The tribes in Libya are the ones with official political authority and they have a big influence on the future of revolutions there. Although unofficially, tribal influence on politics has deteriorated due to peoples’ parties and councils and through local voting processes since 1977.
Toward the end of April 2011, 61 tribal representatives gathered in Benghazi, the stronghold of opposition in East Libya, to prepare a declaration on their efforts to establish “A Post-Gaddafi United Libya.” The document was published in Paris. However, there are sporadic news reports of clashes between supposedly armed groups. Additionally, some tribal members hold protests from time to time and make specific demands.
The following tribes played the most important roles in the revolution against slain president Muammar Gaddafi:
• The Warfala Tribe, which is one of the largest and most widespread tribes in Libya. Nearly one million, out of Libya’s population of six million, belong to the Warfala Tribe. Its members are known for their social unity and tribal loyalty. They are mostly concentrated in western Libya, where the city of Benghazi falls, which is a hub for exporting gas and petroleum and the place where the Libyan revolution started. The Tribe’s treaty with Al-Fateh Revolution in September of 1969 made it easy for its members to enter into several public and private institutions and hold positions of authority in politics and military. The Warfala Tribe had previously rebelled against Gaddafi’s regime after one of its most prominent leaders, Hassan Ishkal, was murdered. Several of its members, who held high-ranking positions in the military at the time, took part in the revolt; they were executed, imprisoned, or harassed. This is why Gaddafi did not trust the military. On February 20, 2011, the Warfala Tribe announced that it was joining the Libyan people’s uprising.
• The Gaddafi Tribe, which is one of the main tribes in authority in Libya, and the tribe to which Muammar Gaddafi belonged. Its main headquarters is in the Sabha region in central Libya; Tobruk, Benghazi, Sert, Fezzan, Tripoli, Gharyan, and Zawiya are also strongholds. The tribe has more than 126 thousand members and is one of the best armed tribes. Gaddafi relied upon the tribe in recruiting for the armed forces and securing his personal safety and the safety of his regime. He chose to call his army “The Armed People,” referring to the first attempted revolt led by Omar Abdullah al-Muhaishi, a member of the Revolutionary Command Council who was later executed. At the same time, Gaddafi was working to strengthen the role of militias and special security forces led by his children and tribal members biased toward him. Members of the Gaddafi tribe in Benghazi, however, disavowed him and prominent tribal leaders released official statements rejecting his authority and encouraging him to flee the country.
• The Muqarahah Tribe, the third most important tribe in Libya, is concentrated in the western region and is led by Abdus-Salaam Jalood, the second man in charge of Gaddafi’s regime before being removed from his office in 1993. The Muqarahah tribe is the best-armed Libyan tribe and several of its members, along with members of other tribes, held protests against Gaddafi.
• The Tarhuna Tribe, which descends from the Huwarah Tribe, extends from Tajoura to Tripoli and makes up half the population of the capital of Tripoli. The Tribe disavowed Gaddafi.
• The Zintan Tribe, which threatened to send additional revolutionaries from the city of Zintan to Tripoli to support protesters and to lift the blockade which had been imposed on its people.
• The Zubah Tribe, which resides in southern Libya near the oil fields. The tribe officially joined the revolutionaries by threatening to stop supplying oil to western regions if security forces did not stop opening fire on protestors.
There are also other tribes, such as the Sulayman Tribe in southern Libya, whose members were amongst the first to join the revolution; the Bar’is Tribe in the east; the Tibo Tribe in the south and east; the Amaazeegh in the western mountainous area; the Tuareg Tribe on the Libya-Chad border and in Niger, Algeria, and Mali – some of whom joined the revolution and attacked government sites belonging to Gaddafi.
• “Three Tribes Will Decide the Future of Libya…” Ain News, 22/02/2011.
• “Libya’s Tribes: An Important and Influential Factor in Shaping the Country’s Politics.” Alarabiya.net, 22/02/2011.
• “Libya’s Tribes: Supporters and Opponents of the Revolution.” Alaan.tv, 01/05/2011.
• “Libya’s Tribes Revolt against Gaddafi.” Aljazeera.net, 23/02/2011.