Libya’s Berbers: A Microcosm of the Country’s Fissures
In The Atlantic, Will Raynolds and I dissect the views of the Berber community towards the constitution illustrating how Libya’s Berbers are a microcosm of the country as a whole — filled with hope, intransigence, dysfunctionality, and brilliance.
While it is true that Berbers, Cyrenaicans, and Tubu were all disadvantaged under Qadhafi and have not witnessed much economic development since the revolution, the central government is actually bending over backwards to appease their mutually contradictory demands. In so doing, the central government has given away most of their legitimate power and allowed the parameters of the debate to be set by their localist and “Federalist” opponents. Federalism in the Libyan context is code language for a weak central government, with each region having veto rights over important policies. Moreover, it lacks any compelling economical, historical, or structural logic. Yet, this Federalism is increasingly popular among large swathes of the population because it appeals to wounded pride, paranoia, and the discourse of deprivation that characterizes so many of Libya’s insular communities — and which was on vivid display in our conversations in Jadu. Absorbed by communal self-righteousness and victimhood, most Libyans forget that the federalist experiment under King Idriss, from 1951-63, failed, and that it is incompatible with coherent infrastructure plans, a successful petroleum industry (which is absolutely vital to the country), and reducing the myriad layers of government that lead to corruption and inefficiency.