Excluded from cabinet, Libya's Berbers fear isolation

Fri Nov 25, 2011 12:22pm EST
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By Oliver Holmes

JADU, Libya (Reuters) - After playing a central role in the revolt that toppled Muammar Gaddafi, members of Libya's long-oppressed Berber minority, known among themselves as Amazigh, thought they had finally won a voice.

But a new interim government lineup that did not give them even a single cabinet seat has caused alarm that they may once again be banished to the sidelines of public life.

"We do not disagree with the new government, but we want to be represented and included with ministerial positions. We feel we are not included," said Ali Muhammed Shetwi, a senior member of the council of Jadu, an Amazigh town of roughly 20,000 perched on the cliff of a plateau in Libya's Western, or Nafusa, Mountains.

Shetwi was dressed in a similar style to Arab elders in the region, with a white robe knotted at his shoulder, a skull cap and brown waistcoat. It was only the subtle red and blue Amazigh design sewn at the hem of his clothes that differentiated him from the majority Arab population in Libya.

The tension between Amazigh and Arabs is one of the deepest of the many faultlines inside Libyan society which will make it hard to forge a united and cohesive state out of the ruins of Gaddafi's 42-year-rule.

Amazigh leaders responded immediately when the 51-member National Transitional Council (NTC) named the new government on Tuesday without including a single Amazigh minister.

On Wednesday, a group calling itself the Libyan Amazigh Congress said it was suspending all relations with the NTC. When the cabinet was inaugurated on Thursday, five Amazigh NTC members boycotted the ceremony.


<p>Members of the Libyan Amazigh or Berber ethnic group celebrate at a rally at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli September 27, 2011. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem</p>