The World Amazigh Congress is an international organisation, which was established to protect the Amazigh identity and advocate the rights of Amazigh throughout the world and in particular in the North Africa and Sahel regions. Fathi Ben Khalifa, from Libya, was elected president of the World Amazigh Congress in October 2011.
Despite widespread sympathy among Libyans for the aspirations of the country’s Amazigh community, Ben Khalifa has faced numerous accusations – from being an Israeli agent to working for the partition of Libya, and insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohamed. They are accusations which he emphatically denies.
When asked about the nature of the threats he received, Ben Khalifa had the following to say:
“Threats against me existed since the Qaddafi days. That was to be expected. There is nothing new there because Qaddafi threatened many people and groups. However, in the summer of 2012, I received death threats from a group called Libya’s Revolutionary Brigades. The threat was in the form of a written statement that was posted online and copies of it were submitted to the authorities in Libya. The statement accused me of being an agent for Israel and other Western nations that sought to partition Libya. The statement went on to list the punishment that I should receive which was ‘Death by hanging’ for the charges of treason”
Ben Khalifa is convinced that he was really targeted for what he stands for, which clashes with the agendas of certain groups in Libya.
When asked about the tactics these groups used to target him, he had the following to say:
“These groups are falsely using videos and recordings of statements I made during my visits to the Tuareg and Tebu tribes in southern Libya, or statements I made during interviews or forums. However, these videos and recordings have been edited and taken out of context, in order to portray me in a certain manner that would enable these groups to issue a statement calling for my death”
Ben Khalifa insists that he has good relations with tribes in the south, from Tuareg to Tebu to Arab tribes, and mentions in this context the tribe of Awlad Suliman in the Sebha region.
He felt that a vindictive and bitter campaign has been launched against him because he stands for “universal rights for all Libyans” – meaning he want standards of justice to apply to everyone in Libya without any discrimination. Ben Khalifa thinks the concept of “universal rights” for all Libyans, regardless of their ethnicity, faith, sex, political, tribal or ideological affiliations, clashes with the agendas of certain groups in the country that would like to impose their own ideology and identity and eliminate anything else that differs from it.
Ben Khalifa adds: “My name is being mentioned whenever trouble occurs in Libya. For example, my name was mentioned in the proselytizing case in Benghazi. There were allegations that I had a hand in it. Also, whenever, there is trouble in the south, my name and what I stand for is tainted by baseless and unfounded allegations that this is what I aspire to do (causing instability and chaos in Libya).”
Ben Khalifa was concerned that the media in Libya is being brain-washed by the constant repetition of baseless allegations. Public opinion in Libya, he said was being misled. He also said that he had received repeated threats via emails and his social media profiles.
When asked about the response of Libyans officials to the threats he received and the number of baseless allegations against him, Ben Khalifa had the following to say:
“Officials in Libya, both security and government officials, as well as politicians, seem to have lost touch with the reality of the situation in Libya. Their approach to many critical issues has so far been nothing more than an ad hoc that usually backfires and results in further complications to the situation. I could excuse security officials in Libya because their own lives are in danger and many times they have been the victims of violence. Some have lost their lives. In my case, I was advised by senior security and government officials that it wouldn’t be safe for me to return to Libya now, and that I should wait until the situation settles down”.
Despite this advice, Ben Khalifa insists that nothing would keep him away from Libya, and that it would not deter him from continuing to advocate for what he believes in and stands for.
On the issue of Libya’s upcoming constitution, Ben Khalifa had the following to say:
“Politicians in Libya need to understand the significance of the issue of Libyan identity in the constitution. Will Libya be Arab, African or Islamic …. and so forth? The Libyan identity needs to be Libyan and any sort of division or discrimination with regards to the issue of identity would only complicate Libya’s future”
On the rights of Amazigh in Libya’s upcoming constitution, Ben Khalifa had the following to say:
“I don’t support special treatment for the Amazigh or special provisions for the rights of the Amazigh in the constitution. I support the idea that the constitution provides all Libyans with ‘universal rights’, not just the Amazigh, but women, Christians, Jews, disabled people and all segments of the society. No single group should have preference over others in the Libya’s upcoming constitution, because that would create divisions and we would have first-class citizens and second-class citizens. Our constitution should uphold the concept of ‘citizenship for all’ based on justice and equality.”
On the challenges facing Libya’s upcoming constitution and the implications of those challenges on Amazigh rights, Ben Khalifa had the following to say:
“The main challenge facing Libya’s upcoming constitution is the narrow-mindedness of the elite in the Libyan political arena. The serious lack of dialogue and the inability to appreciate differences and disagreements are all challenges facing Libya’s upcoming constitution”
When asked about the extent he would go to see the Amazigh rights guaranteed, safeguarded and protected, Ben Khalifa said:
“As a Libyan I would stand firmly against any bad intentions towards my country and my fellow Libyans. However, it is not hard to understand that marginalisation and oppression would only result in violent confrontations. This is not a threat. This is what history tells us,. This is what the February 17 Revolution teaches you. To get rid of Qaddafi and then keep his practices intact is not what Libyans aspired to when they walked out in the streets against oppression and marginalization.”
Numerous people accused Ben Khalifa of hating Arabs and not supporting the Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. When asked about this issue, Ben Khalifa said the following:
“I was never against Palestine or the rights of Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. I support Palestine out of my humanistic instincts. However, I firmly believe that the best way to support Palestine and Palestinians is by building a strong Libya, where the values of equality, justice, citizenship for all and respect for diversity are all guaranteed. Supporting Palestine isn’t by issuing statements and playing the role of the hero and the saviour like Qaddafi did and Bashar is still doing. Supporting Palestine should start at home by respecting the rights of all Libyans. This belief has been taken out of context and is being used against me”
Ben Khalifa believes that the 17 February revolution in Libya is a historical event that would not be repeated anytime soon. The positive development after the February revolution according to Ben Khalifa is openness of the public in Libya towards their Amazigh brothers, and there seems to be overwhelming support for ‘universal rights’ for all Libyans without any preference for one group over another.
Ben Khalifa believes that his message and what he stands for clashes directly with the agenda of groups who are taking their orders from outside Libya. When asked to elaborate on this point he said:
“For example we have groups who would like to copy Saudi Arabia and are working hard to eliminate anyone or any group that hold different views on what the Libyan people should look like in the future, as stipulated in its upcoming constitution. I say to them relocate to Saudi Arabia if you are fond of their style of living, because the Libyan identity is here to stay.”
When asked about whether he would support partition of Libya if that was the only way the Amazigh would get their rights, he said:
“I would never support partition of Libya. I know there are other ways by which all Libyans can have their rights protected and safeguarded and that would by celebrating the difference and the diversity of the Libyan society. The history of Libya didn’t start 1400 years ago. Libya existed thousands of years before Islam and the Arabs came to North Africa. All that history should be celebrated and all Libyans should be proud of it”
Finally, Ben Khalifa urged individuals or groups who disagree with him to have open and transparent dialogue so that Libyans can make their own judgment themselves, and not have their minds made up for them. “I would never agree or tolerate misleading of the Libyan public opinion” he said.