March 24, 2011
Six days into air strikes in Libya, coalition forces have essentially grounded the Libyan air force.
In distance, Libya is the 17th largest country in the world, and it is roughly the size of Alaska. However, the activity in the country is limited to a belt along the Mediterranean coast. This belt is where the population is, where the cities are located, and where there is oil infrastructure.
There have been strong uprisings along this belt both in the east of Libya as well as in the west. In many ways, Gaddafi’s influence has become limited to the capital city of Tripoli.
Tripoli is the largest city in Libya, and the country’s chief seaport.
It is still largely unknown who the rebels are in this uprising. Experts are still unsure how many rebel factions exist, and who makes up the leadership of each group. What is clear is that the opposition is not united, and is therefore not operating as a cogent group.
There are signs that suggest momentum for Gaddafi losing tribal support in Libya. The east side of the population belt is the region that traditionally has had opposition to the current Libyan regime. People here supported the monarchy, and were distressed when Gaddafi rose to power through his coup. Now there are uprisings in the west spurred on by one of Libya’s largest tribes, the Warfalla, that has traditionally supported the authoritarian leader.
Tribal connections in Libya are significant. They are formal networks of allegiances that hold whole communities together. Tribal connections give a sense of solidarity and unity to the Libyan populace, and such connections should not be underestimated as a primary driving force in motivating behavior.
There are more than twenty major tribal groups in Libya, and the bulk of the population is Sunni Muslim.
Known Libyan groups opposing Gaddafi include: The National Transitional Council (comprised of tribal groups including the Zuwayya and the Majabra), The Libyan Peoples Army (composed of Cyrenaica tribes like The National Transitional Council), and The National Conference for the Libyan Opposition (notable for being composed of members living outside Libya). Experts are still trying to deduce the various relationships that Libyan tribes may be developing with these and other emerging groups during the uprising.