Libyan authorities are facing new challenges in their quest to build a state over the ruins of Muammar Gaddafi’s “Jamahiriya.” Among those challenges are the tribal clashes ongoing in several Libyan areas.
Some of Libya’s tribal problems date back to Gaddafi’s rule. Others are the product of the revolution that broke out against his regime on February 17, 2011, which split the country between Gaddafi’s supporters and opponents. Because the war to overthrow Gaddafi, which lasted nearly seven months, was concentrated in western and central Libya, the current tribal quarrels are mostly taking place in those areas, and not in the country's east, which was liberated in the revolution’s early days.
Tribal disputes in western Libya are arising in more than one area. The most recent dispute broke out between the towns of Zawara and Jamil, near the Tunisian border. There have been dozens of victims since the clashes began last Sunday [April 1, 2012]. It has been said that the conflict between those two towns may be about hunting grounds, but its roots lie in the feeling by Zawara’s people, the majority of whom are Berbers, that they came out victorious over Jamil, the Arab town in which many inhabitants stood on the side of the ousted regime. The Zawara rebels complain that Jamil fighters committed atrocities, including rape, against Zawara, while Jamil inhabitants complain that since the fall of Gaddafi, Zawara rebels have been attacking and looting them.
The same is happening in western Libya’s Nafusa Mountains, where towns were divided between supporters and opponents of the regime. This is especially evident in the conflict raging between Asabia, which stood by Gaddafi, and the surrounding towns, which ferociously fought him.
On the coastal road west of Tripoli, there are also signs of tribal quarrels rooted in where the tribes stood during the revolution. Most if not all the powerful Warshfana tribes, which are located at the gates of Western Tripoli, stood with the Gaddafi regime while the neighboring towns, such as Zawiya, sided with the rebels.
The same applies to east Tripoli where the Misrata rebels, who stood fast for weeks in the face of ferocious attacks by Gaddafi’s forces, are taking revenge on the villages and towns whose inhabitants attacked the Misrata rebels using tactics that also included rape. So the Misrata rebels, who came out of the war “victorious” over their “enemy neighbors,” retaliated by evicting their enemies from their homes, as happened in Tawergha, which was emptied of its dark-skinned inhabitants.
Southeast of Tripoli, there is another intractable problem. The town of Bani Walid, which is inhabited by the Warfalla tribe, fought to the last day of the regime's life (when Gaddafi was captured and killed in October). Bani Walid lost hundreds of its sons in this battle. However, in spite of its defeat, it still refuses to submit to the rebel outsiders. The town expressed that rejection when a few weeks ago it revolted against the rebels and expelled them. Those expelled say that Gaddafi supporters are governing Bani Walid, a charge those in Bani Walid deny, saying that the former regime no longer exists.
The same thing is happening in Sirte, Gaddafi's birthplace and the stronghold of his Qazazifa tribe. The town was subject to widespread looting and destruction by the rebels and its people now complain that the new authorities do not at all care about their situation, perhaps out of desire for revenge after Gaddafi had “pampered” the town and made it Libya’s second capital.
In the south, the main problem appears to be between the Tabu tribe, which used to complain about discrimination from Gaddafi and the very influential Arab tribes that were part of the former regime before they turned against it. The main quarrel there is about the control of Sabha, the largest metropolis in the south, and Kufra in the southeast. The two towns are strategically important since they are key to the lucrative smuggling operations through the Sahel areas, such as Niger, Chad and the rest of the continent.