Tribes may be the key to Libya's future





The regime of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, has been badly undermined, but he retains enough support among critical tribes and institutions, including parts of the army and the air force, that he might be able to retain power in the capital, Tripoli, for some time to come, say experts on Libya and its military.

They caution that the situation on the ground is both fluid and confusing. But they emphasize that tribal loyalties remain an important indicator, and that there is no clear geographical dividing line between the opponents to Colonel Qaddafi and his supporters.

They suggest that eastern Libya, which was first to fall to the opposition, was always considered the most rebellious part of the country and had been starved of funds and equipment by Colonel Qaddafi. The region, known as Cyrenaica, was an Italian colony and the heartland of the Senussi tribe that produced the monarch, King Idris I, who was overthrown by Colonel Qaddafi and his army colleagues in 1969.

But they suggest that tribes in the other important areas of Libya — Tripolitania and Fezzan — remain nominally loyal to the regime. The revolutionaries of 1969 came largely from three tribes — the Qadhadhfa (the colonel’s own ), the Maghraha and the Warfalla — which had been subservient to the Senussis.

The Warfalla are now wavering, with its leaders supporting the opposition, having been implicated in coup attempts in the 1990’s, but its other members split. The other two tribes “still seem loyal so far to the regime, in which they have vested interests,” said George Joffé, a scholar of North Africa at Cambridge University in England.


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