The position of the Tebu vis-à-vis potential elections in Libya

By Floor El Kamouni-Janssen, Fransje Molenaar, Al-Hamzeh Al-Shadeedi

Libya’s south has been the stage of waves of violence since 2011 due to the tense relationship between its main tribes – the Tebu, Tuareg and Awlad Sulaiman – and the inability of the Libyan state to control this part of the country and provide security and services.

Armed conflict between the Fezzan’s tribes about oil resources, strategic sites, and smuggling routes has been compounded by the influx of militant groups from Niger and Chad.

In recent years, initiatives to end armed conflict were successful in bringing peace to the Tebu and the Tuareg, but they failed in achieving the same outcome between the Tebu and the Awlad Sulaiman.

In the midst of this tense environment, the two rival Libyan governments in Tripoli and Tobruk have attempted to make gains out of the instability in the Fezzan by using tribal forces as proxy powers.

During the last conflict that erupted in Sebha early this year, for example, both Haftar and the Presidential Council (PC) of Tripoli launched military operations to cleanse the south from foreign mercenary forces and restore peace and stability.

The GNA was able to gain Awlad Sulaiman to its side by incorporating their tribal brigade into the PC military forces.

In the face of this materializing alliance, some Tebu factions from Sebha grew more sympathetic with the LNA. However, to this point the Tebu have not built any one-way alliances with either the GNA or the LNA.

Tebu relations with outside forces have been largely instrumental, and best explained by local conflict dynamics and competing armed group interests.

Tebu dealings with national actors remain cautious and pragmatic because Tebu grievances with the Libyan state run deep. Marginalized under the previous regime, subsequent post-revolution governments have failed to address Tebu demands, such as over equal access to citizenship rights.

Key to understanding Tebu relations with northern powers, therefore, is a general level of distrust with non-Tebu agendas while at the same time wanting to be recognized as a regular and legitimate force by external actors.

Also key to understanding the ambiguity in Tebu allegiances are internal divisions.

The Tebu should not be seen as a unified entity: an array of Tebu (armed) groups roam the Fezzan that display diverging affiliations and loyalties.

Tebu disunity on the ground translates into Tebu disunity in the face of potential national elections. In the first week of September, prominent Tebu traditional and religious elders held various meetings to discuss their stance towards potential national elections.

Broad agreement exists that the Tebu would need to embrace the potential elections to ensure their representation at the national political level – something they gravely lacked in the past.

Agreeing on a unified stance towards potential candidates proved more difficult.

In the meetings, a slight preference for a Haftar(-supported) candidacy was discernable. Other sources suggest that the Tebu will not put their weight behind the current power holders.

It was mentioned that Saif al-Qadhafi’s candidacy in the elections may be a game changer – as many Tebu are nostalgic of previous times. Although generally supportive of the elections, the Tebu elders ultimately decided not to adopt a unified position on candidates.

This means that if elections will take place, every Tebu can and probably will vote in line with his own preferences.


Floor El Kamouni-Janssen is Research Fellow on the Middle East and North Africa at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute and specialist on the political economy of Libya.

Fransje Molenaar is Senior Research Fellow at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute and Head of the Unit’s Sahel Programme.

Al-Hamzeh Al-Shadeedi is Research Assistant at the Conflict Research Unit of the Clingendael Institute.




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