Analysis: Libyan minority rights at a crossroads | IRIN News
Since Muammar Gaddafi’s fall seven months ago, Libya’s non-Arab minorities, including an estimated 250,000 Tuaregs, have begun more vehemently to insist on their rights.
“Gaddafi’s policy was ‘keep your dog hungry so that he follows you’,” said one Tuareg activist, al-Hafiz Mohamed Sheikh. “This means keeping people in need. With Tuaregs, he said many times that we would have our rights, but he never fulfilled his promises. Sometimes he would favour some individuals, but not whole communities.”
Flying over the ramshackle houses in Tayuri settlement in Libya’s southwestern city of Sebha are the blue, green and yellow flags of the Imazighen (non-Arab minorities). During Gaddafi’s time, the Imazighen, including the Tuaregs, experienced cultural and political marginalization, with the regime instituting an all-encompassing pan-Arabic ideology and refusing to recognize them as a distinct ethnic group indigenous to the country and the region.
Since Gaddafi’s fall, nine new local associations have emerged in Tayuri promoting the rights of Tuaregs.
According to the International Crisis Group, the Arabization of Imazighen communities, “advanced more rapidly and completely in Libya than in any other Maghreb country”.
Law 24 forbids the Imazighen, including Tuaregs, from giving their children non-Arab names, and those who attended cultural celebrations in neighbouring countries were arrested upon their return to Libya.
While Gaddafi absorbed a large number of Tuaregs into his army and is said to have used a number of them as mercenaries during the uprising, many suffered from the same historic marginalization as other minority groups.
Nine-tenths of Libyans live along the Mediterranean coast, and many see non-Arab southerners as belonging more to “Africa” than Libya. Tuaregs, a nomadic pastoralist group, are also found in Algeria, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Photo: Gigi Tagliapietra/Flickr