A Tribal Denial of Tribal Warfare
On May 5, leaders of the Euro-Capitalist tribe gathered in Rome to plot Libya's future, with a consensus by and large, that sitting leader Muammar Gaddafi, plus his loyal clan, must leave power. They were already isolated, it was often repeated, from the real people of Libya, who had defected and rebelled all at once, in a spontaneous wave. But barring a Gaddafi surrender, the near part of that future was to be charted right through the air war against the regime, all in the name of the people of Libya.
Yet the same day a prominent group of Libyan tribal leaders - traditional pillars of society - met in Tripoli to have their own say (Explained in some detail here). The meeting was called by the tribes themselves, and hosted, by all accounts, about 2,000 chiefs, representing most, but not all, the tribes of Libya. Their actual influence is somewhat debatable, but their message, by a wide margin, was that Gaddafi must stay, Libya should be re-united under his rule, NATO should stop its bombing and the rebels should lay down their arms and agree to peaceful settlement. Some tribes were prepared to send fighters to help the government, if need be. But they called for peace; as one attendee put it:
"We reject the fighting in Libya...we strongly reject foreign intervention. We call on our brothers in the eastern regions – the armed ones, the misled ones – we call them to peaceful dialogue."It's been widely ignored and marginalized as unrepresentative and a stunt by the regime, although no one has yet explained how they pulled it off.
A rebel spokesman dismissed claims that those attending the Tripoli conference represented all Libyan tribes. "Libya doesn't have 850 tribes," said the head of the political committee of the rebel's Transitional National Council, Fathi Baja, in the eastern city of Benghazi. "Gadhafi is just a big liar. ... He never had any legitimacy. The Libyan people did not choose him." [source]This complaint doesn't go far. The generaly accepted number of tribes is "at least 140" and not much more. 850, given wrongly as the number of tribes, apparently refers to clans or sub-tribes (the mammoth Warfalla tribe has 55 clans). In reality, the meeting makes the best case yet that NATO's humanitarian mission does not represent the wishes of any clear majority of Libyans.
When The Tribes Were Said to Say the Opposite
But it wasn't the first time the chiefs from Tripoli to Tobruk were said to have spoken up about Gaddafi and the future. The first time was publicized just a few days earlier, and it wasn't as ignored or as harshly cross-examined as this latest conference. Indeed, the late April achievement was widely noted with the simple proclamation of fact that "Libya's tribes have called on col. Gaddafi to step down."
But to see what it really was, let's start with this from National Post, April 28:
Chiefs or representatives of 61 tribes from across Libya called for an end to Col. Gaddafi's four decades of rule in a joint statement released by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French writer who has become the Paris-based unofficial spokesman for the revolt.The messenger, Mr. Levy, is a French philosopher-activist-celebrity, the richest one around, who likes to be called BHL and pose with serious "visionary" eyes beneath his windswept hair sculpture. It was he who officially convinced president Sarkozy in March to make France the first nation to extend diplomatic recognition to the rebel Transitional National Council. I don't think I like him, but he does have that hilarious fling with "Boutlism," citing the work of a joke persona for an important philosophical argument in some grandstanding book.
"Faced with the threats weighing on the unity of our country, faced with the manoeuvres and propaganda of the dictator and his family, we solemnly declare: Nothing will divide us," said the statement, released in the rebel stronghold, Benghazi. "We share the same ideal of a free, democratic and united Libya.
"The Libya of tomorrow, once the dictator has gone, will be a united Libya, with Tripoli as its capital and where we will at last be free to build a civil society according to our own wishes."
Mr. Lévy is credited with pressing Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, to mobilize international political and military support for the rebels.
"Each of the tribes in Libya is represented by at least a representative. In this list of 61 signatures, some tribes are represented 100 percent, others are still divided," Mr. Lévy said.
But this joint letter wasn't just a paper exercise, nor just passed on by the Frenchman. They actually met, with each other and with Levy. Wall Street Journal, May 8
On the opposition side, chiefs and representatives of 61 tribes met in Benghazi in April with Bernard-Henri Levy, a French philosopher and staunch advocate of Western intervention in Libya, to affirm their unity and confront “the dictator [Col. Gaddafi] who is trying to play Libya’s tribes against each other; dividing the country to better rule,” read a statement posted on the website of French periodical La Regle du Jeu.The publication in question, La Regle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game, sharing the same name as a creepy film about Nazi-era French elites), has its website here, and the letter in question revealed here, with a picture of Bono-Henri hanging out with some of the berobed Libyan elders. Dated April 27, this posting is only thing I've seen called the full text. That itself is dated April 12, two weeks prior, and it's in French. The scans beneath confirm the signed documents were also completely in French. Who translated the Libyans' words? Were they able to review the translation before signing? Did Mr. Levy and his unbuttoned shirt write the whole thing, and just charm them all into signing it how he explained it?
The periodical also posted scanned pages bearing the signatures of the gathered tribal elders, who included a Benghazi-based leader of one Warfalla’s almost 55 clans.
The significance of such an act is likely to be limited given that Libya’s tribal heft remains in the center and west in areas still under Col. Gaddafi’s control where most tribes continue to uphold the “document of honor” they signed with the regime in the past. [source]
There is some background in French at Levy's website, which shows the picture at left, apparently of the meeting - which only had 32 tribal representatives. (I have a rough translation of this whole thing, and some comments, posted here). The other half of the names were gathered later, and according to Levy, "all the tribes of Libya, I repeat, [are] present here," including the largest one, all the southern ones (via one representative), "Lockerbie bomber" al-Megrahi's tribe, and the leader's own, al-Gaddafa (with two representatives, he says)!
First, it's clearly relevant that these rival tribal opinions come from their respective capitols (Tripoli and Benghazi) and wound up reflecting, more-or-less, the position of the leadership seated in that capitol. It's not fair to denounce the one as a Gaddafi stunt without at least wondering if the other was a Rebel-French PR move as opposed to a genuine reading of Libya's tribal temperature.
Mr. Levy says "each of the tribes in Libya is represented by at least a representative." It's not clarified if that term means someone selected by the tribe's leadership as a rep, or just a member of the tribe. A certain subset of these 61, unspecified, were spoken for by the actual tribal chief. "In this list of 61 signatures, some tribes are represented 100 percent, others are still divided," whatever exactly that means.
If "each of the tribes in Libya" is represented - and there are 140 of them to just five dozen names - we have a problem. Some of these signatories must be standing in for multiple tribes, or turnout was only 42%. And that's combining chiefs and representatives, which may just mean members. In fact, considering this pathetic turnout, it seems they weren't even trying to get a wide sampling. More likely, they focused on those few dozen who'd be reliably on message, and strained to get the most tribal appearance from that pool.
To turn Fathi Baja's complaints on their head, "Libya doesn't have just 61 tribes. The rebels and Mr. Levy are just big liars." That might be a bit extreme, but their attempt clearly pales next to the later meeting in Tripoli.
Do the math: about 2,000 tribal chiefs, compared to "61 chiefs or representatives." A well-publicized gathering with hundreds of public speeches in their native tongue and own voices, and provided transcripts to compare with the video. Compared to a behind-the-scenes meeting with a couple of staged photos, announced only two weeks later, followed by signatures attached to a single letter that only speaks once, which they couldn't even read, being in French and for France. As the statement they signed closes:
Nous profitons de ce message, confié à un philosophe français, pour remercier la France et, à travers la France, l’Europe : ce sont elles qui ont empêché le carnage que nous avait promis Kadhafi ; c’est grâce à elles, avec elles, que nous construirons la Libye libre, et une, de demain.
We take the opportunity of this message, given to a French philosopher, to thank France and through France, Europe: it is they who have prevented the bloodshed that we had been promised by Gaddafi, it is thanks to them and with them that we build a free Libya, and a unified tomorrow.
سنكون يدفعون لك مرة أخرى لسنوات قادمة. تهاني.