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While Libya’s fledgling democracy has struggled to establish a stable transition from Gaddafi’s dictatorship, there have nevertheless been some positive developments for the country’s minority and indigenous communities, specifically in terms of securing recognition of their distinct cultural identity and language rights. This is particularly the case for the Imazighen (Berbers; singular Amazigh), long marginalized under the Gaddafi regime. For decades, the existence of the Imazighen as a distinct indigenous group was denied: the Tamazight language could not be taught in schools, children could not be registered with non-Arab names and books written in Tamazight were destroyed.
Since the fall of Gaddafi, bolstered by Amazigh activism, there has been a revival in use of the language as schools offering Tamazight lessons have been established, language textbooks have been printed and Tamazight media outlets have flourished. A law passed in 2013 recognized the Tamazight, Tuareg and Tebu languages and upheld the right of minorities to receive education in their mother tongue as a voluntary option. In August 2015, the first democratic elections for the Amazigh Supreme Council were held, and a body formed equally of men and women was created.
The challenge of Amazigh leaders remains securing recognition for their rights at the national and societal level, including by ensuring that the future Constitution includes Tamazight as an official language. Imazighen have already boycotted the Constitutional Drafting Committee, followed recently by Tuaregs and Tebu, due to what they see as the assembly’s exclusionary approach and lack of commitment to minority rights.
By Miriam Puttick
Originally published in State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2016.
Photo: Imazhigen women in Libya. Credit: Magharebia.