Mohammad Ali Arebi* * *
Mohammad Ali Arebi belongs to one of the prominent Berber families and is a distinguished person amongst his people. He is also a wealthy businessman well known in the western part of Libya.
Mr. Arebi was impressed by the idea of the Libyan Constitutional Union and its proposed solution having read its publications. He contacted me to arrange a meeting in Rabat where he was permanently domiciled and where he enjoyed a prominent status and high level contacts inside its political circles.
From the first meeting, which took place in 1982, we quickly developed a sort of rapport, where Mr.Arebi told me about the business relationship he had with my late father during the time of the Italian occupation of Libya. He also told me about his close friendship with my late uncle Mahmood Darbi in Tripoli where he lived until he left Libya.
I was quite pleased and content when Mr. Arebi voiced his admiration of the Libyan Constitutional Union and me personally. He promised to aid and support the LCU and provide it with everything in his power to help it achieve its goals.* * *
I thought that I had hit the jackpot in the initial quest to secure the needed support for the activities of the LCU.
Although Mr. Mohammad Ali Arebi fully grasped the essence upon which the idea of the LCU was built, I felt it was necessary to emphasise to him the necessity and importance of the support of the Berbers to any endeavour that has as its core the restoration of the constitutional legitimacy to the country.
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I further explained that the reason which implores the Berbers, in particular, to support and assist the call for the return of the constitutional legitimacy to the homeland lies within the text of the nation’s constitution.
In more specific terms, it was right and absolutely essential that the entire Libyan people -with all its various factions- hold on to the nation’s constitution and fight for its re-establishment, for it vigorously and unconditionally preserved the privileges of all citizens to practice their civil and political rights equally without any ethnic or sectarian discrimination.
The Libyan constitution provided the legal framework for the nation’s minorities  to preserve their ethnicity and freely practice their religious rites. It served as the supreme guarantee that all Libyan citizens were equal and shared the same rights and duties regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
I reminded Mr Arebi that those who founded the Libyan state on the eve of independence were very conscious of the need to accommodate the various compositions that constituted the Libyan nation that they decided not to add the word “Arabic” to the country’s name. The name of the new born state became the “United Kingdom of Libya”. Then after the Federal System was abolished in 1963 the country’s name became the “Kingdom of Libya”. That was done at a heavy price as some  were mounting pressure on the rulers of the young country to add the title “Arabic” to its name. To do so the decision makers of that time felt would be unjust to the Libyan minorities who did not descend from Arabic ancestries.
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Although the founders of the modern Libyan state were very careful to establish all the necessary guarantees that would insure equality of all citizens before the law, and in-spite of their commendable efforts to enable the minorities within the Libyan society to practice their rights unhindered by bigotry. We find that they naively overlooked an issue that would later have a detrimental effect on their newly established country.
The issue was the tribal composition of the Libyan society and the dual loyalty that represents the crux of the tribe. More often than not loyalty to the tribe would prevail over the loyalty to the state. The abuse of power by certain heads of tribes in favouring their tribes over the interest of the state and the rest of its nationals had seriously damaging consequences, which were ultimately utilised by the military junta as a pretext for their wretched Military coup d’état.
This delicate but extremely important topic requires more detailed analysis and can not be discussed in few lines here. In order not to disperse the reader’s attention I therefore consider it appropriate to come back to it at the end of this chapter to examine it in the detail it merits.
To return to our subject, Mr. Arebi agreed that the Libyan constitution was absolutely fair and just in organising the running of the Libyan state. He also testified that those who drafted the constitution had fully noted and respected the rights of the minorities, in direct contrast to the present military coup d'état . He told me that from that moment on he would appoint himself as my envoy to approach –on my behalf – our Berber brothers in order to urge them to support and assist the LCU until it realises its aspired goals.* * *
My friendship with Mohammad Ali Arebi grew stronger by the day. We had regular social meetings and there was nothing on the horizon to predict any change to that.
However, a new and unexpected development took place. Not long after my newly growing friendship with Mr. Arebi, he disclosed to me that some officials from the US government wished to meet me to talk about the LCU and its orientation and future plans.
Mr. Arebi was surprised when I immediately accepted the offer without hesitation. My guess was that he probably thought that he would have to engage in a lengthy debate with me to persuade me to go ahead with his offer and came prepared with all the necessary arguments.
He did not appreciate that I considered gaining the international public opinion, at the level of the governments of the major countries that influence the direction of the global political system, was another essential step to the success of the arduous task of liberating Libya from the grip of the military coup and restoring constitutional legitimacy to the homeland.
If we concede that the importance of the above demand places it on top of the list of priorities of the designed plan to realise the aspired goals, then gaining the USA – the most influential power in the world – on the side of the Libyan people’s legitimate right to regain its constitutional legitimacy, placed the USA on top of the list of countries that should be addressed to achieve this goal.
Mr Arebi wasn’t aware of the greater vision of the LCU which covered all the essential and important focal points that influence the fulfilment of its goals.
As such, Mr. Arebi arranged the meeting with US Government officials, which eventually arrived at a dead end. I have previously published lengthy details of these meetings in the London based Arabic daily “Al-Hayat”. In order not to depart from our main topic I enclose a link to this article .
* * *
Sadly, Mr. Mohamed Ali Arebi cut off all his contacts with me following the collapse of my talks with the American officials. He repeatedly avoided talking to me and evaded my attempts to contact him.
With the termination of that short lived friendship upon which I had very high hopes, all of Mr. Arebi’s promises to secure the support of the Berber people to the LCU’s cause were blown away in the wind, as were his promises to financially support the activities of the Libyan Constitutional Union.
The effect of the abuse of tribal power in Libyan political life :
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In what follows I will introduce a full explanation to the background of the influence of the tribal mindset and how this reflects on the participation of its members in the political process within the state that accommodates them and their tribe.
The need to explain this background is so essential that it can not be ignored or overlooked; it will enable the reader to make sense of the motives behind the stances taken by some of the personalities mentioned in this documentary article.
I will introduce an explanation of the composition of the tribal structure, the principles that govern it, and the relation between its members and the state they belong to. I will give examples from contemporary events, wherever the need arises, in the hope that this will prove the accuracy of this analysis.
The Tribe and the principles that Govern it :
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The tribe is considered one of the primary organised groupings known in the whole history of mankind. Over all his consecutive epochs man never knew a social form of clannishness that accommodated him and others of his race within its bounds as the tribal structure. The tribe was born out of man’s persistent need for it. Man’s struggle for survival with rivals from his race forced him to consolidate his position with his kindred
Human history witnessed the first elements of groups of people sharing the same blood as they attempted to create associated groups that have common aims and benefits. Groups of blood relations would fight together to defend their interests against rival groupings. Throughout history clans evolved into tribes to become, with the passage of time, the nucleus and essential basis of the nationalistic structure of the various modern human societies.
Not a single part of the world throughout human history was an exception to the existence of the tribal system within it. All human societies have known and experienced the tribal structure under the necessity for power to preserve its common interests with its blood kin.
However, in later centuries of the human voyage, and as a response to human development and man’s incessant aspiration to improve his living conditions and standards, the tribal structure began to disintegrate in many societies across the globe to give way to entities of civil and urban societies which co-existed within one state under the umbrella of modern and comprehensive laws which regulated the relations between these individuals and guaranteed the rights of all its citizens without prejudice or discrimination.
However, some tribal structures still exist, especially in the Arab world where they continue to maintain this primitive mould which shaped it thousands of years ago. These structures defied the need to integrate or dissolve into the state that accommodated them within the general framework of society as a whole. It favoured its instinctive narrow outlook of protecting its own interest more than its loyalty and belonging to the general society of the state
There are principles and codes of conduct that govern the infrastructure of the tribe in its primitive form, which in turn control its behaviour. These could be summarised as follows:
· The interest of the individual member of the tribe is the interest of the entire tribe, as long as it does not contradict the interests of other individuals within the same tribe.
· The interest of the tribe is focused on striving to achieve the interests of its individual members, which is one of the most important aims motivating the tribe.
· The protection of the interests of the tribe and defending its sanctity and property are the primary aims in the mindset that motivates tribal sentiments.
o The blind obedience and following of orders given by Sheikhs and tribal leaders are amongst the most important characteristics of each individual belonging to a tribe, and they constitute a conviction set in their conscious that they never depart from.
When these principles are implemented on the ground inside the comprehensive structure of the state, it would - at some point - inevitably clash with the laws that synchronize the relations between its citizens.
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The political leaders of the monarchist era were oblivious to the dangers of these fundamental factors. They failed to embark on a serious process to politicise the tribe and modernise it so that it could amalgamate its aims within the framework of the general interest of the state that accommodates it along with other different groups and denominations, in coherence and harmony which would achieve the common benefit to society as a whole with its various members, clans, tribes and ethnic and religious minorities. Thus enabling everybody to endeavour to achieve the best for the country that they all belong to rather than to achieve the interests of their particular tribe or ethnic minority at the expense of the prime aim of the welfare of all citizens of that country as a whole.
Instead, they left the tribal structure unchecked to gain control over some aspects of the political decision making in the newly born state.
The gravity of this inherited error led to intensifying the gulf that existed between the citizens and the state on the one hand, and on the other, turned some powerful tribes into power centers that defied the authority of the state and would consequently defeat it whenever they clashed. We could perhaps find this clear in the following two brief examples:
1. One tribe forced out one of its members from a court of law while he was being tried on charges of issuing orders to fire live ammunition on protesting students during the well-known student events of January 1964, which led to several fatalities.
2. Massive crowds from certain tribes picketed in front of the royal court to prevent the King from resigning and forced him to withdraw his proposal to change the form of rule from Monarchist to Republican during the sixties.
Accordingly, one could easily attribute most of the monarchy’s shortcomings to the tribal domination over the reigns of power. However, this would be only a fraction of the truth. Looking at the wider picture, the tribal domination over the reigns of power during the monarchy had another reason behind it, which was totally overlooked by all. The heart of the problem lies in the tribe’s primitive structure, which is built around ideals that do not meet the terms of the spirit of the time in which the modern state was created.
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In other words, those tenets, which stem from pure clannishness, are in fact what were responsible for the insolence of some of the tribes’ idiosyncratic behaviour. Some tribes would refuse to abide by the laws of the state and would continually defy its dictates which regulate the relations of its people whom the tribe is merely a segment of.
Therefore, politicising the tribal structure through education of its members and cultivating amongst them the concept of loyalty to the homeland as an indivisible integrated entity was a vital necessity in a society where some of its sections were still guided by a tribal mentality fit for dwellers of the first millennium. The outcome would be eliminating their chauvinism and bias towards their tribes at the expense of the rights and interests of the rest of society. The hope would also be that it would generate and deepen in them a sense of belonging to the homeland as a single unit rather than to the clan, tribe or ethnic minority. This would lead to accomplishing the sovereignty of the state over all its various compositions, and consequently to the equality of all its citizens before its law regardless of the diversity of their tribal origin or ethnicity.
* * *
However, the reality, as we all know it, was during the monarchy era tribal bigotry dominated certain aspects of the political decision making process. This bred a chronic gulf in the relation between the ordinary citizen and the state. Ultimately the negative consequences of this led to the failure of the state to dictate its authority to efficiently enforce law and order.
Later on, the illegitimate rule of the military coup of September 1969 utilised this very same tribal bigotry to achieve its malignant designs.
Nevertheless, it has to be noted that the tribe is considered an important establishment within the fibre of Libyan society. Tribes form the major component the country’s population.
It is therefore, absolutely imperative that it is developed through acculturation and politicising of its members to give precedence to the belonging and loyalty to the homeland ahead of loyalty and belonging to the tribe, to eliminate the dual loyalty which most individuals of the tribal structure suffer from.
Tribal bigotry could be the motive behind Haj Mohammad El-Saifaat’s un-compromising stance towards the LCU. Not only did it stop him from supporting and aiding it, but it made him an active enemy who fought and resisted it from the day it was announced. This was due to the fact that the LCU’s initiative came from a person from amongst the urban populace, and did not originate from within the tribal structure which had been at the forefront of the struggle against foreign occupation of the country, and consequently, later ruled the country, in the post-independence period, by rallying around the person of the King.
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In order to give credence to this assertion, I will narrate, in what follows, certain relevant incidents and events.
Former Prime minister Hussein Maziq (may Allah bestow His mercy on him), who was the head of the Barassa tribe and one of the main pillars of the monarchy regime had come to know about Haj Mohammad El-Saifat’s hostile stance and activities towards the LCU. This enmity puzzled Mr. Maziq, for he knew that the main orientation of the LCU was based on the call for the return of constitutional legitimacy to the country through its unity around its representative King Idris Sennusi. He was bewildered because Haj Mohammad El-Saifat was considered one of the most prominent personalities of the Barassa tribe, which was once one of the pillars of King Idris Sennusi’s system of rule. Therefore it was not rational for El-Saifat to engage in this hostile act towards the LCU whose main ideas were based on what El-Saifaat and his tribe should stand for.
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In order to clarify the mystery surrounding this perplexing situation, Mr. Hussein Maziq sent a personal envoy on a fact finding mission with a set of specific questions to Haj Mohammad Elsaifat.
Firstly, he wanted to hear Haj El-Saifaat’s reasons for this questionable stance in this regard. For as things stood two conjectures were advanced as to explain Haj El-Saifaat’s hostile behaviour toward the LCU and his slandering of its founder Mohammed Ben Ghalbon. The first was that Haj El-Saifaat took this stand because he knew that the King did not bless the establishment of the LCU as Ben Ghalbon alleges. The second conjecture was that the LCU founder did not follow the proper protocol when he contacted and informed Haj El-Saifaat about the establishment of the referred to entity. Or perhaps he failed to grant Haj El-Saifaat his due recognition and respect merited by his prominent position and distinguished status. This could have caused Haj El-Saifaat to feel aggrieved and bitter and led him to adopt the aforesaid stance vis-à-vis the LCU and its founder, Mohammed Ben Ghalbon.
If the first conjecture was true and Ben Ghalbon’s claim was irrefutably proved to be false, then Haj El-Saifaat should neither be rebuked nor blamed. Or if it could be proved that Ben Ghalbon acted disrespectfully towards Haj El-Saifaat when he informed him of the establishment of the LCU, then the Ben Ghalbon family - which had strong ties with the questioner (Hussein Maziq) - would be contacted so that he (Mohamed Ben Ghalbon) could be rebuked and would be made to apologise to Haj El-Saifaat for any wrong that he might have committed against him.
Hussein Maziq’s messenger brought back to him Haj El-Saifaat’s answers to his questions. These answers indicated that the King had indeed blessed and encouraged the establishment of the LCU, and that Ben Ghalbon’s conduct, in dealing with haj El-Saifaat, was proper and his behaviour was in accordance with the standard rules and the accepted etiquette.
* * *
Haj El-Saifaat was found to have adopted his hostile stance vis-à-vis the LCU and its founder, Mohammed Ben Ghalbon simply because it was one of the townspeople, who came up with the idea that not only encompassed the seeds of the solution to the complicated Libyan case, but it would also disgrace the tribesmen, who ruled in the name of the King during the monarchy era and have now turned their backs on this commendable approach. It would also add to their feeling of bitterness as a result of their failure to initiate this enlightened idea before Mohammed Ben Ghalbon.
Therefore, it was imperative –“for their own interest”- that the LCU should be fought and made to fail so that it would not be a disgrace and a stigma testifying to the shortcomings of the tribal people in this regard. On the other hand there is nothing that would prevent any one from their midst from reformulating the above mentioned idea in the future.
The truth of the matter in all its ugliness became apparent to Mr Hussein Maziq, who blamed Haj El-Saifaat for this unjust stance and demanded he cease his hostile acts against the activities of the LCU and its founder Mohammed Ben Ghalbon, if he (El-Saifaat) could not bring himself to join, help and support him. Mr Hussein Maziq asked his messenger to inform me of all the details of what had happened. I have communicated all the details of this episode to the reader to show the effect of the tribal bigotry in advancing the interest of the tribe at the expense of the interest of the homeland.
Moreover, Mr Hussein Maziq instructed his messenger to relay to me from him a single phrase: “Forgive us!”
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To conclude, I find it necessary to mention a statement I heard from a member of the exiled Libyan national opposition movement regarding Haj El-Saifaat’s stance vis-à-vis the LCU and its founder, which Haj El-Saifaat did not hide from many of his conversation partners. I am relating this episode to further give my above assertions their rightful credibility.
Mr Saleh Jaouda related to me, in the presence of Mahmoud Shammam, Muftah Attayar and Mohammed Derby, that he had asked Haj El-Saifaat about the reason behind his hostility and enmity toward Mohammed Ben Ghalbon, and whether the reason for this enmity could be traced back to Ben Ghalbon’s political orientation as manifested in his establishment of the LCU; or could it be due to personal hatred toward Ben Ghalbon due of him not observing the proper etiquette when dealing with him.
Haj Elsaifat answered him by saying that there was nothing wrong with the core idea of the LCU. He added that in his dealings with me I had acted in a proper and rightful manner and that I had never wronged him. Further, Haj El-Saifaat continued by saying that had this idea originated from one of the significant Libyan personalities or a member of one of the known families –“like yours (Jaouda’s)”- he would not have bee bothered by the matter, but coming from Ben Ghalbon was for him absolutely “unbearable”.
To be continued…..
Mohamed Ben Ghalbon
2 December 2006