February 24th, 2011
06:17 PM ET

In Libya, it's all about the tribes

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."

The above includes part of an edited transcript from CNN's Parker Spitzer

Filed under: Libya
soundoff (70 Responses)
  1. Erik J C Young

    Michael Napier QC (an English Solicitor-Judge) is part of this fraudulent network a friend of DC and TS

    February 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Erik J C Young

    The 90 Lies of David Cameron is part of the problem

    February 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Erik J C Young

    to finger the blame for Lockerbie on Colonel Gadhafi plastering this a day ago on the front page of a "friendly corrupt" British newspaper

    February 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cesar

    @Philip: Hi Philip, it is nice to read your posts. The Cesar above that you addressed is a wacko commie. He is a certified nut. My handle is being hi-jacked every single day. Oh well Anyway, how is FB? Just don't forget to come back here. A dog walks into a bar and he says, "I'm looking for the man that shot my paw."

    February 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    @oinoinio....owwwe the shallowness of CNN. How much longer must a person of my stature be forced to endure such blasesphemy. get a life. get a clue. err just git.

    February 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Erik J C Young

    Libya are not responsible for Lockerbie it was the Heroin cartel colluding near Newark Abbey Ripley Surrey UK furious that Gadhafi had joined up in a syndicate with all the other African leaders to lock Heroin out of Africa.

    February 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cesar

    "Quite credible"..blah! I prefer my dog paw joke.

    February 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Erik Young

    Look CNN staff member if you continue blocking my publication I'll instruct Lavely & Singer to serve a US$2 Billion lawsuit on your employer

    February 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Erik Young

    Someone somewhere is blocking my right to publish the truth either in CNN or enroute

    February 24, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Erik Young

    If I try to publish anything about the govmnt over here they are blocking my uploads

    February 24, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Erik Young

    so I will go to anothet CNN posting point

    February 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John wayne tribemovies

    these fake images like cartoon indians works for petreus inc. So then great hollywood movie minds think alike. Why must people like or dislike americans? Perhaps they have better music and minds and have better things than watching obsolete western t.v. Commercials.

    February 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Bill

    We can't change every country in the world to think like we do.just hope for better living for the people in the middle east so they can have some freedom like we have in the us . Its not right for the gov to kill there own people.

    February 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    @ fake Cesar please quit posting under my name its really annoying @philip you have been chating back in forth with my imposter this is my first post on this page , why wont they just leave us alone.

    February 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Cesar

    @Cesar 9:49pm: You are not funny. So get your wife, your kids, and your mistress and move to Vegas!

    February 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
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