Libya, Yemen and ‘tribal leaders’…
Yet another autocratic regime, this time Libya, is falling in the Middle East. There (as well as in Yemen) “tribal” leaders are disassociating themselves from the regime and backing the protesters. What this means is that key local political factions of civil society are re-asserting elements of reformist decision-making in a national context.
It’s shocking to see how so many ‘expert’ international commentators lack a nuanced understanding of these ‘clans’ and ‘tribes’ and the historical-political role they occupy in societies like Sudan, Libya and Yemen. Instead, so-called expert commentators place tribal leaders and clans within the framework of “Orientalism” – the European colonial and racist narrative of the ‘Arabs’. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orientalism_(book); read Edward Said)
‘Tribal leaders’ can be patriarchal, parochial and elitist. On the other hand, clans need to understood as historical socio-political units that have been operating for centuries in this region. They were here long before the externally imposed colonial western model of political organization. They are formal/informal collections of group interests that can be more participatory, inclusive and more representative than state-sanctioned ‘elected’ bodies.
In the post-overthrow era occurring throughout the region, there needs to be a sophisticated understanding of the political-cultural systems as different but not less legitimate than the western model. In the absence of a ‘recognized’ State government, well-embedded political structures are still thriving. Stable governance is not wholly in a vacuum simply because we do understand the local model of governance.