Qadhafi's Tribal Baggage
Qadhafi retains a strong sense of his tribal identity, which serves to distinguish him as a traditional as well as a national leader. His frequent sojourns into the desert to "drink again from the deep source of his inspiration" among his fellow tribesmen are legend among Libyans.Sourcing and Commentary
Mirella Bianco, "Gadafi: Voice From the Desert" (London: Longman, 1975) His charismatic personality and penchant for oratory—important prerequisites for tribal leadership—and other, more tangible traits like maintaining a tent domicile and keeping camels for milk at his Azzizyah barracks compound in downtown Tripoli, add to his tribal appeal. To promote his image as a traditional ruler, Libya's media regularly show him accepting oaths of allegiance from local tribal delegations and receiving expressions of support from Lebanese, Sudanese, and Yemeni "tribes," particularly during times of tension with the West.
Qadhafi's political worldview appears to be heavily influenced by his bedouin heritage. He has in the past rejected international boundaries drawn by former colonial powers, for instance, specifically pointing to the migration pattern of his tribesmen to justify his errant foray during the 1980s into northern Chad and subsequent failed attempt to annex the Aozou Strip.Sourcing and Commentary
When asked during the height of the conflict about his tribe's presence in Chad, Qadhafi answered:
"The truth is half of my tribe have lived in Chad for a long time. However, it is not only my tribe or my family, but there are a lot of Libyans who live in Chad for more than 100 years (sic)." JANA, "Al-Qadhdhafi Interview," Tripoli, 14 April 1987
Indeed, portions of the Saff Awlad Sulayman confederation of tribes emigrated permanently to the Lake Chad area after being defeated in 1842 by Turkish rulers in a battle for hegemony over the interior, according to one author. Gone are his predecessor's parliament and supreme court, British and American legacies of a centralized government established during the 1950s to help usher Libya into the Western fold.Sourcing and Commentary
The two former Allied powers took a direct hand in molding the new Libyan government during the early Cold War era. For example, American and British nationals served on Libya's first supreme court.
Henry Serrano Villard, "Libya: The New Arab Kingdom of North Africa," (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1956) Qadhafi's political blueprint for the Jamahiriyah, a word he coined for the new Libyan state meaning "state of the masses," as expounded in his Green Book—his vision of a political, economic, and social utopia—closely approximates the archetypal tribal governing structure. In both cases respected community members chosen by popular consensus convene to decide issues in an informally conducted forum. (see also: A Tribal Green Book)
Qadhafi's Green Book may condemn the tribe as an interest group incapable of representing the diverse new Libyan state, but it recognizes the utility of tribal mechanisms in policing the actions of individuals. In a section of the book entitled "Merits of the Tribe," Qadhafi states "the tribe is a social school where its members are brought up from childhood to absorb high ideals which are transformed into a behavior pattern for life." According to Qadhafi, the tribe can assume critical state functions. "By virtue of social tribal traditions, the tribe provides for its members collective payment of ransom, collective fines, collective revenge and collective defense, i.e. social protection." The Green Book is rife with tribal reference and innuendo. The genius of Qadhafi's revolution may well lie in its seeming reversion to a traditional form of governing that appeals to many Libyans whose tribal forebears similarly rejected centralized government as an unjust form of rule as compared to the natural associations of descent and kinship.