Tribal Factor in Libya: Metamorphoses after Qaddafi Epoch (2011-2020)

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2021-65-9-118-129
Yu. Zinin (, 
Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Institute for International Studies, MGIMO University, 76, Vernadskogo Prosp., Moscow, 119454, Russian Federation

Received 02.02.2021.

Abstract. The overthrow of M. Gaddafi with the assistance of NATO in October 2011 led to the collapse of the vertical of power and institutions of the state and sentenced Libya to a deep systemic crisis. The article examines the peculiarities and role of the tribal factor in the current events in Libya, a country with deeply divided, multi-composite societies (DDS). It is characterized by tribal, regional, racial and ethnoreligious diversity. With 90% of its population having tribal roots, the number of tribes passes 140. This diversity has left its mark on the course of events, affected the struggle for power. The author sums up the shifts that have taken place in the tribal segment of society in recent decades. The rush of members of different tribes to the city led to their fragmentation, diminution of their former structure. The bonds of kinship, the spirit of solidarity, the traditional behaviour of the tribesmen have been to different extents eroded. However, the influence of a tribe or genus that play the role of a bonding society remains essential. This was especially evident after the advent of dual power in 2014, the author assumes. The two poles of domination – Tripoli and Tobruk are trying to play this card to their advantage. On the other hand, the security vacuum caused by the fall of the regime spontaneously filled forces, including regional tribal groups. The scholar tracks how various tribal councils and other entities here and there take on the functions of maintaining resilience and order, ending infighting, returning hostages, etc. In doing so, they often turn to the traditional usual right – Urf. The author agrees with a number of Libyan scholars and other foreign researchers that there are now some signs of a breeding tribal identity in Libya. At the same time, this process is multi–directional, as in Libya, a country with a deeply divided society, tribes can both engage in conflicts and contribute to their peaceful denouement. The researcher draws attention to the fact that the relationship between tribalism and Islamists is rather contradictory. The latter use to argue that “Islam is the solution to all problems.” But their entry into the arena of politics in Libya after October 2011 did not prevent the de facto collapse of the country and the growth of sectarian standoff. And that according to the author divides society and plays into the hands of certain political forces. In this atmosphere, tribal polarization and the general alienation of society are at risk of growth. The author analyzes the relations between tribal and national identities in a country where the process of consolidation of the population into a single nation has not yet been completed. 

Keywords: Libya, Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Fezzan, NATO, Kaddafi, Tripoli, Tobruk elite, tribes, security, army, turmoil, oil, disintegration, identities, crisis


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For citation:
Zinin Y. Tribal Factor in Libya: Metamorphoses after Qaddafi Epoch (2011-2020). World Eonomy and International Relations, 2021, vol. 65, no. 9, pp. 118-129.

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