Libya Tribune

By Nourredine Bessadi

In regions inhabited by the Amazighs of Libya, General Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli and the Arab nationalism it embodies raises deep concerns.

n Libya, most of the Amazigh territories are concentrated in the west of the country, with Zouara on the Mediterranean coast and, to the southwest of Tripoli, a large part of Djebel Nefoussa. This last territory represents the most important Libyan Amazigh group. 

But we must also count the oasis of Ghadames, to the southwest, at the meeting of the Algerian-Tunisian-Libyan borders. Further south, along the Algerian border to that of Niger, we find the Tuaregs, whose confederation straddles Libya and Algeria. 

In addition, Tripoli, the capital, is inhabited by a strong Amazigh community which has its interests there, thanks to its numerous activities, notably commercial.

As everywhere in North Africa, the demographic evaluation of this Libyan Amazigh population is difficult to make in the absence of linguistic censuses. 

If we rely on official Libyan sources, the Amazigh represent, according to the most common figure, 10% of the global population. For the most part, they are located in the regions of Zouara and Djebel Nefoussa, the population being estimated at around 700,000 people.

At the start of this Amazigh new year, in Zouara, a coastal enclave of 80,000 inhabitants in the far west of Libya, near the border with Tunisia, the Amazigh emblem is everywhere displayed. 

The standard, struck at its heart by the character Z, symbol of Amazighity, in the Tifinagh alphabet, floats on all the facades of the city’s official buildings. 

This is the case in all the localities and regions inhabited by the Amazighs in Libya: the Amazigh identity is displayed with pride, thus illustrating the evolution of Libya after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Indeed, since February 2011, events have propelled the Amazighs of Libya to the fore and highlighted their considerable role in the fight against the regime of the time. 

On the Tripolitan front, that of the west of the country, the military engagement of the Amazighs represented a decisive contribution to the final collapse of the Gaddafi regime and to the capture of Tripoli. 

Haftar’s Arabist claim 

However, since the start of Marshal Haftar’s troops offensive on Tripoli on April 4, 2019, concern has been palpable among the Amazigh populations. An even greater concern since the intensification of the fighting in December 2019.

The Amazighs had distanced themselves from the National Unity Government (GNA) of Tripoli from the start of the Skhirat process in 2015, from which they had been excluded.

However, the bellicose attitude of Marshal Haftar and the manifest Arabist assertion of his army pushed them to lift their reservations with regard to Fayez al-Sarraj and to mobilize their armed groups, at least defensively, by his side .

Talaat Mohamed Baghni, Libyan political activist, says that “all the Amazigh regions have taken a decision with a clear orientation, that of supporting international legitimacy represented by the Government of national unity, led by Fayez al-Sarraj, against the aggression against the capital, Tripoli, by the Haftar militia supported by Egypt, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France. ”  

When asked if this is a position shared by all the Amazighs in Libya, our interlocutor replied that this was a decision “supported by declarations and leaflets from all the municipalities of the Amazigh regions in Libya. “

For his part, Wael Abou Zeid, a Libyan researcher living in Zouara, says that the Amazighs of Libya “are hostile to Haftar because his ideology is exclusive, based on an Arab nationalist thought, which emerges from the very name of his army, the Arab armed forces. ” 

Regarding the intervention of Turkish troops, Wael Abou Zeid believes that this is by no means the first foreign intervention in Libya. “Before the Turks, there were the interventions of the Emiratis, the Egyptians, the Sudanese and also the Russians. “

He also believes that the Turks are intervening “following a defense agreement between the only legitimate government in Libya and the Turks. “

Insisting on legitimacy, the researcher believes that the Government of national unity is the only internationally recognized one because “it is the result of the Skhirat agreements in 2015”.

For Ibrahim Mousa Said Grada, former Libyan ambassador and former adviser to the United Nations, “the Berber regions which joined the revolution of February 2011 since its beginnings contributed in a very significant way to the popular uprising and to the efforts on the ground during the battles of the Libyan revolution. They registered many victims and were subjected to sieges and displacement ”.

Fatwas calling for the Atonement of the Amazighs

“Since the start of the offensive on Tripoli, all the Amazighs have aligned themselves with the positions of the forces defending Tripoli and have thus joined the forces of popular support for the forces of the legitimate Government of national unity despite the feeling of exclusion and of ostracism felt on the part of this government ”, adds Ibrahim Mousa Said Grada.

The former ambassador added that the Amazigh joined the defense of Tripoli for “several reasons”. 

First, a “categorical refusal in principle to return to the totalitarian military dictatorship in view of what they suffered as denial and persecution during the Gaddafi era,” he explains.

Then, “their bet for a state of democratic civil citizenship, the leadership of Haftar’s forces and the interim government which supports him, maintaining an Arabist and xenophobic discourse, in particular by baptizing his troops” the Libyan Arab armed forces “”.

He also evokes “the issuance of fatwas by the authority of religious property affiliated with Haftar, calling for the expiation of the Amazighs of northern Libya, mainly Ibadi, this coinciding with the wave of sectarian salafism, supported by Saudi Wahhabism “. 

Finally, the Libyan Amazighs “cherish and regard Tripoli as a symbol and a pluralist national capital for all Libyans. “

Today, although the Amazighs of Libya are overwhelmingly on the side of the Government of national unity of Fayez al-Sarraj, this does not mean that they are giving it a blank check.

The Islamo-nationalist, non-civil doctrine of this government in no way recognizes the cultural and linguistic diversity in Libya. In addition, the intervention of Erdoğan’s Turkey, the one who has not hesitated to subdue the Kurds in their blood, does not reassure them any more. 

However, despite distrust of Fayez al-Sarraj and his government, hostility to Marshal Haftar seems to weigh heavily on the position of the Libyan Amazighs. At least for the moment. 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of  Middle East Eye .

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Nourredine Bessadi is a teacher-researcher at Mouloud-Mammeri University in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria. He is also a freelance translator and consultant. He works on issues related to gender, language policies, human rights and Internet governance.

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