Since the Libyan revolution and fall of Muammar Gadhafi in 2011, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) have taken advantage of the subsequent lack of security to secure a foothold in the country. The south, however, has proved resilient to VEO recruitment. This report examines the two dominant southern tribes to identify both their vulnerabilities and their resilience to provide cultural context and guidance for those combating violent extremism in North Africa and hoping to foster resilience in local communities there. 


  • Since the 2011 Libyan revolution and the fall of Muammar Gadhafi’s regime, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) have taken advantage of the lack of security and secured a foothold in Libya and the surrounding region.
  • Recruitment into Libya-based VEOs has increased since 2011, coastal cities in the north—such as Benghazi, Tripoli, Sabratha, and Derna—experiencing more than the rest of the country.
  • Local communities in southern Libya are vulnerable in the face of political and social marginalization, no effective government presence, VEO activity in the region, and few economic opportunities.
  • Research suggests that these factors make VEO recruitment more likely, yet among the two dominant tribes in that region—the Toubou and the Tuareq—recruitment is notably low and community resilience notably high.
  • Tribal identity plays an important role in building an individual identity, and a well-defined and cohesive tribal identity is a major resilience factor that protects these communities from VEO recruitment.
  • The factors that make each of these groups resilient and resistant to VEO recruitment are distinct, but overlap with one another and include commonalities based on social structure.
  • Gender norms play a significant role in community resilience. The relative rigidity of gender roles and the level of community resilience are strongly correlated, rigidity in norms being negatively correlated with resilience and thus the likelihood that a community will be resistant to VEO recruitment.
  • Gender norms refer to both men and women; the concept of honor for men in these cultures shapes Toubou and Tuareq masculinity to assuage violence and to protect their community by protecting tribal traditions and culture.
  • The cultural role of women in these communities counterbalances existing vulnerabilities such as social and political exclusion and strengthens their ethnic and tribal identities in lieu of a national one.

About the Report

This report provides cultural context and guidance for practitioners and policymakers working in the field of countering violent extremism (CVE) in North Africa. Based on research conducted in 2015 and 2016 in Libya and Tunisia that includes surveys and in-depth interviews with members of the Toubou and Tuareq tribes, it is part of ongoing United States Institute of Peace (USIP) efforts to develop and implement training and capacity-building programs that support CVE objectives.

About the Author

Manal Taha is a Sudanese-born American scholar who as Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at USIP studies violent extremism in Sudan, Libya, Niger, and Chad.

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