Libya's Warfalla Tribe Switching Loyalties
June 2, 2011
Four decades of changing tribal policies in Qaddafi’s Libya, combined with the effect of urbanization on traditional ways of life, has made any attempt to gage the loyalties of Libya’s tribes one of inherent difficulty. In the case of Libya’s largest tribe, the Arab-Berber Warfalla, this is certainly the case. Incorporating over one million of Libya’s six million people, the loyalty of the Warfalla to the Qaddafi regime is considered to be one of the most important factors in the survival or demise of the existing power structure.
Shortly after the Libyan rebellion began, early reports suggested the Warfalla had gone over to the rebel side in wholesale fashion. However, these reports ignored the complexity of the issue of Warfalla loyalty and did not take into account several factors, including the importance of the Warfalla in the Libyan security apparatus and the ability of the regime’s patronage system to purchase or coerce loyalty when necessary. As cash and arms flooded into Warfalla communities, it soon became apparent that the regime was able to continue to count on the loyalty of large numbers of Warfalla.
The Warfalla, together with the Qadhafa and the Magarha, have traditionally been considered the pillars of the Qaddafi regime, dominating the security services and the leadership of the military. In the case of the Warfalla, however, this support has been inconsistent, most notably in the mounting of a coup attempt by Warfalla members of the regime in 1993 as a result of their rivalry with the Magarha for top positions within the government.
The failure of this attempt to overthrow Qaddafi naturally resulted in a temporary decline of Warfalla influence in the Libyan power structure as many leading members were purged and eventually executed. Nonetheless, the Warfalla remain prominent in the regime’s 'revolutionary committees,' a paramilitary force entrusted with securing loyalty to the Qaddafis, by force if necessary.
Even the Warfalla stronghold of Bani Walid, a city in the Misrata district, has witnessed both pro and anti-regime demonstrations. The tribe’s paramount leader, the U.S.-educated Mansour Khalaf, has made an art of riding the fence in these difficult days, persuading both sides to refrain from public demonstrations and professing loyalty to the regime while hesitating to commit Warfalla fighters to the regime’s preservation.
A recent conference of Libyan tribal leaders held in Istanbul may indicate the beginning of a major shift in loyalty away from the Qaddafi regime (though it should be noted that many Warfalla in the Benghazi region have been committed to the rebellion from the start). Over 100 tribal leaders, most of them Warfalla, met on May 28-29 to call for an end to the fighting in Libya and the removal of Mu’ammar Qaddafi and his sons from the Libyan government (al-Jazeera, May 29; Tripoli Post, May 30).
Many of the delegates were described as senior professionals from Libya, while others were dissidents who have been living in exile for some years. The Istanbul conference followed earlier meetings in Dubai and Qatar and its location was intended by its organizers as a means of acknowledging Turkey’s support for the Libyan people in the ongoing crisis (Today’s Zaman, May 29).
Delegates to the conference agreed on the following points:
• The 'full participation' of Bani Walid in the rebellion, a step that would relieve pressure on besieged Misrata and the Berber mountain communities of western Libya.
• The need to end the bloodshed, eliminate 'tyranny,' and remove the Qaddafi family from any positions of power or influence in Libya.
• A warning to all those involved in violating human rights on behalf of the regime that they would be held to account for their actions.
• A request to the Libyan leader not to leave the country 'because we want to bring you to justice, we will have you tried for the 42 years that you have enslaved us' (Tripoli Post, May 29, al-Jazeera, May 29).
After the regime learned of the conference on May 29, there were reports that government security forces had entered Bani Walid, resulting in a series of clashes in which at least 11 people were killed (al-Jazeera, May 29).
However, it is unrealistic to believe the Warfalla act in concert under a unified leadership when the 'tribe' is actually more of a confederacy of 52 sub-tribes spread across Libya, each with its own local leaders, local concerns and varying degrees of affiliation or loyalty to the existing regime. Similarly, like many of the other major Libyan tribes, large numbers of Warfalla are urbanized residents of the coastal cities. As such, intermarriage with other tribal groups and separation from traditional tribal leaders has reduced the number of Warfalla who take direction from the traditional leadership.
While a shift in allegiance on the part of some tribal leaders may result in a decline of support for the regime, such support was never unanimous in the first place – thus such a shift can be expected to have at best a significant but relatively limited impact on the struggle for Libya.
While various Warfalla have declared support either for the regime or the opposition, it would be accurate to say most members of the tribe continue to wait in pragmatic fashion for some definitive change in the regime’s fortunes before making a final and likely irreversible decision on the direction they will take in the future of the Libyan state.
Source: http://www.jamestown.org/programs/gta/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_n ews%5D=38003&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=26&cHash=6689a15 a891317234c06e139fb530f33