In Bedouin tents set up for the occasion at Solh Square in Mathani Village in Matrouh—209 kilometers west of Alexandria— notables of the Egyptian Jamiyat Tribe (Beit Abu Subaiha) lined up to welcome their guests from the Obeidat tribe from eastern Libya to end a feud that lasted for 37 years.

In Bedouin tents set up for the occasion at Solh Square in Mathani Village in Matrouh—209 kilometers west of Alexandria— notables of the Egyptian Jamiyat Tribe (Beit Abu Subaiha) lined up to welcome their guests from the Obeidat tribe from eastern Libya to end a feud that lasted for 37 years.

The Obeidat tribe is one of the largest tribes of Haraba in eastern Libya. They came to offer 100 camels (a total worth of 400,000 Egyptian Pounds— US $57,000) as compensation for the death inflicted by one of its members at the Libyan border, a guard who killed a member of the Jamiyat tribe of Matrouh Governorate, whose eight districts account for one fourth of Egypt’s area. The incident happened in 1976 when the latter trespassed the Libyan territory.

Search and investigation

The meeting was a slightly delayed and Jamiyat members prepared the banquet to welcome Libyan delegates who were held up by the formalities at the Salloum border crossing.

The family of the deceased was present at the meeting. “My cousin Abu Bakr Jaber Yadem entered Libya illegally in 1976. A border guard shot him accidentally and left him bleeding to death, which we considered an involuntary manslaughter. Since then, we have carried investigations to locate the killer until we could identify him through a Libyan doctor who maintained friendly relations with my relatives. We contacted the killer’s family and an agreement was reached, whereby a reconciliatory delegation was to be sent,” his cousin said.

Opening ceremonies

The reconciliation meeting proceeded with the head of Jamiyat tribe Abdel Rahman Mohammad Abdel Rahman reciting some Koranic verses about forgiveness and tolerance, signifying the tribe’s tendency to forget and forgive.

The tribal head then declared amnesty for the killer without accepting any compensation, thus ending the feud that lasted 37 years. He attributed the dispute to the two countries’ former regimes that encouraged “tribalism and fueled bloodshed among members of the same tribe,” he said.

The speech by the Jamiyat tribal chief was met with applause after which Head of the Libyan Obeidat tribe Saleh Jabali, expressed his delight with what he described as the generosity of his cousins in Matrouh and said, “We must all adhere to the spirit of Islam, which promotes forgiveness and tolerance impeded in the Bedouins of Egypt’s Western Desert”.

Following these ceremonial speeches, covered by several media outlets, all attendants sat around the banquet of rice and meat as is the custom of Arab tribes.

Among the 2000 people present at the ceremony was Matrouh Governor, Major General Ahmad Heiatmi, Matrouh Security Chief Anani Hamouda, a representative of the military’s western command, the governorate’s tribal chiefs and religious leaders and elders headed by the president of the tribal council’s chief Ahmad Tarram, in addition to leading figures from Nour Party and Salafist Dawa movement in Matrouh and representatives from the Shura Council.

Patrol accident

Sheikh Ali Ahlyl, chief of the Ghaith Khadim tribe, an off-shoot of the Obeidat tribe, which is comprised of 13 households, stressed that the dispute between them and the Jumiyat had not got to the point of claiming the life of a member of the Obeidat tribe, given that the tribe was not to blame for it in the first place, as the patrol was affiliated with the government, according to the Sheikh.

“Our attendance was only nominal because we and Ali’s children are brothers. They were somewhat critical for neglecting the subject, which is an insult according to tribal customs. Therefore, we decided to go to gratify them and restore past intimacy since we cannot overlook their blame,” he added.

Sheikh Ahlyl emphasized that tribal common law in Libya, through which all disputes are resolved, is binding to all members. Upon accidents, death, theft, robbery or assault on honor, a number of tribe’s elders approved within the tribe form a delegate to investigate the type of committed act. They then bring both disputing parties face to face to prepare a written agreement signed by both the offended and the offender in addition to the attending elders.

The agreement contains a ruling enacted against the offender that must be implemented. Upon having the offended family’s signature on the agreement, it will accordingly be binding against any action likely to provoke hostility or incite trouble, according to Sheikh Edyl.

‘Masar and Derba’

Reconciliation meetings are a familiar tradition among tribes and clans and found in a number of Arab countries including Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq. They aim to resolve disputes outside state intervention. The inhabitants of the two disputing tribes are bound by what the tribal chiefs agree upon during these meetings. It is customary that the meetings start with a speech recited by the tribal elders who are known for their sagacity and eloquence. In cases of murder, meetings usually end with either an acceptance of monetary compensation or forgiveness.

These reconciliation meetings are referred to by Libyan tribes as ‘Masar’ while other tribes inhabiting Egypt’s western desert call them ‘Derba Awlad Ali,’ in reference to the Libyan Ali’s tribe’s members. These traditions started four centuries ago.

Explaining these traditions, Egyptian researcher of Bedouin heritage Dr. Hamad Khaled said: “Every society has its own customs and traditions that distinguish it from other communities and each group on the face of the earth has a law that governs and regulates relations between individuals and groups.”

“Egypt’s western desert and eastern Libya inhabited by Ali’s descendants represent a vast and expansive area populated by Bedouin tribes. More than 370 years back, there was no presence of government departments or police forces. There was a need for a government system to preserve inhabitants’ rights and protect security. Hence, ‘derba,’ which means the path that binds all tribes, was conceived.”

According to Khaled, the tribal leaders and wise elders “Met after the emergence of ‘derba’s conception in 1064 AH in Hujfa in the Butnan district, across the Libyan-Egyptian eastern borders where ‘derba’ was initiated and served as a penal code and a safety valve among tribal members. It resolved their disputes and all other civil as well as personal complaints, including all types of offenses and felonies. Despite the changes that occurred over the past centuries, ‘Derba Awlad Ali’ is still effective until this today,” Khaled concluded.

This article was a cooperative effort between Correspondents’ Egyptian as well as Libyan editorial offices.