In September, the U.N. began a new round of talk to unite the political actors in Libya after the 2011 uprising. Officials from the West are hopeful that the talks will lead to an organized election process for next year, which will leave Libya in the hands of a government that could function independently and tackle the militant and illegal migrant issues that are destabilizing the nation’s security and economy.
However, the elders of the Warfalla tribe in Bani Walid prove that not such a process cannot be that easy. Bani Walid is a ‘hilltop town’ located 145 km southeast of Tripoli. The tribe of Warfalla that dominates that town had been strong supporters of Muammar Gaddafi and were among the last to support the revolution. The Warfalla account for 1.5 million out of six million Libyans, according to the elders council, and so without seat at the table,. there will be no negotiations at all about peace and stability in Libya.
“We are for dialogue… but the U.N. has never contacted us,” said Muftah Eftais, leader of the council of elders. “We are represented in all regions. If the U.N. wants a solution for Libya you need to talk (to us) the tribes,” said Eftais, with support from the assembled tribesmen.
The U.N. Libya office said its envoy, Ghassan Salame, met a group of Libyan notables including a Warfalla representative from Bani Walid in late October, and that other members of the U.N. mission had been in touch with town officials on political, human rights, humanitarian and economic matters.
At least two Warfalla delegates have also taken part in the latest talks in Tunis, a U.N. official said, but Eftais said the elders did not feel represented by them, highlighting Libya’s multi-layered divisions.
Bani Walid residents express their loyalty to the old regime openly. In the main square a Gaddafi-era green flag is hoisted next to pictures of “martyrs” killed in the 2011 violence and subsequent fighting. Cut off from Tripoli, they said their town has suffered even more than others from late public salary payments that have left people across the country struggling to get by, and from what they say are arbitrary detentions for their support of Gaddafi. “None of us 60 elders have been to Tripoli since 2011 because we fear getting arrested,” Eftais said. Two elders died in an ambush by unidentified gun men on the way home from peace talks in a town west of Bani Walid.
“The problem with Bani Walid is that they sided with Gaddafi and Gaddafi lost, and they can’t live with that,” said Abdulrahman Swehli, the head Tripoli’s State Supreme Council who is from the rival town of Misrata.
“We are neither with Sarrj nor with Haftar. Since 2011 the same people have been… in the GNC (parliament), government, playing musical chairs,” said Eftais.
The elders want the talks to take place in Libya, under the supervision of Libyans.
The U.N. says it is planning a “national conference” that would gather hundreds of representatives from across Libya and make any deal as inclusive as possible, bridging deep communal rifts.
Several residents said they would vote for the late Gaddafi’s most prominent son, Saif al-Islam, who made a last stand in Bani Walid before disappearing into the desert. His whereabouts are not clear. “Life was 100 times better under the old system. We had security, a salary, health care,” said Mohamed Hussein, a resident of Bani Walid.