Amazigh (often referred to as Berber)

All across Libya and North Africa

The Amazigh people are indigenous to Northern Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, northern Niger, northern Mali and western Egypt) with their total population reaching around 26 million. Their language is Tamazight and they belong to a branch of Islam following the Ibadi tradition. Amazigh means “free people” in Tamazight, however the group is often referred to as Berbers.

 In Libya, Amazigh make up around ten percent of the total population making them the largest minority group in Libya. Since 2011, the Amazigh formed a community through the Amazigh Supreme Council (ASC) in Tripoli, which symbolises a central location for their often-suppressed ethnic group and their newfound freedom of organisation and expression as a group with rights.

Under Gaddafi, the Amazigh were identified as Arabs and their language was considered a “mere dialect”. Amazigh organisations and cultural named were banned until the end of the regime.

Amazighs have been in modern Libya since around 2000BCE when a population moved westward from the Nile valley. By the first millennium BCE, the Amazigh tribes along North Africa developed their own kingdoms under the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Arab occupation in the 8th century that Amazighs moved to Spain as soldiers during the Arab conquest. Under the rule of the Arabs the Amazighs were named “barbarian” (Berber) and this title unified the different tribes of Amazighs under one label of indigenous non-Greek or Latin speaking peoples.

In the 11th century the Amazighs alongside the Arabs, developed the trans-Saharan trade, which mostly moved gold and slaves. However, the presence of the Arabs soon started to dominate Amazigh kingdoms and communities by making Arabic the main language and script of the region and certain leaders claiming descendance of Mohammad and therefore declaring entitlement to leadership.

Sources

Intercontinental Cry Organisation, Kahina, N., Free People: The Imazighen of North Africa, 12 March 2013
Middle East Eye Zurutuza, K., ’Autonomy is a right’: Amazigh minority fights for rebirth amid Libyan chaos, 29 January 2019
Encyclopedia Britannica. Berber. 20 March 2019

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