National politicians and international actors cannot ignore the resilience of premodern tribalism in Libya. Libyan governance structures have historically relied on the top-down distribution of favours to selected tribal allies, rather than on inclusive and representative governance. Such arrangements took the shape of cyclical processes of selective co-optation, exclusion, rebellion and, again, new forms of selective co-optation. Even the uprisings of 2011, which symbolise the appearance of a national Libyan polity, was mobilised and organised along tribal lines. Accordingly, efforts to build a new Libyan state today should take into account the strong tribal character of Libya and should look into integrating tribal forces into the state in a manner that favours the central state project while simultaneously allowing for true representation and inclusion of all local and tribal entities.
In this policy brief authors Al-Hamzeh Al-Shadeedi and Nancy Ezzedine provide recommendations on how to realistically and effectively engage with tribal actors and traditional authorities for the benefit of the current central state-building process while avoiding past mistakes.