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Libya and the Amazigh: De-escalating tension and increasing political representation

Libya and the Amazigh: De-escalating tension and increasing political representation

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Saturday 2 December 202310:49 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

ماذا يريد الدبيبة من أمازيغ ليبيا؟ ولماذا تراجع دورهم؟

Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, prime minister of Libya under the interim Government of National Unity, has backed down from attempts to impose forceful control over minority Amazigh areas in the west of the country. Nonetheless, concerns among the Amazigh persist. There are fears that the recent developments could revive the controversy surrounding giving the Amazigh their deprived rights, and escalate at any moment into a civil war.

Exacerbated tensions between Dbeibeh and the Amazigh have highlighted the diminished role of the Amazigh in positions of leadership, especially in contrast to during the royal era, before the military coup in September 1969. Just last week, Dbeibeh included the Amazigh issue in a list of problems issued by his government. Military forces moved into Amazigh regions under the pretext of securing the border crossing and the coastal city of Zuwara near the Tunisian border. In response, Amazighs threatened to declare war on Dbeibeh's militias.

Mohammed al-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, has intervened to prevent potential clashes between the Amazigh and Dbeibeh’s forces. He instructed military leaders not to act and ordered the immediate return of the units already dispatched.

Is the crisis over?

An anonymous source in Libya’s Presidential Council, chaired by Mohamed al-Menfi in Tripoli, confirmed to Raseef22 that government forces, led by Dbeibeh, have now “retreated from their plans to enter Amazigh areas or control them.” Our source concludes that “there is currently no problem."

An official at the Joint Chamber Forces, formed by Interior Minister Imad al-Tarabulsi, corroborated these claims, telling Raseef22 that there are no controversial military movements.

Prompted by recent developments, Mohammed al-Menfi, chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya, has intervened in this crisis to prevent potential clashes between the Amazigh and Dbeibeh’s forces. After meeting in Tripoli to discuss the situation with Dbeibeh and the Defense and Security Council, among others, al-Menfi issued a secret and urgent official letter, instructing leaders of all military units in the western region to withhold military action without his permission. He also ordered the immediate return of those units that had already been dispatched.

The situation remains tense

Fathi Ben Khalifa, president of the Libu Party and former President of World Amazigh Congress, told Raseef22 that “the situation remains tense, and we are in a state of alert,” emphasizing that “Dbeibeh and his gang are not safe.”

Ben Khalifa believes the situation will escalate, sharing, “Unfortunately, there will be more rounds of chaos and confusion,” before adding, “We, as Amazigh, are vigilant and wish peace for the country, but we will not allow our dignity, identity, presence, or political rights to be trampled upon.” He pointed out that “what is happening is a historical absurdity, for which we pay the price in lives, blood, and futile effort.”

In a statement from its president, al-Hadi Barqiq, the Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council warned Dbeibeh against reaching “a point of no return”, and condemned the lack of constitutional rights for the Amazighs. After discussing what he described as the intentional marginalization of the Amazighs within the military, security and in politics, Barqiq accused factions of the Dbeibeh government of representing external agendas, and of dragging the country from political discord into social and racial division.

In a recent meeting held in Zuwara between the Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council and a number of dignitaries and military leaders, it was agreed that provocations by the Dbeibeh government were no longer acceptable. Parties at the meeting expressed fears that this could plunge the country into a state of increased tension, and even, a civil war. It was concluded that the battle against the Amazigh, led by certain security apparatuses affiliated with the Dbeibeh government, will undermine civil peace.

Out of control outlets

Rabia Bouras, a member of the House of Representatives, believes that the Dbeibeh government’s escalations against the Amazigh increases conflict and highlights regional injustice, corruption, and favoritism. Meanwhile, Mohammed Bayo, former head of the dissolved Libyan Media Foundation, pointed out that the majority of Libya’s land, air, and sea are not under state control. Rather, they are managed by separate groups, entities, regions, tribes, and organizations of power outside the law. So why are Dbeibeh and his government focused solely on the tiny Ras Ajdir in the west of the country?

Since 2011, the Amazigh in the city of Zuwara have been able to converse in their language and engage in their culture. The Amazigh account for 10-20% of Libya’s total population, and demand greater cultural and ethnic rights and recognition.

Historical repression and marginalization

There is no Amazigh representation within the dual Libyan government, consisting of the Presidential Council and the Dbeibeh government. Nouri Abusahmain, from the coastal town of Zuwara, previously chaired the General National Congress (the former parliament) in 2013, marking a rare ascent for a member of the Amazigh minority after decades of suppression by Muammar Gaddafi's regime, which oppressed Amazigh culture and banned its language. Abusahmain was the first Amazigh person to hold a high government position since Libya’s royal era.

In the 12 years since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime, the Amazigh in the city of Zuwara, 120 kilometers west of Tripoli, are able to converse in their language and engage in their culture. However, they demand greater cultural and ethnic rights and recognition in Libya's upcoming and anticipated constitution. Estimates suggest that the Amazigh account for 10-20% of Libya’s total population. The figure is unknown, as there is currently no official census on their numbers.

They previously rejected electoral laws after their demands for representation in the 6+6 Joint Committee were ignored by both the House of Representatives and the State Council, and called on the High Electoral Commission to increase their regional allocation in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

The Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council considers that these laws are basic international and national criteria, noting that the division of electoral districts confirms dubious intentions. The Council called for fairness and justice in the division and distribution of these districts.

The Amazigh and the State Option

Ben Khalifa lamented that “all of this chaos has taken place in the absence of competence.” Ben Khalifa explained that those in power have gained control “without any legitimacy, efficiency, or qualification, but merely by chance, luck, deals, bribes, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering. The best example of their failure is their inability even to solve the simplest administrative issues, and the results are always catastrophic.”

But does the Amazigh's refusal to allow government forces in their region imply that they do not consider themselves part of the Libyan state?

Ben Khalifa responds to this question, saying, “On the contrary, this is evidence that the Amazigh are the most capable people to understand the importance of the Libyan state because the state is not built haphazardly, hastily, or hastily. Instead, it is built with wisdom, a genuine peaceful democratic approach, and the consensus of the population. Any entitlement that is not achieved through agreement, harmony, and integration and is based on exclusion and domination, and will not build the state.”

He questions what the differences are between Libya presently and during the rule of Gaddafi. “Now there are kidnappings and killings without trials, embezzlement of public funds, tribalism, and regionalism. We distance ourselves from this style of governance; the Libyan state will only be democratic in the absence of collusion and external subservience.”

Ben Khalifa raises the post-2011 era, “At a time when all parties were seeking foreign support, we [the Amazigh] were, and still are, in favor of building a modern democratic Libyan state.”

Fathi Ben Khalifa tells Raseef22, “We warn that any forces threatening the Amazigh will be met with severe consequences. The military forces that sought to control the strategic city of Zuwara were turned away by our unity.”

He affirms that “the Amazigh are fine, and its regions across Libya are safe, even in terms of petty crime. We are a harmonious, cohesive, patient, and wise society that has not entered the vortex of power struggles, boycotting parliamentary and constitutional elections. We have deemed this path and its distortion invalid from the beginning.”

For Ben Khalifa, as for other members of the Amazigh minority, it is a point of pride that the community has not engaged in Libya’s political chaos. “We have stayed away from all these delusions, and, as we say in Libya, ‘Whoever ties it with his hands, let him untie it with his teeth.’”

“Of course, we have warned and continue to warn that any force that appears to threaten the unity of the Amazigh and their lands will be met with severe consequences. Ultimately, the forces that sought to control the strategic city of Zuwara were turned away by the unity of the Amazigh,” Ben Khalifa concludes.

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