By Robert Cusack
A Libyan tribe has released a former colonel after almost five years of captivity, as part of an alliance deal with the east Libyan military leader General Khalifa Haftar.
The Gharyan tribe set free Sasi al-Ghani al-Tarhouni, who served in the army under deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The tribal leaders also publicly denounced the controversial Mufti of Tripoli, Sheikh Sadiq al-Ghariani.
The Gharyans are the latest Libyan tribe to pledge allegiance to General Haftar, in a sign that the UN-backed government in Tripoli is losing general support.
Many Libyan tribes reportedly support Haftar because of a popular animosity towards Ghariani, the Libyan Sheikh who backed the general’s Islamist militant enemies in Benghazi.
Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) recently celebrated victory over Islamist fighters in Benghazi.
In shocking scenes, LNA fighters dug up the bodies of their dead enemies and paraded their corpses through town.
Libya’s President Fayez al-Serraj denounced the actions of the rival army in east Libya, saying that Libya must not return to a one-man dictatorship under Haftar.
These acts do not represent our culture and religion and we will do everything in our power to put these criminals on trial and make an example of them,” Serraj said.
Many tribal leaders in Libya see the country’s Islamists – especially those fighting for Islamic State group – as a destabilising force that has contributed the most towards a total lack of security in the country.
Regional actors in the UAE, Russia and Egypt have also responded to the allegedly Turkish and Qatari-backed Islamist groups in Libya as a threat and “an unsettling development”.
The mufti of Libya once had to flee the UK for Turkey in 2014, via Qatar, after he was alleged to have helped direct an Islamist takeover of Tripoli from the UK.
Ghariani’s lawyers told The Guardian newspaper in 2014 that the mufti “called for unity in Libya” and stood against terrorism, violence and religious extremism.
Haftar met with representatives from the Warfalla – the largest tribe in Libya – on 11 March to discuss their allegiance to his fight for leadership of Libya.
Other tribes to have recently pledged their allegiance include the Mshait, Obeid, Fwakher and Drasa.
The tribe system
The Libyan tribal system has remained a strong part of Libyan culture – helping Gaddafi to cement his authoritarian rule through a series of alliances with the country’s tribal leaders.
The Libyan historian, Faraj Abdulaziz Najam, claimed in 2011 there were 140 influential tribes and clans in Libya, adding that only thirty tribes were of great political influence.
This tribal system effectively collapsed after the Arab Spring, leading to the Libyan civil war in February 2011 after the regime’s security forces brutally suppressed a series of protests.
This suppression, coupled with foreign intervention, led to an armed rebellion where the police and army were quickly overpowered by a number of armed militias.
Former US President Barack Obama famously called the Libya intervention a “shit show” in private.
“When I go back and I ask myself what went wrong, there’s room for criticism, because I had more faith in the Europeans, given Libya’s proximity, being invested in the follow-up,” Obama told The Atlantic magazine in an interview.
The Gaddafi regime responded to the uprising with brutal tactics, including mass rape, torture and the arbitrary detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners.
Since Gaddafi’s gruesome demise at a roadside in October 2011, the central government in Tipoli has failed to maintain national security.
This has led to a long and brutal civil war involving Islamic State fighters, General Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and a myriad other militias that has continued to this day.
After Gaddafi’s death, the mufti of Tripoli announced that the former dictator had been an “infidel” unworthy of a funeral.
Robert Cusack – Bilingual staff journalist based in London.