May 9, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1569

Berber Leader Belkacem Lounes:"There Is No Worse Colonialism Than That of the Pan-Arabist Clan that Wants to Dominate Our People"

May 9, 2007
Libya | Special Dispatch No. 1569

Belkacem Lounes, president of the World Amazigh Congress, wrote an open letter to Libyan leader Mu'ammar Qaddafi in response to the latter's March 1 speech in which he denied the existence of a Berber or Amazigh[1] people in North Africa. In his letter, dated April 10, Lounes protested Qaddafi's statements, saying that the 30 million Amazigh living today in North Africa cannot be ignored. He added that the Amazigh had played a central role in the fight against European colonialism, but that since independence they had been oppressed by the "internal colonialism" of pan-Arabism, which he labels an imperialist ideology. Lounes stated that it was archaic to consider diversity a danger, and calls on the North African governments to commit to democracy and human rights.

The following are excerpts:[2]

"What Worse Offense to Elementary Rights is There Than Denying The Existence Of a People?"

"… I waited until April to respond to your speech, since it is during this month that the Amazigh people celebrates every year… a great moment in its history, known as the 'Tafsut Imazighen' ('Amazigh Spring').[3] For us, this is a celebration of our memory, of our spirit of resistance to all forms of imperialism, and of our love of liberty…

"The people of whom you spoke [in your speech] are women, men, and children who speak their Amazigh language daily. They are women, men, and children who live every day their Amazigh identity, which your words injured. What worse offense to elementary rights is there than denying the existence of a people?..."

"It is Difficult to Imagine That You Are Unaware of... 30 Million Amazigh Speakers" In North Africa

"You claim that Amazigh civilization disappeared due to 'a century of drought in North Africa'… It is difficult to imagine that you are unaware of the existence of 30 million Amazigh-speakers living today in all of the countries of Tamazgha [i.e. North Africa]…

"You let it be understood that the Amazigh are supposedly an invention of colonialism! What colonialism is capable of creating a people ex nihilo, with its language and traditions that go back several thousand years? How could colonialism have done this – given that when the first foreigner arrived on North African soil, he found that the Amazigh had already been there for a long time?...

"How to explain these contradictions and the brutal return to this desire to negate a tangible history and reality? You even denied the evidence, when you assured us that the Amazigh problem did not exist in Libya. But… the Libyan Amazigh, like Amazigh elsewhere, face ostracism, exclusion, and discrimination of all kinds…"

"Thinking That Diversity Is a Danger is an Archaic and Totalitarian Idea"

"You say that 'Libya is for the Libyans' and that you will not accept anyone's saying that they have this identity or that identity.

"So be it – but then [you] must immediately suppress any reference to Arab identity in all of the country's legislative texts, as well as in the names of political, economic, and cultural institutions, starting with the Arab Libyan Republic, Libyan Arab Airlines, the Union of the Arab Maghreb, etc. Then we will be entirely [favorably] disposed to speak of a 'Libyan Libya,' with its history, languages, and cultures. But if your conception of Libya is one of an exclusively Arab country, then for us, the fight for our identity continues…

"You menace the Amazigh, warning that whosoever asserts their identity will be considered a traitor in the service of colonialism… Thinking that diversity is a danger is an archaic and totalitarian idea that is contrary to all of the principles of universal rights.

"We Are a People... Determined To Live Free"

"In addition, I see it as my obligation to repeat here what I told you [face to face]: We are a people and we are determined to live free, whatever it costs us. We are generally peaceful and hospitable. Whoever offers us his hand, we take him into our arms. But whoever tries to keep us from living in dignity, we will fight him with all legitimate means."

The Amazigh Were the First to Fight Colonialism

"As for colonialism, history proves that the colonizers did not need us in order to occupy our country. On the contrary – the first to have fought them were the Amazigh, because they felt that they were defending their country, their ancestral land.

"In the Algerian national movement, when the Amazigh of the country posed, in the 1940s, the question of Algerian identity after independence, the Arab nationalist clans immediately accused them of dividing the movement and of playing colonialism's game, and excluded them.

"More than half a century later, at a 2005 colloquium in Algiers on the history of Algerian nationalism, the historians [at the conference] unanimously confirmed that the true patriots were precisely the group of those excluded, as they laid the foundations for an authentic and democratic Algeria – an Algeria that is first and foremost Algerian, rich in its Amazigh identity and in all of its linguistic and cultural components.

"There is an identical ingratitude towards the Amazigh of Morocco, who provided the largest contingents in the struggle against the Spanish and French occupiers in the Rif and the Atlas. Today the heroes of this resistance are neglected in official history.

"The same misfortune befell the Amazigh of Libya who, after very many of them had consented to make the supreme sacrifice for the liberty of all Libyans, find themselves today menaced, reviled, and deprived of their very right to existence by those at whose side and for whom they fought…"

"Establishing a Culture of Dialogue and Friendship… Requires Merciless Struggle Against All Acts of Intolerance, Racism, and Discrimination"

"We like to think that colonialism no longer exists… But there is no worse colonialism than internal colonialism – that of the pan-Arabist clan that seeks to dominate our people. It is surely Arabism, in that it is an imperialist ideology that refuses any diversity in North Africa, that constitutes a betrayal and an offense to history, truth, and legality.

"Even the Muslim religion has been put into the service of these projects of Arabization and domination. The Amazigh queen Dihya was the first, 14 centuries ago, to have understood this colonial strategy - which is why she declared to the Arabs who came to attack her kingdom: 'You say that you are carrying a divine message? Fine then, leave it here, and return whence you came'...[4]

"In principle, it is the responsibility of every head of state to protect, respect, and promote the rights of his people. The challenge of establishing a culture of dialogue and friendship among civilizations and peoples requires a merciless struggle against all acts of intolerance, racism, and discrimination.

"Thus, we expect the Arab heads of state in North Africa both to abolish the policies of negation and exclusion of the Amazigh people and to [show] much more ambition regarding human rights. It is with respect to the recognition of the Amazigh people and its inalienable rights that the sincerity of the governments and their will to build peaceful societies will be measured…

"In the meantime, strong in the justice of our cause and convinced of the legitimacy of our rights, we will unflaggingly continue our fight for dignity and liberty for our people through democratic means. We reaffirm today that, in light of the impasses towards which the Arabist governments of North Africa are driving us, it is urgent that we assume the right to take our destiny in hand, in asking the community of nations for its support for us to exercise our right to self-determination, in all of the countries of Tamazgha [i.e. North Africa] in which we live.

"As befits our noble fight, we will remain eternal optimists, permanently in search of reasons to hope, encouraging and privileging the positive aspects of human nature, and always endeavoring to give a chance to the least glimmer, the least opening for liberty…"


[1] Many Berbers prefer to refer to themselves as "Amazigh," a term in their language meaning "one who is free."

[2],12068.html, April 10, 2007. For excerpts from Qaddafi's speech, see the final section of MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1535, "In Overture to Iran, Qaddafi Declares North Africa Shi'ite and Calls for Establishment of New Fatimid State," April 6, 2007, In Overture to Iran, Qaddafi Declares North Africa Shi'ite and Calls for Establishment of New Fatimid State.

[3] The Amazigh or Berber Spring (tafsut n imazighen) commemorates a watershed in the modern Berber cultural movement. On March 10, 1980, the Algerian government prevented Mouloud Mammeri, a Kabyle Berber author, linguist, and cultural icon, from delivering a lecture on ancient Kabyle poetry at a university in Tizi Ouzo, the major city in Kabylia. This sparked a series of protests and strikes that lasted several months, and led to the arrest of Berber leaders and democracy activists.

[4] According to early North African historiography, Dihya, also known as the Kahina, was a Berber queen who led the resistance to the Arab conquests.

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