The Spectacle Blog

Libya’s Tribal Ties Muddy the Waters of Victory

By on 8.23.11 | 2:42PM

I'd like to expand upon Aaron Goldstein's prescient comments regarding the demise of the Gaddafi regime - I'd have to agree that reports of the Colonel's imminent demise have been somewhat exaggerated.  

At present, reports suggest that Libyan rebels are fighting to consolidate their hold on Tripoli, and the end is nigh for the Gaddafi clan. Nobody knows where the "Brother Leader and guide of the revolution" has snuck off to in the hyperkinetic chaos of a last-gasp grasp to maintain power.

Conversely, it has been confirmed that the Gaddafi's two sons are free despite earlier rumors that they had been captured by rebel forces.

London School of Economics PhD-turned war criminal Saif al-Islam Gaddafi pulled up to the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli -- ground zero of international reportage -- in a convoy of armored Land Cruisers nearly 24 hours after having been reported captured. His energetic reemergence mirrored that of his brother, whose escape from house arrest was confirmed by Libya's ambassador to the United States. 

To paraphrase our homegrown, homespun pith-icist Will Rogers, "it isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble it's what we know that ain't so." We know that Gaddafi and his sons have evaded capture. American diplomats have expressed legitimate concerns about the potential egress of Libya's stockpile of chemical weapons and small arms. Reports of rebel gains in the capital city are tempered by stiff loyalist resistance.  

In my estimation, the most important consideration moving forward is a recognition that this country has lived under the brutal dictatorship of one man for more than 40 years. Absent a constitution, rule of law or legitimate civil society, the majority of Libyans have learned to depend on their clan connections within a tribal state apparatus.

Over the 40 years that Gaddafi has been in power, the extent of political allegiance to the ruling regime in Tripoli varies from one tribe to the next. However, the patchwork of tribal commitments and loyalties remains a constant, if relatively fluid, factor in contemporary Libya. The tribe with the strongest and longest ties to Colonel Gaddafi is the powerful Magariha tribe -- whose loyalties were cemented when the regime secured the return of one of the tribe's members, Abdel Baset al-Megrahi. Some of you may know him better as the Lockerbie bomber, who escaped his prison cell thanks to the Scottish government's peculiar compassion for cancer-ridden mass murderers.

Experts had hypothesized that the Magariha tribe was in the best position to tip the scales in favor of the rebel forces. Many members of the tribe held critical positions in the Libyan government. However, as recently as three weeks ago, the Lockerbie bomber appeared at a televised rally in Tripoli in support of the country's embattled leadership, suggesting that the blood runs just as thick in tribal loyalties as it does in the street of capital city.

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