At the end of December, Libya’s prime minister in Tripoli, Fayez Serraj, announced that Libyan families displaced from the town of Tawergha since the start of the country’s civil war in 2011 could return home. The people of Tawergha allegedly fought on the side of deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Their return to Tawergha, in western Libya, will mark one of the first successful reconciliation efforts between embattled communities in the country. In an email interview, Jalel Harchaoui, a doctoral candidate in geopolitics at Paris 8 University focusing on Libya, discusses the ongoing obstacles to communal reconciliation.
WPR: What has been the fate of the Tawergha community since they were driven from their town during the war, and what is behind the government’s decision to let Tawerghans return home at this stage in Libya’s conflict?
Jalel Harchaoui: The case of Tawergha cannot be separated from the four-decade rule of Moammar Gadhafi, during which he often favored historically neglected communities while undercutting groups traditionally perceived as elites. By doing so, he created internal tensions that helped him retain power. When it came to Tawergha—a town that historically was a hub for the trade of sub-Saharan slaves—Gadhafi used its racially distinct population to counterbalance the ambitious business class hailing from the nearby merchant city of Misrata, a segment of the population he viewed as a challenge to his tyranny.