Emergence of Libyan Jews on Political Scene Revives Debate over Minorities
A meeting between United Nations envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, with the President of the Union of Jews of Libya, Raphael Luzon, in Geneva earlier this week revived a debate about the role non-Arab minorities can play in shaping the war-torn country’s future.
It raised questions about the ethnic and linguistic rights of minorities that encompass Jews, Amazighs, Tuaregs and Toubous. Since the overthrow of long-time ruler Moammar al-Gaddafi, the minorities have sought to obtain their constitutional and social rights from successive governments. They have also demanded that their languages and holidays be officially recognized.
Luzon revealed that he had obtained from the UN mission in Libya recognition of the Libyan Jews’ right to take part in future meetings about the country’s peace process. The announcement drew rejection and raised questions from other minorities about why the UN had so far neglected them as they too are part of the Libyan social fabric. Will they also be included in future meetings on Libya?
Ambassador Ibrahim Moussa Kerrada, a former senior aide at the UN, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the majority of Amazighs are based in Tripoli, Zuwara and Gadamis, as well as the cities of the Nafusa Mountains region.
The Amazighs of the desert are more commonly known as Tuaregs, he explained. They are mainly located in southwestern Libya.
Kerrada, who is also of the Amazigh minority, said that many Libyan cities, regions and tribes can trace their traditions to the Amazighs.
Moreover, during Gaddafi’s four decades in power, the Amazighs formed the largest opposition bloc inside Libya and abroad, he revealed.
He cited the “chauvinistic” treatment that forced them to oppose Gaddafi, adding that they were the first to join the February 27, 2011 revolt against him.
The period between 2012 and 2014 was good for the Amazighs and Libya in general, but ultimately, by the end 2014, the country had embarked on a dangerous path that among many other things, has seen the minority politically marginalized, he stated.
Since then, the Amazighs have boycotted parliamentary and constitutional panel elections, leaving them without representation at the legislature and the panel that is aimed at drafting a constitution, noted Kerrada.
Returning to Luzon’s announcement, the UN mission has yet to make a comment, but officials in Libya were quick to question the timing of the move given high tensions in the country.
MP Jaballah al-Shibani said the UN mission’s recognition of the Union of Jews of Libya as a party that should be represented in dialogue on the country’s future is a violation of its tasks.
With this recognition, the mission has moved from working on Libya’s stability to imposing a form of hegemony on the country, he stated.
“While recognizing them as Libyans, they are not parties in the conflict. Dialogue is usually restricted to the warring parties, not onlookers,” he remarked.
“We are not being racist, but we are questioning the timing of the move. Why now? And for whose interest? Why don’t we leave the Jewish issue to until after the state is restored,” he suggested. “Isn’t this a provocation against all Libyans? Couldn’t this lead to a boycott of the dialogue?”
An elder of the Toubou tribes expressed to Asharq Al-Awsat his disappointment that the demands of the Toubou have been ignored.
They are being constantly “punished” because they are non-Arabs, he declared.
He accused successive governments of neglecting their regions, citing poverty and youth unemployment among the Toubou population.
“Every political factions wants the Toubou to join them and fight for their cause. If we don’t, then we are discriminated against as non-Arabs,” he lamented.
He urged the UN mission to address their demands and include them in political life.
No official figures exist over the number of Jews in Libya. They are estimated at the dozens, who have immigrated from the country over the decades.