Tribal Loyalties in Libya

A key factor in maintaining Muammar Qadhafi’s regime has been his manipulation of Libya’s tribal allegiances, much as Saddam Hussein did in Iraq.

via Libya – Tribes.

Much of the world depends on tribal/clan/family loyalties to run smoothly.  Where the balance between the clans is upset, such as in Somalia, violence breaks out.  Libya has more than 140 clans, each with its own sphere of influence.  The current outbreak of civil unrest and protest against Qaddafi’s rule is very likely to lead to a civil war between competing clans.

According to an article in the CSMonitor, Libya is considered one of the most tribal nations in the Arab world.

“In Libya, it will be the tribal system that will hold the balance of power rather than the military,” Alia Brahimi, head of the North Africa program at the London School of Economics, told Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

Alliances among tribes could mean the difference in being rich or poor.


Qadhafi, despite his beduin roots, viewed tribes as anachronistic and as obstacles to modernization. Consequently, the government sought to break the links between the rural population and its traditional leaders by focusing attention on a new elite–the modernizers who represented the new leadership.

The countryside was divided into zones that crossed old tribal boundaries, combining different tribes in a common zone and splitting tribes in a manner that weakened traditional institutions and the force of local kinship.

However, even this was not enough to break allegiance to family and clan, and tribal memories remain strong.

Who’s who in Libyan tribes:  here, and here.


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