Will Libyan Tribes Decide Gaddafi Fate?

Libyan Tribal Map
By Esam Badran
Freelance Writer-Egypt

Libyan leader Mu`ammar Qaddafi descends from Qadhadhfa tribe, which dominates the security apparatuses and militias affiliated to the regime.

Translated by Ahmed El-Gharbawy

One after another, the major tribes in Libya are reported to have joined the popular revolution there. By so doing, they overturn the balance of powers on the ground in favor of the revolt and possibly lead to a quicker overthrow of the Libyan regime in a record time. These transformations on the ground have confused the Libyan regime's calculations and put it in a very weak position.

Undoubtedly, the tribes' factor, which distinguishes Libya's revolt from those in Tunisia and Egypt, will have the final say in deciding the outcome of the confrontation between Gaddafi and the protesters. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia – and like Yemen – Libya's society is mostly composed of tribes, a factor that has a significant role to play in the success or failure of the revolution and the continuation or downfall of the regime.

Moreover, the expected role by the tribes in deciding this conflict gains even greater significance due to the lack of a strong army in Libya, like in Egypt and, to a lesser degree, Tunisia. Still, there is a remaining part of the army in Libya, yet poorly armed and with dubious loyalty. This is why the Libyan leader decided to reinforce the role of militias and security brigades headed by his sons or fellow tribesmen.

Despite the usual policy of the Libyan regime to sow disputes between the tribes to ensure they do not unite against it, two factors made those tribes forget their differences and unite in opposing the regime. The first factor is the enormity of the massacres committed by this regime in a bid to crush the protests, which caused several tribes to wash their hands off this heinous crime and call on their sons with membership in Gaddafi's security brigades to quit and join the demonstrators. The second factor is the regime's use of thugs from African countries against the protesters. To have foreigners killing Libyans, even if they belong to other or rival tribes, is something unacceptable to the true Arab tribes.

The Libyan society has an intertwined fabric of different groups and tribes, too numerous to be counted. Arab tribes represent 97%, whereas the Berber tribes represent 3%.

Here we present the largest and most significant Libyan tribes, along with their positions toward the popular protests taking place across the country:

Gadhadhfa Tribe: Stronghold of the Regime's Head

Libyan leader Mu`ammar Gaddafi descends from Gadhadhfa tribe, which dominates the security apparatuses and militias affiliated to the regime.

The tribe, concentrated in Sirte and Sebha and widely present in Tripoli and Benghazi, is accused of taking part in firing on the protesters.

There are reports of anti-Gaddafi demonstrations in the city of Sebha, from which the Libyan leader descends.

Warfla Tribe Overturns the Balances

Warfla, Libya's biggest tribe, with an estimated population of one million, declared on Sunday evening, February 20, its decision to join the protests against the regime. Warfla tribe is widely present in the cities of Bani Walid, Sirte, Tripoli, and Benghazi.

Having joined the uprising, Warfla overturned the balances in favor of the revolution and is likely to accelerate the downfall of Gaddafi's regime, given the tribe's influence that derives from its large population and past history. The tribe had earlier engaged in an attempt to overthrow the regime of Gaddafi with the assistance of its sons among the army officers. Since then, they have been subject to killing, imprisonment and restriction. Observers assert that the stance of Gaddafi has greatly weakened since Warfla – which has widespread ethnic roots in all parts of Libya – joined the protests.

Libya's society is mostly composed of tribes, a factor that has a significant role to play in the success or failure of the revolution and the continuation or downfall of the regime.

Tarhuna Tribe Joins the Revolution

Like Warfla, Tarhuna tribe joined the anti-Gaddafi protests. With populations of nearly two million, Warfla and Tarhuna are the biggest tribes in Libya. Tarhuna descends from Hawara tribe that spreads from Taorga to Tripoli.

Meanwhile, `Abdul-Hakim Abuzwida, a spokesman for Tarhuna tribe, stated that the leaders of his tribe, which represent one third of the population of the capital Tripoli, had declared their disavowal of the regime and the tribe's decision to join the revolution against the "dictator".

The leaders of the tribe, of which are most army troops, sought to raise the awareness of the tribe's sons, especially the soldiers among them, about the history of their tribe and to warn them against being driven to the dissension plotted by the regime, which distributed weapons to many, and called for by Saif Al-Islam.

Zawiya Tribe Threatens to Cut Oil Flow

The tribe of Zawiya, located in Libya's southern oil regions, joined the revolutionaries and threatened to cut the flow of oil to Western countries unless the security forces stop firing on the demonstrators.

Faragallah Zoy, one of the tribe's leaders, has said the tribe is giving a warning to Gaddafi, for a 24-hour period, to end the bloodshed and the suppression of the protesters; otherwise, the tribe will halt the flow of oil to Western countries.

Tuareg Tribes Attack the Regime's Buildings

Tuareg tribes joined the revolution and attacked buildings affiliated to the regime. Tuareg people, known as the blue men of the desert, live in southern Libya around Ghadames and in Ghat, Djanet, and Suhoul Adrar. Moreover, they have extensions in neighboring countries, notably Algeria, Niger, and Mali. Their men are known for their distinct clothes and veiled faces. Tuareg people are Sunni Muslims, following the Maliki school of thought. They have the same identity as North African populations, and they speak the Amazigh language in the Tuareg dialect.

In a phone call with Al-Jazeera channel from Brussels, Akli Sheikha, from Tuareg tribes, stressed his tribes' support of those demanding the downfall of Gaddafi's regime.

Zentan Tribe and the Power of the Army

Zentan tribe was early to join the revolution. With the security brigades witnessing wide rifts, many of the tribe's members fought on the side of the revolutionaries against the mercenaries and some of Gaddafi's guards, who are waging a war on the people with light and heavy military weapons. Zentan is one of Libya's biggest Arab tribes, and it is located in the region of Nafusa Mountains.

Bani Walid Tribe Raises the Banner of Disobedience

The tribe of Bani Walid decided to withdraw its sons from the security brigades after information reached members of the tribe that Brigadier General `Abdulla Senoussi – Gaddafi's son-in-law, charged with maintaining control over Misrata – was using the tribe's sons in the security brigades, along with the mercenaries, to suppress the demonstrators in other cities.

Families from Bani Walid contacted their sons among the soldiers and asked them to come back, if possible, and refrain from attacking any protester in Misrata or any other city. Upon the arrival of some buses that transported them to Misrata, they left their positions and joined the protesters. As for those still in Bani Walid, they also learned about the issue and as a result rebelled and fled their camp. It is known that the two cities of Misrata and Bani Walid are socially and administratively linked.

`Obeidat Tribe Causes Rifts in the Security Forces

The tribe of `Obeidat put pressure on its sons to quit the security forces loyal to the regime. Moreover, some reports emerged suggesting that Gen `Abdul-Fattah Younes Al-`Abidi, the Interior Minister, had broken away from Gaddafi following pressure by his tribe, `Obeidat, one of the biggest in Libya. In addition, it was reported that Gen Suleiman Mahmoud Al-`Obeidi had done the same, also after pressure by his tribe and a promise to forget all what he had done since September 1969 coup. As a partial result of the above, rifts grew within the ranks of the forces loyal to `Abdul-Salam Jaloud and they ultimately disintegrated.

Maqarha Tribe and Its as yet Indecisive Position

Some Libyans see a remaining hope in the possibility that Maqarha tribe in the western region – to which Gaddafi's loyalist `Abdul-Salam Gulod belongs – will join the revolt, giving rise to a quicker downfall of the regime. The tribe is expected to join the revolutionaries at any moment, as everyone is certain now that the revolution is on its way to success. Maqarha is deemed one of the most important tribes in Libya.

Finally, as the major tribes in Libya shifted their positions in favor of the revolution, the other tribes may be driven to follow suit before long and decide their stances in support of this revolt. Col Mu`ammar Gaddafi is pursuing every possible means to deal with this unfolding situation, such as holding expanded meetings with the tribal leaders and asking them to help stop the protests. Yet, it seems that the Libyan popular uprising has reached the point of no return.

This article was first published on OnIslam.net's Arabic site.

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