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Tribal Unrest In The New Libya


Libya faces many challenges as it grapples with life after dictatorship. Of course, Moammar Gadhafi is dead. His fugitive son, Saif al Islam, is reportedly in talks with the International Criminal Court to face charges of alleged crimes against humanity. The city of Bani Walid was the last place in Libya known to have him. It's also the seat of the largest tribe in Libya. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro travelled to Bani Walid yesterday and found a tribe that's aggrieved and city that is seething.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (foreign language spoken)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: A police car drives down the streets of Bani Walid, calling out to police to return to duty. Libya is free; we must secure the city blares out over the loudspeaker. But there are few to hear the call. Bani Walid was one of the last cities in Libya to fall, and the fierce fighting here drove the majority of the residents away. Most of the traffic is from the revolutionary fighters who race around in their gun trucks. At the main base in town, fighter Shibani Saad maintains that the people of Bani Walid are thrilled at their liberation.

SHIBANI SAAD: All of them happy, all of them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But as he's talking, a huge argument breaks out.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eighty-seven-year-old Abdul Hafid Awad complains to the fighters that his son has been arrested for no reason. They usher him away. We follow him and he tells us he's furious with what's happening in Bani Walid.

ABDUL HAFID AWAD: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The revolutionaries are stealing cars, he says, all kinds of crimes against us.

AWAD: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They are trying to destroy our tribe, the Warfallah, he says. We will not surrender. The war will stay here until judgment day, Awad says. One in six Libyans belong to the Warfallah tribe, and Gadhafi lavished support on them, allowing its members to dominate the security services. After the uprising began, he gave tribal loyalists guns - a lot of them. Everyone in Bani Walid is heavily armed.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: After Friday prayers, a group of men in Bani Walid gather. Ali Salem Arabi is a retired policeman. He says members of the Warfallah are being unfairly targeted now because they are seen as Gadhafi loyalists. Most of us were not, he maintains.

ALI SALEM ARABI: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But it's no longer about pro-Gadhafi or anti-Gadhafi, he says. This is a tribal matter now. Our problem is with the people who have robbed our homes and destroyed our property, Arabi says.

ARABI: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tribe means you are one family, you defend each other, he says. If you steal a car from one of us, it's like you kill someone from my tribe. We are all involved, he says, and will fight to defend our dignity.

ARABI: Standing with him is 30-year-old Walid Hussein. He says he's afraid the situation could lead to a civil war.

WALID HUSSEIN: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Warfallah are everywhere, in every city across the country, Hussein says. If they apologize to us through the tribal system then it will be OK. But if they continue to insult us then there will be a problem. With just one phone call, the whole of the tribe could gather here in Bani Walid. It's not a fight the transitional government can afford right now. The new leadership needs to reconcile with its adversaries. But revolutionary fighters have essentially been allowed to act with impunity in the aftermath of the war, carrying out revenge attacks and looting. So, they broke in through the door and they broke into the safe here and what did they take?

ABDUL AZIZ BARNOUS: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Twenty-two-year-old Abdul Aziz Barnous says he returned to his home on Thursday to find it ransacked. He says the whole city has been vandalized and he takes us on a tour.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, we're now driving through Bani Walid, and Abdul Aziz is showing me the walls that are covered in revolutionary graffiti that have now been painted over. He says that Bani Walid residents have been covering up the most insulting portions of what's been written. Much of it was derogatory to the Warfallah tribe.

BARNOUS: (foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Abdul Aziz says on one wall it taunts, where are you, Warfallah tribe? Moammar Gadhafi has left you all alone. He says it's infuriating to the tribal elders of the city.

BARNOUS: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says people here don't want to accept that the revolution happened. The tribe sees these fighters as invaders. Abdul Aziz says it's going to take a long time before they accept what's going on. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.