Libya: Berbers overrun Congress building?

Reports are divided on whether members of Libya’s Berber minority forced their way into the General National Congress building in Tripoli on Aug. 13, smashing windows and destroying furniture, during a demonstration to press for greater recognition. Reuters, in a rare mention of the Berber political struggle, cited the claims of Congress member Omar Hmaiden. But Libya’s local media quoted other lawmakers as saying the incursion never took place. The protest outside the Congress building did bring traffic to halt, as hundreds of Berbers gathered to oppose a law approved last month to reserve just two of the seats on the Constitutional Commission for members of their community. Berber activists charges that Congress is deliberately marginalizing Libya’s ethnic minorities. Two seats each were also reserved for the Tuareg and Tebu (Toubou) communities.

The protest was organized by the Supreme Amazigh Council of Libya, along with town councils in the Tamazight-speaking areas of the Jebel Nafusa, such as Jadu, Nalut and Yefren. The Supreme Amazigh Council, along with the Supreme Tuareg Council and the Tebu National Assembly, last month threatened to boycott the elections to the 60-member Commission if they were not given more than the apportioned two seats each.

Berber leaders estimate that there are at least three-quarters of a million Libyans who identify as members of the Berber or Amazigh people (out of a total population of 6.4 million). Tamazight is spoken by far fewer of these, but a variant of the language is also spoken by the Tuareg. The language was effectively banned under the Qaddafi regime, and has seen a reflorescence since the dictator’s fall. However, calls for Libya to follow Morocco’s example and make it an official language are meeting resistance from lawmakers. Hisham Hamadi, a member of the legal committee of the Supreme Amazigh Council, warned that the Jebel Nafusa would declare itself an autonomous province, in control of all its natural resources, if the GNC remains intransigent on Berber demands.  (ReutersLibya Herald, Aug. 13; Weekly Ahram, Egypt, July 23)

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