First Published: 2011-10-22

 

Libya's largest tribe is an unnecessary enemy of the NTC

 

As Libya must begin to come together when the fighting ends, it is very unfortunate that we also must accept such tribalism. In my country, the tribes are a source of strength, honour and political power, but also of destructive forces and divisiveness, argues Mustafa Fetouri

 

Middle East Online

As National Council forces advanced towards my hometown of Bani Walid last month, a Libyan-Canadian doctor, Abdalla Kinshel was being touted as a negotiator who could secure the city with a minimum of bloodshed. As a native of Bani Walid, Dr Kinshel appeared to have volunteered for the job.

It was quickly evident; however, that the NTC did not extend its full support to Mr Kinshel and the negotiated approach was failing. Soon he was declaring that resistance against the NTC forces was being led by elements of the Qaddafi regime, possibly even by Saif Al Islam himself. That justified the NATO air strikes that residents of Bani Walid said killed dozens of civilians in September.

Dr Kinshel has declared the fall of Bani Walid no less than three times and now, as foreign media report that NTC forces have almost perceived strength and a certain amount of arrogance. Dr Kinshel's statements in March were much wiser, calling for Bani Walid to be neutral in the conflict and for residents to give up their arms. At the time, town leaders rejected his call but at the same time guaranteed his safety.

Like most of Libya's population, the Warfalla tribe is largely made up of Bedouin people, who have deeply ingrained cultural values of integrity, saving face and tribal honour. They saw Dr Kinshel as making demands for their surrender to which they could not agree.

A better way would have been to use the same approach that was used in the neighbouring city of Tarhouna. There, tribal leaders were told that residents were free to declare their own loyalties, as long as they kept the peace. Pro-Gathafi and NTC supporters took to the streets at the same time without blood being shed.

In May, there was a small meeting of anti-regime Warfalla leaders in Istanbul, a meeting denounced by tribal leaders inside Libya. It showed that there were divided loyalties within the Warfalla that it was not an all-or-nothing scenario, but when I spoke to Dr Kinshel after the meeting, it seemed clear that there was already less of a focus on reaching out to the Warfalla members who remained in Bani Walid.

In retrospect, it is clear that if the goal was to break the Gathafi regime's control of the town and end the bloodshed, the tribal leaders' demands should have been accepted - or at least negotiated. They prohibited NTC representatives from entering the town without permission, banned fighters from entering unless they were native to the town, and said no one would be handed over to the NTC unless there were guarantees of due process and a functioning judiciary. These were the same demands that were made in Tarhouna, which led gradually to the NTC control of the city.

It has been the shorthand in the international media that the Warfalla have been regime supporters and opponents of the NTC. But that simplistic picture is misleading. A prejudice against Warfalla members in general is poisonous in the rebuilding of the country. Not only is it the largest tribe in the country, but its members make up a significant proportion of the educated middle class and civil servant corps.

It is true that if the Warfalla had turned in force against the Gathafis, the regime probably would not have survived until August and lives would have been saved. But the NTC and its clumsy political leadership have to share the blame for this, after having signed on to NATO's policy to attack first, and negotiate later. That left many with little choice but to fight, and still could lead others to sabotage reconciliation efforts.

As Libya must begin to come together when the fighting ends, it is very unfortunate that we also must accept such tribalism. In my country, the tribes are a source of strength, honour and political power, but also of destructive forces and divisiveness.

The hostilities of recent months demonstrated all of the old prejudices, which affect the Warfalla as much as any other tribe. The demand barring NTC fighters from entering Bani Walid was partly based in fear of the Misurata tribe (residents of the town of the same name), who are historical enemies of the Warfalla. (Instead, the Misurata fighters attacked Sirte, which might see new alliances form in the spiralling power struggle that is the new Libya.) Fighters from the town of Zintan, decades-old allies of the Warfalla, refused to fight at Bani Walid despite their loyalties to the NTC.

As a Warfalla member, I refuse to be pigeonholed in this poisonous tribal political atmosphere. I totally reject the Warfalla's support for the Qaddafi regime, support that was bought by favours and benefits. Warfalla suffered at the hands of the Gathafis as much as any other tribe. As one example, after a failed coup in 1993, Warfalla members were targeted viciously. One coup leader, Colonel Ramdan ElEhouri (Dr Kinshel's cousin, in fact), was hanged, his home demolished and family exiled for more than a decade. Many families suffered the same fate and Bani Walid was denied basic services including drinking water.

Libya has to rise above these old tribal prejudices if reconciliation is to take place. But based on its record, I'm not sure that the NTC is up to the job yet.

Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and political analyst. He won the Samir Kassir Award for best opinion article in 2010.

 

Libya loses control of Tripoli to Islamist-led militias

Iraq presses fightback against jihadist-led militants

Thousands of Huthis defy UN in new show of strength

Britain to go tougher on jihadist suspects

Wounded Gazans need long-term care

Libyan Islamist militiamen control US embassy compound

Israel shoots down drone over occupied Golan Heights

Yemen army suffers heavy losses in new wave of Qaeda attacks

Turkish army breaks silence on Kurdish peace talks

Islamic State offers grim inspiration to African extremists

Shebab target intelligence HQ in Somalia

Israel expropriates 988 acres of Palestinian land in West Bank

Iraq recaptures Amerli from Islamic State in biggest success so far

Saudi King calls for ‘strong and rapid action’ against jihadists

Jihadists distribute Yazidi women as spoils of war to fighters

Gulf countries resolve six-month dispute with Qatar

Egypt reduces Badie death sentence to life in prison

AU forces liberate former Shebab stronghold in Somalia

Philippines enters war in Syria!

Kurds put aside old rivalries to battle jihadists in Iraq

Iran says new sanctions cast doubt on US sincerity

US imposes new sanctions on Iran

US supplies arms to Lebanon to fight jihadists

Britain terror threat level raised to ‘severe’

Libya conflict takes its toll on migrants

UN chief lashes out at 'brutal' IS killings in Iraq

Over three million Syrian refugees have fled war

Libya's troubled interim government steps down

Obama admits 'no strategy yet' to fight IS

Israel counts losses and gains in Gaza: Heavy cost for 50 days of war

Saudi Crown Prince flies to France next week: Jihadist threat tops agenda

UN confirms capture of UN peacekeepers in Syria Golan

Islamic State executes dozens of Syria soldiers in new atrocity

'Jihad recruiters' arrested in Netherlands, Germany

Saudi Grand Mufti warns youth against ‘perverted’ calls for jihad

Neo-Ottomanism scores new victory in Turkey: From Ataturk to Erdogan

Fire rises up again from under ashes on Lebanon border

Vital aid arrives in war-battered Gaza

Lebanon seeks to tackle child marriage with new legislation

Hollande: Assad cannot be partner in fight against terrorists

Egypt quizzes Morsi for 'giving security papers to Qatar'

Top Saudi envoys hold talks with Qatar emir

Obama's warfare doctrine to be tested in Syria

UN moves to impose sanctions on Libya militias

Mother of US hostage to leader of Islamic State: Please spare my son