Jay Deshmukh, AFP
Last updated: 27 November, 2011

Libya’s Berbers warn of campaign against government

Hundreds of minority Amazigh Berbers warned Sunday of a steadfast campaign against the new government as they demanded an apology from Libya’s premier for excluding their community from his cabinet.

“The revolution has not ended. It continues,” shouted protesters as they pounded their fists and palms on the front wall and pillars of the prime minister’s office building in Tripoli.

They marched to Abdel Rahim al-Kib’s office from Tripoli’s landmark Martyrs Square where they had gathered early on Sunday.

The Berbers, who make up about 10 percent of Libya’s six million people, are angry after their community was left unrepresented when a new cabinet was unveiled last week.

They also want their rights and language, Tamazight, to be officially recognised in the new Libya.

“Our people want an apology from the prime minister. We want to know why we are being isolated. Our people fear that there will be repetition of what happened under (Moamer) Kadhafi,” said prominent Amazigh activist Suleiman Dogha who had worked closely with Seif al-Islam, Kadhafi’s most prominent son.

“They feel the new government has deliberately excluded their community,” said Dogha, who was one of the first vocal opponents of the Kadhafi regime when the rebellion erupted in February.

Some protesters vented their fury at Kib when he briefly emerged from the building to meet them.

“He said ‘I love Amazighs.’ That is not what we want to hear. That is something given as we all are Libyans,” said Youbas Halab, an art student, who said some protesters even shouted abuse at Kib.

“We wanted him to speak with us on this specific subject. But he did not and he went inside the building within minutes.”

A delegation of Berbers later met Kib.

During Kadhafi’s 42 years of hardline rule, the Amazighs — whose name means “free men” — were banned from speaking in public and writing or printing anything in Tamazight.

The Berbers have been in Libya since before the Arab conquest in the seventh century, and are remembered for their military resistance to the Italian occupation which ended 60 years ago.

A minority nationwide, the Amazighs form a majority in the northwestern Nafusa mountains, in the Zuwarah region 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of Tripoli and in Ghadamis province on the frontier with Algeria.

The Berbers are also angry because they were active from the start of the revolt against Kadhafi when they worked with the Arabs to topple the regime.

With the war over, they now want to contribute and take their place in Libya’s political and cultural life.

Earlier on Sunday they demonstrated at Martyrs Square in Tripoli.

Chanting “Take our minister,” more than 500 Amazighs — men, women and children — waved their blue, green and yellow flag as they set out to march to Kib’s office.

They demanded that their rights be accepted, also yelling: “Tamazight is our language and it must be recognised!”

Lawyer Milod Ahmed, a member of the National Amazigh Congress, told AFP that the local council of Zuwarah had “frozen its ties with the National Transitional Council over the past five days” in protest at the new government.

Interim premier Kib “had said that his cabinet would be made of technocrats (but) where are these technocrats?” asked Khaled Zikri, an adviser to the finance ministry who is himself an Amazigh.

“If this is true, then we have several qualified technocrats,” he said.

After Tuesday’s unveiling of the cabinet, the National Amazigh Congress called on all Libyans, and Berbers in particular, to end cooperation with the NTC and government.

Later Sunday the protesters left Kib’s office compound and returned to Martyrs Square.

“Our delegation has submitted our demands. But our fight continues. We will demonstrate from here at the square,” said Wail Eln Moammer.