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Libya's south on edge of chaos

While the world's attention is focused on disputes in coastal Libya, the tribal-controlled south is unstable, and a collapse of order would have consequences for the whole region.
An armed motorcade belonging to members of Derna's Islamic Youth Council, consisting of former members of militias from the town of Derna, drive along a road in Derna, eastern Libya October 3, 2014. The group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State on October 3, 2014 local media reported. Picture taken October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (LIBYA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR49BS8

Libya’s southwest is a beautiful landscape of sand dunes and small oases. However, reality on the ground can be confusing and deadly. The strategic and geopolitical importance of Fezzan, the Roman name given to the region, is seldom highlighted — its importance is directly related to the survival of Libya as a state. As fighting continues on the coast, in Tripoli and Benghazi, the bottom of the Libyan state may fall out, seemingly unnoticed.

Southwestern Libya has seldom been a peaceful place. Moammar Gadhafi managed to keep “order” by pitting tribes against each other and creating a social hierarchy where his own Gadhatfa tribe controlled most things economically. In this tribal/state social experiment, acts of violence were common and often sanctioned by the state, or what could be considered a state-like apparatus consisting of various departments, committees, tribes and individuals.

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