North Africa: Libya's Bereber Minority Still Out in the Cold

document

This cable was created on 03 July 2008, according to WikiLeaks.

C O N F I D E N T I A L TRIPOLI 000530

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/MAG AND DRL/NESCA

E.O. 12958: DECL:  6/25/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ODIP LY
SUBJECT: LIBYA'S BERBER MINORITY STILL OUT IN THE COLD

CLASSIFIED BY: Chris Stevens, CDA, AmEmbassy Tripoli, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)  1.  (C)  Summary: Despite some evidence in 2007 of a thaw in Libya's decades-long marginalization of its Berber minority, the Government of Libya (GOL) has recently renewed its vigorous denials that any ethno-linguistically distinct Berber communities exist on Libyan territory.  In May, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi made an unprecedented visit to the Berber heartland to praise the "Arab belonging and destiny" of the Libyan people, and to decry "foreign intelligence plots" to fracture Libyans along ethnic or sectarian lines.  Post's efforts to visit areas with significant Berber populations and to meet with government officials to discuss Libya's Berber heritage have met with angry GOL denials and accusations of "unacceptable interference" in Libya's domestic affairs.  The GOL took the unusual step of forbidding all Embassy personnel from visiting the town of Zuwara, a large Berber community.  The GOL's hard line on Libya's Berber minority underscores that sectarian and ethnic identity remains a sensitive issue for influential elements of the regime.  End summary.  DESPITE MELLOWING, OFFICIAL DENIAL THAT LIBYA IS ANYTHING BUT HOMOGENEOUS PERSIST  2.  (C)  In 2007, the GOL showed some evidence of mellowing its long-standing denials that any Berber community exists on Libyan territory.  (Note: Post and other international observers estimate that 25,000 to 150,000 ethnic Berbers live in Libya. End note.)  The GOL for the first time granted permission to the Amazigh (or Berber) World Congress to host a large gathering in Tripoli in August 2007.  PM Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi and Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, Qadhafi's second oldest son and president of the Qadhafi Development Foundation, made high-profile visits in August and September 2007 to the predominantly Berber communities around Zuwara, Nalut, and Kabao to announce major infrastructure investments designed to revitalize Libya's historic Berber heartland.  3.  (C)  In May 2008, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi himself made an unprecedented visit to meet with a number of obstensibly Berber tribes in Jadu; however, in contrast to Saif al-Islam's travels, Qadhafi used his May 17 visit to vigorously deny Libya's Berber history.  According to accounts in state-owned media, representatives of prominent Berber communities, including the Berber centers of Nalut and Kabao, issued a statement on the occasion of Qadhafi's visit praising the "Arab belonging and destiny" of all Libyans and rejecting "claims propagated by the envious agents of the West and its intelligence bodies to divide~ [Libya] under false ethnic, sectarian, and tribal slogans".  A contact of the Embassy whose family hails from the Jadu area said that Qadhafi had privately warned the leaders of the community that, "You can call yourselves whatever you want inside your homes -- Berbers, Children of Satan, whatever -- but you are only Libyans when you leave your homes."  POST'S OUTREACH ON BERBER ISSUES DEEMED "UNACCEPTABLE INTERFERENCE" IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS  4.  (C)  In March, Post informed the GOL that an Emboff planned to travel to Zuwara (the unofficial capital of Libya's Berber community located approximately 100 km west of Tripoli) to meet with local officials to discuss Libya's Berber heritage.  On April 1, MFA Americas Desk Officer Muhammad Ayad convoked A/DCM and Poloff to deny the existence of any Berber community in Libya and to accuse Post of "unacceptable interference" in Libya's domestic affairs.  All Libyans are Arabs who migrated to Libya from the Arabian Peninsula approximately 1,000 years ago, he explained, adding that no Libyans speak any language other than Arabic.  Responding to a comment by A/DCM, he angrily insisted that the Berber language was "merely a dialect or accent" of Arabic, likening it to the difference between Maghrebi and Shami dialects of Arabic.  Sharply criticizing Emboffs for "misunderstanding" Libya, Ayab cautioned Post "not to try to find obstacles" to better bilateral U.S.-Libya relations by intefering in purely local matters.  He added that "this issue (the Berbers) is too sensitive for us (Libya) to discuss".  5.  (C)  Ayab also passed a diplomatic note articulating the GOL's objections (para 7); he called the next day to recall the first iteration of the note and pass a more sharply worded version (para 8) that denied permission for Emboffs to visit Zuwara and threatened that the GOL could not/not guarantee mission personnel's safety if they insisted on making the trip. The ostensible concern was that members of the Berber community would be angered by the implication that they were members of a minority group, an implication that the dipnote likened to depriving them of their citizenship, and could assault Emboffs. (Note: Emboffs have previously visited the Jebel Nafusa area and  Zuwara, where members of the Berber minority take great pride in their distinctive ethno-linguistic heritage and take pains to tell visitors that they are not/not Arab, prefer not to speak Arabic and do not inter-marry with Arabs.  Zuwara is widely known for reverse discrimination: Berber inhabitants, who constitute the majority of the town's population, insist on speaking only the Berber language, even with members of the town's Arabic minority.  End note.) Following the Zuwara visit request, the Emboff identified in Post's notification of the planned travel and his spouse faced heightened surveillance and harassment.  A senior Libyan official told CDA in early April that the proposed visit raised concerns within the security services about Post's efforts to report on political developments in Libya in general, and about Emboff's outreach to Libyans in particular.  6. (C) Comment: MFA officials and locally engaged staff who have seen the diplomatic notes are convinced that only a very senior regime figure, possibly Muammar al-Qadhafi himself, could have authored such sharply worded language in official correspondence.  Whether al-Qadhafi actually authored the replies or not, the official rhetoric that attended his visit to Berber country, together with his remarks in Jadu, highlight the fact that for him and other senior elements of the GOL, anything suggesting that Libya's population is not ethnically and religiously homogeneous (there are also significant numbers of Tuareg in the southwest) is extremely sensitive.  End comment.  7.  (SBU)  The full text of the MFA's first diplomatic note on the Zuwara visit follows.  (begin text) Ref: 2008/515  The General People's Committee Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation sends its compliments to the US Embassy in the Great Jamahiriya, and further to the Embassy's dip note # 08/262 dated March 26, 2008, it wishes to inform of the following:  - In Great Jamahiriya, there is nothing called Berber community, and the use of this term denotes lack of true knowledge of the history of the region in general and Libya in particular, and does not reflect the reality and nature of the homogeneous Libyan society. - All Libyans come from Arab origins; they came from the Arab Peninsula by land (Barr) and that's why some tribes that had arrived earlier in Libya are called "Barbar" (or Berber). - This is interference in internal affairs, and it is not acceptable, and this is rejected by Libyans who have sacrificed more than 750 thousand martyrs for the sake of their sovereignty. - The demographic structure in Libya is a homogenous one that belongs to Arab origins; their language is Arabic (with all the meanings this word may have) and there is nothing what we might call "community". - This visit is not permitted for the said person or any other one, and therefore, we shall have no responsibility whatsoever for a visit of this kind.  The General People's Committee Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the esteemed US Embassy the assurances of its highest considerations.  (Seal of the General People's Secretary for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation) (end text)  8.  (SBU)  The full text of the MFA's second diplomatic note on the Zuwara visit follows.  (begin text) Ref: 2008/515  The General People's Committee Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation sends its compliments to the US Embassy in the Great Jamahiriya, and further to the Embassy's dip note # 08/262 dated March 26, 2008, sent to General Protocol requesting the GPC's assistance in arranging a visit by the US Embassy Political Attachi Mr. Joshua Harris to Zuwara city on April 9th, 2009, and the purpose of the visit according to the dip note is to learn about the Libya's Berber community, and requesting arranging meetings with (The Secretary of the Basic People's Committee of Zuwara/ An appropriate local official that works with the city's Berber community/ Representatives of the Zuwara Berber community, including any involved in teaching the Berber language).  While the General People's Committee Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation find this request unusual, it expresses its protest, and requests the Embassy to clarify what is the Berber community that you wish to visit? And who asked you to do so? And is this area you want to visit is inside the United States or in Libya? And can we inspect the minorities living in America such as (the blacks, the Red Indians, and the Chicano~)?  Libyans refuse such interference in their internal affairs and sovereignty for the sake of which they sacrificed more than 750 thousand martyrs, and you know well how they sacrificed and are still doing so for the sake of their Arab homeland, their nationalism and religion.  You know well how many Libyan citizens went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq to defend the fatherland and religion and to resist foreign interference.  Therefore, we shall not be responsible for any assaults that might happen to any American that tries to interfere in the internal affairs of the country whatever was his capacity or his purposes, and we do not find assaults unusual from any group that might be destitute of its citizenship and called "community or colony" within its own country.  This request is therefore very unusual. We rejected it, and we request a response and an explanation for it.  The General People's Committee Secretariat for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the esteemed US Embassy the assurances of its highest considerations.  (Seal of the General People's Secretary for Foreign Liaison and International Cooperation) (end text)  STEVENS

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