Women, Berber rights at issue in Libya constitution

The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)

Women's rights activists have angrily taken to Twitter and other social media after the CDA apparently backtracked on a major issue. While a previous draft of the new constitution had allowed women to pass on their nationality to their children, the latest version has removed that provision, sparking online outrage. (Al Bawaba, May 1)

An April 30 meeting by CDA members with the Libyan Amazigh High Council (LAHC) in the western town of Zuwara was especially conentious. The CDA is trying to convince leaders of the Amazigh (Berber) people to join the drafting process, which they are now boycotting, accusing the body of having an undemocratic structure. The LAHC has urged Libyans not to recognize any draft devised by the CDA. (Libya Observer, April 30)

The LAHC has issued its own statement declaring the language of the Amazigh people, Tamazight, as an "official language" in the cities and districts inhabited by the Amazigh in Libya. "This legal status that was given to the Amazigh language is the first step that will preserve the Berber identity and culture without awaiting the actions of the state institutions, which are undergoing political upheaval and legal deterioration," the statement said.

LAHC member Siham Bentaleb added that the Amazigh language will be studied in public schools, and used in official documents and on road signs. "We will keep on pushing until we get the language the legal status it deserves by the new Libyan constitution," she pledged, while disavowing any separatist aspirations. (Libya Observer, Feb. 22)

Leaders of the Toubou (Tebu) people in Libya's south also rejected the draft as a threat to their community, and accused the CDA of acting in chauvinistic manner toward them.  (Libya Observer, April 24)

In the face of growing sectionalism, some Libyans are calling for a return to the pre-Qaddafi 1963 constitution, which divided the country into three entities on federalist principles: Tripolitania in the west, Cyrenaica in the east, and Fezzan in the south. Others strenuously reject this as a step toward the country's balkanization. (Libyan Express, March 29)