Libya: Berbers rally for cultural freedom

This week, Libya’s Berber (Amazigh) minority held the “First Libyan Amazigh Forum” in Tripoli, under the slogan: “Officialize the Amazigh language and support national unity.” The unprecedented conference, which started Sept. 26, opened with the new Libyan national anthem, sung in Arabic and Tamazight, the Berber language. Thousand took part in a Berber music festival, making the Libyan capital echo with lyrics in the long-banned language, with revelers raising the yellow, blue and green Berber flag. “We…want to tell the transitional government and the government…that the Amazighs are an integral part of political life,” said Fathi Abu Zakhar, chairman of the preparatory committee. “We want Tamazight inscribed as a right in the constitution.”

Forming some 10% of Libya’s population, the Berbers are principally in the Nafusa Mountains, and around the towns of Zuwarah and Ghadamis in the west of the country. In this region, they played the leading role in the revolution, while the official leadership around the National Transitional Council was based in Benghazi far to the east. (Al-Arabiya, Sept. 28)

But the Berbers aren’t the only ones demanding a place in the new Libya. Abdel Hakim Belhaj, the powerful NTC militia leader who had earlier led an anti-Qaddafi jihadist cell, warned that Islamists should not be ignored in the new government, writing in The Guardian Sept. 27: “What worries us is the attempt of some secular elements to isolate and ignore others. Libya’s Islamists have announced their commitment to democracy; despite this, some reject their participation and call for them to be marginalized. We will not allow this.”

Also this week, four Republican senators visited Tripoli, the most prominent official US delegation to travel to the Libyan capital since the fall of Qaddafi’s regime. Led by John McCain of Arizona, the delegation also included Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, and Marco Rubio of Florida. Echoing a refrain uttered by European leaders the week before, McCain assured Libya’s new rulers: “This is Libya’s revolution, not ours. You deserve all the credit for its success and you are responsible for its future.” (NYT, Sept. 29)

And there, in a nutshell, are the three basic forces contending for control of Libya’s future: Berbers and others of basically secular and progressive inclination fighting to keep their hard-won freedoms, Islamists who opposed Qaddafi for the wrong reasons (his secular tendencies) and are doubtless prepared to fight just as hard to take those freedoms away, and imperialists and their groomed proxies who only seek to restore a neo-colonial order. As we have maintained since the beginning of the Libyan war:

[T]he Libyan opposition does indeed seem to be a “hodge-podge”: In one corner, a small coterie of aspiring bourgeois-democratic technocrats (now in ascendance thanks to deals being quietly made in Paris and Washington); in the other, a few fanatical cells of jihadi types…and in the middle, a very large swath of very angry Libyans who have no particular ideological commitment but basically secular and progressive instincts. These are the people we must root for.

This assessment has not changed.

See our last posts on Libya, the Arab revolutions and the Berber struggle.

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  1. Will Jews be able to boogie in “liberated” Libya?
    The wire services have been covering the efforts of returned Libyan Jewish exile David Gerbi to restore Tripoli’s long-closed synagogue—and the threats he has predictably been meeting with. We’ve been following the story at our sibling website New Jewish Resistance.