In Libya, the real power is in its tribal system. For 42 years, the country has had one ruler with Moammar Gadhafi and no political parties. There are about 140 tribes in Libya, but only around 30 have political clout. Libyans don't look to the governement for jobs or to protect their rights and their safety. They look to their tribe.
Traditionally, the tribes raised livestock and guarded the wells for the caravan trade. But when oil was discovered in 1959, the tribes were suddenly rich. While some remained in the desert to continue in the old ways, many migrated north. They moved to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte. Sirte is the coastal city where oil flows to the Mediterranean and it is also where Gadhafi's own tribe - called the Gadhafi tribe - is centered. The tribe has been known mainly for grazing goats.
In the west of the country is the Wafalla tribe, the largest tribe with nearly 1 million people. The Wafalla have always looked down on what they consider an inferior tribe with the Gadhafi tribe and resented being ruled by what some of them see as a glorified goat herder. And now the tribe is beginning to turn on the ruler it never liked in the first place.
The tribes in the east of the country, such as the Zuwaya, have felt slighted by Gadhafi's alliance with the western tribes. Now they are striking back as well, threatening to cut off the flow of oil if the violence and repression don't stop.
Gadhafi had tried without success to eliminate the tribes in Libya in an effort that lasted from 1969 to 1980, according to Ronald Bruce St John, who has written seven books on Libya. So in 1993, the leader made a dramatic move - reinforcing the tribal system and recognizing its leaders as important by creating social leadership positions, St John told CNN's Tom Watkins.
The leaders were given power at the local level as well as such "goodies" as housing and scholarships for their tribal members, he said. But the gifts came with a catch: "In turn, you must recognize that you're in charge of your tribe," St John said. "If they step out of line, we'll go to you."
If Gadhafi leaves power, "those tribal leaders will try to find a way to put together some kind of a new government," he predicted. "I think you'll see the tribes being the ones that will, in the short term anyway, try to find a way through the obvious chaos that's going to occur."
TheÂ above includes part of an edited transcript from CNN's Parker Spitzer