reputation for dealing with the troubles in the South is encouraging. We will see.
Readers looking for an in depth analysis of the role of tribes in Libya might find this helpful:
11th March 2014
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 24th March 2014
There is still unrest in Sebha it seems.
‘Speaking in Brussels, Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU High Representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, said on Friday that the EU was concerned about the use of force by armed groups against [Libyan] state institutions, including the illegal seizure of energy facilities. He said that the EU had noted the declaration of a Cyrenaican government. It hoped that these issues could be resolved peacefully.’ (Libya Herald Tripoli 12 January 2014)
As I write these words (11th January 2014) Libya’s oil production is rising for the first time in 10 months. The oil fields in the vicinity of Obari in south west Libya are now reported to be on stream again and feeding crude oil to the Zawiya refinery and oil terminal 50 kilometres west of Tripoli.
The Obari/al-Sharara oil fields have been closed for since 28th October 2013 by more than 1,500 protesters. It has been difficult at this distance to work out what was their main grievance but it seems likely that the old, and unelected, Obari local council had refused to give way to allow a properly elected body to take over. I also believe the old council may have retained its allegiance to Gaddafi for too long. There has been an additional problem. Obari is a Tuareg town and there are about 14,000 Kel Ajjer Tuareg families who live there with no Libyan ID numbers and thus with no access to state benefits. The Kel Ajjer Tuaregs believe themselves to be the genuine inhabitants of the district and complain of racial discrimination. Some of them appear to have added their weight to the protest and helped to shut down the oil fields in the hope of redressing this anomaly.
The problem of ‘federalism’ is growing in Libya’s remote South West. This was the old province of The Fezzan, one of the three historic Libyan provinces, which existed until the government of King Idris passed the constitutional amendment of 1963 abolishing the federal system in favour of a unified government. Dissatisfaction with the post Gaddafi government resulted in the appearance in September 2013 of a putative National Council of the Fezzan chaired by one Aboazom Al Lafi.
The blockade of oil facilities is more acute, and still continues, in the old province of Cyrenaica, known now as Eastern Libya. It is here that three major oil terminals have been paralysed by the very persons employed to guard them. This strange but disconcerting business is summed up in the words of Libya’s prime minster, Dr. Zeidan, when in December 2013 he stated; ‘We are producing oil at perhaps a fifth of our capacity and are carrying out some limited exporting operations. The issue is that the guards [the Petroleum Facilities Guard] who were assigned to protect the oil facilities betrayed their homeland and seized control of the facilities.’
Dr. Zeidan is here referring to the increasingly powerful figure, Ibrahim Jadhran, sometime eastern commander of Petroleum Facilities Guard. Jadhran has become the leader of the self-styled Political Bureau of Cyrenaica base in Ajdabia. He has assembled and sworn in a cabinet of 24 members and threatened to recruit and train a Cyrenaican Defence Force, similar to that which maintained King Idris in power during the 1950’s I presume.
For those readers coming anew to this story it should be said that the Petroleum Facilities Guard is recruited from armed militias or Thuwars initially formed to fight the Gaddafi regime and so far not yet disbanded. They are not regular soldiers or policemen and they owe their loyalty to their leader not, as do regular police or soldiers, to the state. That is why Dr. Zeidan calls them militiamen.
To further his aims Jadhran and his people have gained control of the three oil terminals in the Gulf of Sirte (aka Gulf of Sidra), namely Al-Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina and formed his own company, the Libyan Oil and Gas Corporation. In a recent TV address he said that this new organisation would have a temporary home in Tobruk, before moving to Benghazi at a later date.
To counter this, the Libyan government has declared force majeure and stated that it will use force to stop any ship intending to trade with Jadhran’s company. On Monday 6th January 2014 the Libya navy fired on a North Korean flagged vessel presumed to be on its way to take on crude oil from one of the ports under Jadhran’s control. The vessel escaped but the use of force by Dr. Zeidan’s government marked a step change in his policy of persuasion and negotiation and may mark the beginning of the end to the oil port blockades.
This by Ahmed Elumami which appeared in the Libya Herald on 24th October 2013 is worth reading in this context:
‘Federalists announced a government for Cyrenaica today. Consisting of a prime minister, deputy prime minister and 24 other ministers, it is viewed as largely the creation of Ibrahim Jadhran, the former Petroleum Facilities Guard commander who is leading the eastern oil terminals blockade and who was elected as head of the self-proclaimed Cyrenaica Council’s Political Bureau on 17 August.
It was Jadhran who named Abdraba Abdulhameed Al-Barasi to be Cyrenaica’s “prime minister” three weeks ago and who today said that the announcement of the government was two days late but that “we fulfilled our promise of a new regional government”.
Barasi [who was a Libyan Air Force officer] said that the reason for the move was because the central authorities “have failed and have shown incompetence and corruption”. They were not to be trusted anymore, he said. Also, Cyrenaica had suffered systematic negligence. His “government”, he declared, took its legitimacy and legal status from the 1951 Kingdom of Libya constitution ¬(which, in fact was amended in 1963, and the three-state federal makeup was replaced by a United Kingdom of Libya with 10 regions.’
So far Dr. Zeidan’s government has been unable to exploit the possible discord between the two powerful figures in the federalist movement in East Libya, Ibrahim al Jadhran and Libya’s oldest political prisoner and a cousin of the former King Idris, Ahmed al Zubair al Senussi, who are divided over the vision for the future of the federalist movement. Mr Senussi was the figure-head of the ‘Barqa Conference’, a largely tribal gathering, which met on 6th March 2012 and declared regional autonomy for Cyrenaica. The initiative failed but al-Senussi has reportedly condemned the recourse to arms by Jadhran. There does not seem to be much unanimity amongst federalists.
There Marsa Hariga oil terminal in Tobruk, near the Egyptian border in Eastern Libya, has also been blockaded for some time and there are signs that it may be reopening very soon. I suspect that the notables of Tobruk are less enamoured of Jadhran and his cronies and are likely to take their own line in this dispute. There does not appear to be a single focus of discontent in Tobruk.
The historical background to the ‘federalist’ movement may not be readily available Libya so I have taken the liberty of offering the following notes as a quick guide. They are taken from those I made when writing my book ‘Libya’ published in 2011 by the History press in UK.
BACKGOUND NOTES ON THE FEDRALIST MOVEMENT IN POST GADDAFI LIBYA
Libya is rich in the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek cities. In the south there are signs of an ancient African civilisation which the Romans called the Garamantes.
Even when these civilizations were at the height of their powers they were mostly separated by geographical barriers. The west was Roman, the east was Greek and the south African. The three Libyan provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan, which arose amongst the remains of these civilisations, were influenced by their ancient predecessors.
In 643 the Muslim general Amir ibn el ‘As invaded Cyrenaica and soon afterwards, Tripolitania. Uqba bin Nafi moved towards Fezzan in 663AD and took Germa. Afterwards, Libya was no longer part of the Dar al Harb – the House of War – but part of the Islamic world, the Dar al Islam.
After 1050 AD two true Arab Bedouin tribes from the Nejd migrated belligerently into Libya and largely pushed the Berber inhabitants into the Jebel Nefusa. They were the Beni Sulaim and the Beni Hilal. Their descendants followed their customs and way of life in Libya until recently and they still exert great influence.
The descendants of the Beni Sulaim are still spread over a large area in Egypt and Tunisia. There are two tribes which claim descent from them in Tripolitania. However, those occupying modern Cyrenaica founded nine famous aristocratic Bedouin tribes. These nine, the so called Sa’adi tribes, are divided into two branches, the Jibarna and the Harabi.
The Jibarna tribes are the ‘Awaquir, the Magharba, the Abid and the Arafa. The Harabi are the Abaidat, the Hasa, the Fayid, the Bara’asa and the Darsa. These nine tribes have pushed out a number of other Beni Sulaim, such as the Aulad Ali, who now occupy much of the Western Desert of Egypt.
The Sa’adi tribe were favoured by King Idris between 1951 and 1969 when Gaddafi’s coup thrust his own tribe, the Gaddadafa and the neighbouring tribes, the Magarha and the Warfella into predominance. The loss of power has been a festering source of discontent amongst the Sa’adi tribes. As John Wright pointed out in a kindly review of my book some time ago the Sa’adi tribes look down on the Gaddadfa as an Arabised Berber tribe.
By the end of the sixteenth century much of the Islamic world was under Ottoman Turkish domination. Tripoli fell to the corsair Dragut in 1551 and remained in Turkish hands, along with the rest of Libya, until 1911. Tripoli has always tended to be a city state and though its influence, and sometimes rule, extended to other coastal towns, it was rarely able to dominate the interior.
The Italians colonised Libya from 1911 to 23rd January 1943 when the British General Bernard Montgomery, at the head of the victorious 8th Army, entered the undefended city of Tripoli. For the Libyans this day marked the beginning of the end of a foreign occupation of notable brutality.
Despite losing the war, the Italians remained the lawful colonial power in Libya. At the Potsdam Conference in 1945, Britain, the USA and the USSR decided that the Italian colonies captured during the war would not be returned to her. What to do with Libya became a problem which was not solved until independence in 1951.
As the Great Powers wrangled about what to do, the cold war began to dictate the outcome. To Britain, France and Italy, countries with an early interest in Libya, were now added the USA and USSR. Unanimity was difficult to achieve between them. The Libyan people of the three provinces were of different minds about their aims. In the end they settled for a compromise because the alternatives on offer were undesirable. This meant that there was no sense of national identity in the newly independent Libya to catch the imagination of the people and drive them forward.
The compromise was this. Libya was to be a federal, constitutional, hereditary monarchy. The sometime Amir of Cyrenaica, El Sayyid Muhammad Idris bin Muhammad al-Mahdi as-Senussi, was chosen as King. There was to be a bi-cameral parliament. The House of Representatives was to be wholly elected, one deputy for every 20,000 male inhabitants, and the upper house, the Senate, was to be partially elected and partially appointed by the King. However, both parliament and the King could initiate legislation.
Parliament was to supply and appoint federal government ministers, who were to be responsible for foreign affairs and defence. The King was empowered to dismiss them. As a compromise, reached after fierce arguments, there were to be two capitals, Tripoli and Benghazi.
The three provinces were each to be governed by a Wali (governor) appointed by the King and answerable to an elected Legislative Council based in their respective capitals, Tripoli, Benghazi and Sebha. In each province there was also to be an Executive Council, appointed by the King on the advice of the Walis.
This arrangement led to a proliferation of bureaucracy and to endless disputes between provincial governments. The federal government was also hamstrung. It was forced to work from two capitals and with three provincial governments widely separated by geography and temperament and bedevilled by intermittent telephone services. There were no telephone services at all with the towns in the Fezzan. The two capitals were more than five hundred miles apart – a long way even in a powerful motor car as I was to find out for myself.
On 12th April 1959 Esso made a major strike in the Zelten field, a hundred miles or so south of the coast of the Gulf of Sirte. The company built a pipeline through the desert and a big oil port at Marsa Brega. In the autumn of 1961 the company started pumping good oil into the Esso Canterbury, the first of their large oil tankers to load in Libya. Others were queuing up behind her in the Gulf of Sirte. There was a huge quantity of oil under the desert. The oil terminal at Es Sidra was opened in 1962 and at Ras Lanuf in 1964.
King Idris had been under pressure for a long time to ditch the federal system in favour of a unitary government. The advent of oil made it impetrative but difficult to achieve in practice. Most of the oil was found in Cyrenaica and this evened up the balance of power between the provinces. The King was finally persuaded that the government, under pressure to spend the oil revenues effectively would work better if Libya abandoned the federal system. Consequently a constitutional amendment of 1963 abolished the federal formula and brought in a unified state apparatus. The power of the national government was enhanced and the provincial legislative assemblies, bureaucracies and judicial systems were disbanded.
On 1st September 1969 Gaddafi seized power in Libya. He was soon to abolish the old provincial names. Cyrenaica became East Libya, Tripolitania West Libya and the Fezzan South Libya.
For more than 40 years Gaddafi’s neglect of Benghazi in particular and East Libya as a whole was almost vindictive. That is one of the main reasons why Benghazi was the cradle of the revolution in February 2011. There are other reasons of course such as his withdrawal of patronage from the Sa’adi tribes in favour of his own Gaddadfa and its allies and also the rise of militant Islam which still is still a debilitating factor in Benghazi and Derna.
It is also significant that the old province of Cyrenaica largely aligned itself with the anti Gaddafi forces in February 2011 and was mostly untouched by the vicious fighting which devastated the towns around the Gulf of Sirte.
The weakness of the transitional government in Tripoli has led to frustration in the old provinces and the rise of federalism which has gained some tribal support.
CAN THE GOVERNMENT OF ALI ZEIDAN ASSERT CONTROL OVER THE AL SIDRA, RAS LANUF AND ZUEITINA OIL TERMINALS?
Al Zeidan has very few options open him at the moment. He is hamstrung by the constant threat of a vote of no confidence in the General National Assembly which has not yet materialised but rumbles on like indigestion.
The Libyan Army is, as yet, untrained and untested and I doubt its ability to make a successful raid on the three ports to remove Jadhran’s men.
Even if the army was capable of mounting a raid the political climate may not be favourable. A meeting of tribal chiefs and federalists was held in Benghazi on 21st December 2013. The Libya Herald carried this on 22nd December;
‘Tribal chiefs and supporters of federalism have warned the government, Congress and the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) that they will not stand aside if force is used to end the closure of the eastern oil terminals. They also insisted that Cyrenaica would export oil independently of the NOC
At a meeting in Benghazi yesterday, Cyrenaica tribal elders and federalism activists said that any action or threat of action against the region or those who were “protecting” its ports and oil fields would be considered an assault on the people of Cyrenaica as a whole.’
Dr. Zeidan can deny trade to Jadhran’s oil company as we have seen when the Libyan Navy turned a North Korean registered ship away by force. However, Jadhran can continue to blockade the ports as long as he retains the loyalty of his armed militiamen. In this regard Dr. Zeidan has an ally in the form of the elders of Jedhran’s own tribe, the Moghrabi.
On 12th December 2013 the Libyan Embassy in London posted this news;
‘Tribal leaders have brokered a deal with the head of the Political Bureau of Cyrenaica, Ibrahim Jadhran, bringing to an end the federalist movement’s blockade of three eastern oil terminals.
Elders from the Moghrabi tribe entered into talks with figures from the federalist movement ten days ago in efforts to bring to a close the deadlock over the oil export terminals. Many of the tribe’s members have supported Jedhran, although they have been seen to be doing so for their own purposes.
The leader of the eastern tribe, Saleh Lataiwish, said that its members had responded to calls for the necessary reopening of the terminals. He said that the tribe had held meetings to discuss with “their sons” an end to the actions at Sidra, Ras Lanuf and Zueitina ports. The blockade is set to be lifted this weekend’
The initiative failed but it may be possible to starve Jadhran of support from the Maghrabi tribe whose homeland forms the hinterland to the three ports.
11th to 15th January 2014
UPDATE 17TH JANUARY 2014
These two pieces in the Libya Herald show clearly the problems faced by the Libyan government;
UPDATE 2nd March 2014
Whilst this report from the Libya Herald does not seem, at first sight, to fit into piece about Libya Federalism I have placed it here for a good reason. It concerns the early moves by a Libyan Army General, Haftar, to emulate Field Marshal Sisi in Egypt and take control of the country. He comes from Ajdabia and has some support in Cyrenaica where the people are becoming oppressed by Jihadist militias. It is a story worth following, especially in that he has some support from National Army officers.
This also is worth noting. It affirms, in my opinion, that the Federalist movement is strongest in Cyrenaica. There are some notable personalities mentioned in this piece:
UPDATE 13th March 2014
ALI ZEIDAN IS DEPOSED OVER HIS FAILURE TO DEAL WITH THE OIL PORT TAKE OVER
Ali Zeidan was deposed as Libya’s Prime Minster by a vote in the general National Congress on the 10t March and replaced by Defence Minister Abdullah Thinni. The reason given was that he failed to end the occupation of the Sirte oil ports. Ali Zeidan has since left the country despite a travel ban placed on him by the Attorney General, Abdel Qadar Radwan. The travel ban was issued to allow an investigation into Dr Zeiadn’s part in the alleged payment in September last year of bribes to Ibrahim Jadran, the leader of the Federalists blockading the Sirte oil terminals.
According to today’s Libya Herald:
‘Ibrahim Jadhran, the self-styled leader of the federalists occupying the ports, accused GNC Energy Committee head Naji Mukhtar and the government of trying to bribe him with LD 30 million to end the blockade in September last year.
Zeidan denied any involvement but Mukhtar admitted giving a number of cheques to one of Jadhran’s brothers Salem. He said that these could not be considered bribery because the accounts held insufficient funds for them to be honoured. One cheque for LD2.5 million was, however, reportedly cashed.’
Read more: http://www.libyaherald.com/2014/03/12/former-prime-minister-ali-zeidan-did-not-run-away-from-libya-thinni/#ixzz2vq6oBDdZ
An oil tanker, The Morinng Glory, took on a load of crude at one of Jadhran’s ports and has escaped the attention of the Libyan Navy to be sighted off the coast of Egypt today. Jadhran is reported to have said that another tanker is about to arrive for loading soon.
The eastern oil port of Tobruk is under force majeure again today (26th March 2014):
Dr. Ali Zeidan is a decent man and, as he has recently been forced to proclaim, a true Libyan. In the early Gaddafi era he was a Libyan diplomat, working in the embassy in India with Ambassador Mohamed Magarief. Both these men were to defect from the Gaddafi dictatorship and help to form the influential ‘National Front for the Salvation of Libya.’ They were to spend long years in exile, Zeidan in Germany and Magarief in the USA.
Ali Zeidan, as the representative in Europe of the National Transition Council, was said to have been partly instrumental in persuading President Sarkosy to intervene when the 17th February Revolutionaries were threatened with annihilation by Gaddafi’s superior forces in Benghazi.
He has, therefore, good revolutionary credentials. He came to power as Prime Minister on 14th November 2012 with the support in the General National Congress of Mohamed Jebril’s National Force Alliance, amongst others. His administration is opposed by The Moslem Brotherhoods’ Group in the GNC, the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), which has the second-biggest number of seats in Libya’s legislature, and has been growing in influence.
Prime Minister Zedan has much to contend with. Let me examine briefly the case of Benghazi.
As I write (17.05 GMT 23rd August 2013)Al Jazeera is reporting unrest in Benghazi where ‘hundreds took to the streets overnight to Saturday the 17th to denounce the killing of a prominent political activist and critic of the Brotherhood, Abdelsalam al-Mosmary, who was shot dead after leaving a mosque following Friday prayers.
Mosmary was an outspoken opponent of the Brotherhood, whose political wing is the second biggest party in the General National Congress, and regularly appeared on television criticising the presence of armed militias on Libya’s streets. Two military officials were also killed in Benghazi on Friday 16th.’
In Benghazi, Libya’s second city, senior police and military personnel are being summarily executed by persons unknown. Some sources are suggesting that around 50 people have been killed in this way. The British Ambassador’s motorcade was attacked in broad daylight and still unresolved is the killing of US Ambassador Stephens, an event which upset the American people and which left a blemish on the career of Secretary Hillary Clinton.
An attempt by citizens to rid Benghazi of overweening armed militias took place recently with disastrous results. This report dated 9th June 2013 appeared in the Libya Herald: ‘The Chief of Staff, Major-General Yousef Mangoush, has quit. He submitted his resignation to Congress this afternoon (Sunday 9th June 2013) following yesterday’s bloody incident in Benghazi in which 31 people died in clashes between members of the First Brigade of the Libya Shield Forces (Deraa 1) and protesters who were demonstrating outside the brigade’s headquarters, demanding the force be disbanded.’
Benghazi is not alone with its troubles. The eastern town of Derna is a hotbed of Islamist activity. It harbours the largest number of Jihadist training camps in Libya and, it is reported, that here also assassinations of prominent persons who oppose the Muslim Brotherhood are taking place. Again some sources put the number as high as 50. Derna is an isolated town approached by a steep road from the fertile heights of the Jebel Akhdar. It is easily defended and it is likely that the Libyan government has written it off, though it has positioned a large naval craft there on a permanent basis.
Long ago I sometimes stopped in Derna when driving from Benghazi to the port of Tobruk. This latter town surrounds a fine deep water harbour and boasts an oil port of some significance. Reports from Tobruk suggest that it is plagued by arms smugglers trading across the nearby Egyptian border and by illegal migrants attempting to find boats to carry them across the Mediterranean to Malta and Italy.
Recent events in Tripoli have added the alarming prospect of a possible coup. On 13th August 2013 I wrote this; ‘Colonel Muhamed Musa commands the Misratan Brigades of the Libyan Shield Force and others which entered Tripoli on 11th August to forestall armed attempts to influence the democratic process of the General National Congress.
According to the Libya Herald dated 11th August 2013 ‘More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions are reported to have arrived in Tripoli over the past four days. The troops have been deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force…………’ The Executive officer of Supreme Revolutionary Council, Muhammed Shaaban, told the Libya Herald….. ‘It was timely to authorise the Libya Shield movement. The threat of a coup was very real and those informed know about its repercussions .’ There has clearly been a threat to undermine the democratic process in Libya.
This event was followed by a further blow to Ali Zeidan’s government. The Interior Minister Mohamed Al-Sheikh resigned on the 18th August, saying that the Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had withdrawn all powers from him and he could not do his job properly. Sheikh has been in his job for just four months. According to Asharq Al Awsat on 20th August he described the government as “weak, incoherent, and dependent on the agendas of political entities and regional powers, and it relies on their feedback and flattery and added: “the cabinet is tantamount to staff that carry out administrative tasks that are issued to them through instructions—without having any authority.
That alone would seem to be enough. However back in the trouble-ridden East Libya there are renewed calls for a return of a Federal Government overseeing the largely autonomous Provincial Governments of the ancient provinces of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and The Fezzan. The call for a federal system received renewed impetus last week.
On Saturday, supporters of this system issued a third declaration proclaiming Cyrenaica a fully autonomous federal region. They declared that Islamic Sharia would be the source of legislation and all legislation that violates the principles of Islamic Sharia would be regarded as null and void. They also called for the recreation of the historic Cyrenaica Defence Force.
The majority of Libya’s oil is found in the old Province of Cyrenaica and this group has threatened to interfere with the production and shipping of major quantities of Libyan oil.
This alone would focus the attention of any government. There are further problems, however. The Southern region of Libya has been declared a Military Zone. This is because there are frequent clashes between Libyan tribes and the Tebu and Tuareg minorities. Trafficking in arms, drugs and people is endemic in this remote and dangerous region which border Darfur, Chad, Niger and Algeria.
The governments of Chad, Niger and Algeria are protesting to the Libyan Government that notorious Al Qaeda Emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar and his gang known as al Mua’qi’oon Biddam, or the Those Who Sign in Blood Brigade, are holed up in the badlands of south-west Libya for whence they were said to have launched the raid on the BP natural gas facility in South West Algeria in January 2103.
In the meantime the minority Tebu, Tuareg and Berber people are restive. They argue that they and their precious languages are not receiving due recognition in the process of drawing up a new constitution. A recent protest by a group representing these several minorities outside the General National Congress turned ugly and some protesters invaded and damaged the building.
To add to the general discord Libya’s oil production is being severely reduced by strikes and armed occupations of refineries and oil port facilities.
So it was not surprising that Dr Ali Zeidan was summoned on 20th August by the General National Congress, together with a number of his Ministers, to defend the performance of his government. Zeidan refused to hand in his resignation, saying that it was up to Congress to withdraw confidence from his government if it wanted to remove him.
We will see.
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 24th August 2013
This interesting article in Asharq Al Awsat corroborates some of the assertions I have made in the above post and adds another dimension with regard to US ‘drone’ operations;
And this indicates that there is a crackdown on political activity within the military at last:
Update 25th August 2013
The Moslem Brotherhood is beginning to show it’s hand in the GNC through its front, the Justice and Construction Party.
Update 29th August 2013
Tunisian PM labels Ansar Sharia a terrorist group which receives money from Libya amongst other sources.
Update 8th September 2013
Dr. Zeidan is facing some difficulties with the Moslem Brotherhood since his recent visit to Egypt. Libya’s Grand Mufti has called for his removal from office.
Update 11th August 2013
Further manoeuvring by the Moslem Brotherhood and calls for Dr. Zeidan to resign:
Update 12th August 2013
The crippling armed occupation of key oil ports and facilities has driven Dr. Zeidan to take drastic action. It is clear from this report that as a true democrat he deplores the use of force to settle the argument but is left with little alternative.
Update 22nd September 2013
Dr Zeidan appears to have survived the crisis. The expected street demonstrations against his government were a flop.
Update 10th October 2013
Dr. Zeidan was abducted from his room in a Tripoli hotel at 03.30 this militiamenhttp://www.libyaherald.com/2013/10/10/breaking-news-zeidan-kidnapped/#axzz2hIiJto7Z
LIBYAN TRIBES – DO THEY STILL MATTER? (The first of an occasional series about the tribes of Libya) Updated 10th April 2013
Anyone observing the British House of Commons in action in the weekly ritual called Prime Minister’s Question Time during the closing days of October 2012 will be hard pressed to believe that the ‘class war’ is unimportant in the UK. At the same time observers of the deadly clashes around Bani Walid in Libya will be driven to the view that tribal loyalties are still influential in that war torn country. In both countries it is still possible to arouse old enmities and tribal affiliations.
The Bani Walid clashes, though ostensibly to eradicate the last Gaddafists, are largely between two traditional tribal rivals – the Warfella confederation based on Bani Walid and the Misurata confederation based in the city of Misurata.
I argue that Muammar Gaddafi re-tribalised Libya by promoting members of his own tribe and that of his second wife into key positions in his regime.
I also argue that tribal loyalties are reasserting themselves in the volatile and dangerous conditions prevailing in Libya as the country struggles to form a democratic government and a civic society.
There are few authoritative studies of the Libyan tribes available. Gaddafi discouraged research by anthropologists and we are thus largely stuck with out of date information. In attempting to write about the Libya tribes I am taking a considerable risk. I know that and I hope Libyans will rush to correct my errors and fill in the gaps in my knowledge.
There follows in this blog-site a series of notes on the Libyan tribes. As background reading I hope you will bear with me and read this extract from the second draft of my book – ‘Libya – The History of Gadaffi’s Pariah State’. It is based largely on the work of E.E. Evans-Pritchard and the Italian scholar di Agostini both of whom may well be out of date but remain the best sources I can find. NB English spelling of Arabic names evolves over time.
THE TRUE ARABS ARRIVE IN LIBYA
1050 and 1051 came the Hilalian migration [into Libya]. Two Arab tribes which came from the Najd, the Beni Sulaym and the Beni Hilal, had been driven into Egypt as a result of a thwarted attempt to enter Arabia. They had settled in Upper Egypt but were true Bedouin with a way of life which was not appreciated by a population amongst whom they failed to co-exist.
The Fatimid Caliph of Egypt encouraged the two tribes to move westward into Cyrenaica (East Libya), Tripolitania (West Libya) and Tunis to squeeze out the indigenous Berbers who were attempting to assert their independence. The new invaders occupied much of Libya with notable savagery. There was a difference, however. It was a belligerent migration, rather than a military conquest.
There are no records of the number of Beni Sulaym or Beni Hilal who took part in this migration. The tribes moved lock, stock and barrel, though in this case it would be better to say tent, stock and camel. The Bedouin are adapted to migrant pastoralism. The Beni Hilal and the Beni Sulaym were capable of moving, slowly over great distances with their adaptable sheep, goats and camels. The camel provided transport and was useful militarily. Their tents are readily erected or struck by females with long experience of transhumance. In this way, the Hilalian migration bought not only intact families but also an intact and conservative culture into Libya.
The Benin Sulaym, the senior tribe, found Cyrenaica congenial and many of them settled there. The Beni Hilal drove on westwards. Five of the Tripolitanian tribes are said to descend from them. The historian, Peter Wright, has suggested that the Beni Sulaym had finally completed their settlement of the northern part of Cyrenaica in the 1060s.
The descendants of the Beni Sulaym are still spread over a large area in Egypt and Tunisia. There are two tribes which claim descent from them in Tripolitania. However, those occupying modern Cyrenaica founded nine famous aristocratic Bedouin tribes. These nine, the so called Sa’adi tribes, are divided into two branches, the Jibarna and the Harabi.
The Jibarna tribes are the ‘Awaquir, the Magharba, the Abid and the Arafa. The Harabi are the Abaidat, the Hasa, the Fayid, the Bara’asa and the Darsa. These nine tribes have pushed out a number of other Beni Sulaym, such as the Aulad Ali who now occupy much of the Western Desert of Egypt……….
Whilst the ancient history of the Beni Sulaym is unknown to the great majority of people of the nine tribes, they are fanatical genealogists and will recount their perceived line of descent from the so called mother of the nine tribes, the eponymous Sa’adi. That they all claim descent for one mother is important because, when faced with a common enemy, the Saadi tribes make common cause……..
The nine tribes own their own homelands by right of conquest. They are, in this regard, freemen and are referred to as Hurr (free or noble). Anyone who can successfully claim descent from the founding mother Sa’ad is a nobleman or Hurr by birth and has the right to the natural resources of his homeland. Each of the nine tribes are divided and subdivided with each section having the right to its homeland (its watan).
There are other tribes which are not descended from the founding ancestress, Sa’ad. They are known as the Marabtin which roughly translated means ‘tied’ and they are sometimes referred to as client tribes.
These are tribes which do not own land. They use it by permission of the Sa’adi tribes and pay dues in kind.
It is time to ask how relevant the Hilalian invasion of Libya is today. As E.E Evans-Pritchard wrote of their descendants when he encountered them in 1943; “[they are] as Arab as any people in the world, proud Tammim and Quarash not excepted”. The tribes that claim descent from the Hilal and Beni Suliem had, until recently: “the same tented, pastoral, way of life, the same social organisation, the same laws and customs and manners, and the same values”. [E.E. Evans-Pritchard, The Sanusi of Cyrenaica, Oxford University Press, 1973, p 46,47.]
John Oakes (26th October 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 5th November 2012 ….. The tribal leaders of Eastern Libya met in Benghazi after the untimely death of US Ambassador Stevens. This piece is rather long but worth reading because it shows that the tribes are still relevant: http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/7514/libyan-eastern-tribal-chiefs-population-and-govern
Update 10th April 2013…..The tribal leaders met to call for action to disband the militias which are still dominting life in Benghazi;
Some observers are beginning to express their anxiety about the future of the Arab Spring. Pragmatists are pointing out that the present unrest in Egypt, The Yemen, Tunisia and Libya was predictable.
The rise in religious fervour throughout Islam has been obvious and Libya may well be the focus of the religious discord for some time to come. The Salafist movements, such as Ansar al Sharia in Benghazi, are determined to see the strict application of Sharia law and the Islamiseation of government. The Salafists are seriously anti- western and, for them, jihad as inevitable.
The failure to understand the Arab concept of power and the fateful notion that Westminster or Washington democracies are readily exportable have combined to raise false hopes in the West. However, Libya still has time to forge a civil society and a representative democracy.
If it comes, it will be Libyan in character. To be successful it will have to take account minority rights such as those of the Berbers in general and the Tebu and Tuareg in particular. It will also have to balance the aspirations of tribes and clans and make some attempt to satisfy regional loyalties which still linger in the old provinces of Cyreniaca, Tripolitania and the Fezzan.
The virtual destruction of the standing army, the police force and the intelligence services has left a power vacuum which has been temporarily filled by armed militias. They have cohered to form very powerful power broking groups and this is probably the greatest challenge to the will of the Libyan people as expressed in recent elections.
The lack of towering figures, such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa, has made reconciliation difficult between the ex Gadaffi supporters and the new militias. Gadaffi’s use of foreign mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in serious racial attacks on black people and the incarceration and alleged torture of a large number of foreign workers.
Control the oilfields is still not secure in government hands and tribes, such as the fierce al Zawya in southeast Libya, have threatened to interrupt production in their territories.
The late King Idris, who reigned in Libya between 1951 and 1969, made sure that he controlled the army and the police force and he constantly adjusted the balance of power between them. Gadaffi pursued a similar policy but he often shot or exiled those commanders who threatened him – and they were often the most competent. It may be cynical to suggest that he who controls the army, the police and the intelligence service controls Libya. It would be a sad outcome were this to be proved correct and a new dictator emerged.
It will take time to forge a new Libya. In the meantime those who express impatience with the progress towards democracy might remember that the French revolution resulted in the Reign of Terror. The Spanish have yet to settle the Basque separatist problem. The United Kingdom’s unity is threatened by the Scottish Nationalist Party and sectarian violence broke out in Northern Ireland but a few days ago. Last summer’s riots in Britain were violent reminders that Westminster democracy is not always effective.