A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Are the Libyan Rebels Targeting Black Africans?

Mao famously said that a revolution is not a dinner party, and Lenin may have said that you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs (the attribution is fuzzy on that one). I wouldn't have chosen to dine with either of those gentlemen, but all wars are ugly, and a civil war can be the ugliest of all, so there's little surprising about reports of abuses by the victors in the wake of the fall of Tripoli. What is a bit more disturbing is a growing number of reports that the rebels have particularly singled out dark-skinned Libyans and sub-Saharan Africans for vengeance. Over the past few days, reports have emerged that not only armed mercenaries are being targeted, but all sub-Saharans, even ordinary migrant workers.  Amnesty International has called attention to the problem, and it is being reported upon by the general media, although some skilled observers are a bit cautious about how extensive the problem really is.

Qadhafi's many African adventures  led him to recruit soldiers from Mali, Chad, and Niger, many of whom served in the Libyan Army long before the revolution broke out. Since February there have been multiple reports that he was flying in mercenaries from a number of Saharan and Sahelian countries, paying them large sums to put down the rebellion. That many of the rebels want vengeance against these mercenary forces is understandable, if contrary to the laws of war.

But not every sub-Saharan African in Libya was a hired mercenary. Plenty were simply immigrants looking for work in the oilfields or other sectors. If they are being targeted solely because they are foreign, or worse, solely because of the color of their skin as some stories are suggesting, that does not augur well for the free Libya the rebels say they seek. Let's hope these prove to be isolated instances in the heat of victory and not signs of a deeper xenophobia or racism on the part of the victors.

There are also questions about the attitude towards the Tuareg, the nomadic, Berber-speaking tribesmen who roam southwestern Libya and neighboring countries. Algeria has also announced that it allowed some 500 Libyan Tuareg to enter Algeria as they were being pursued by rebel forces. The Libyan Tuareg were reportedly fighting on the regime's side, and there is no direct assertion that they were driven out solely because they are Tuareg, Other Tuareg originating from Mali and Niger who had been fighting for Qadhafi are reportedly returning to their home countries, which find it somewhat disturbing to have bodies of armed men with military training crossing their borders, even if they are coming home.


idit said...

This does not bode well for the future.

David Mack said...

Few Libyans shared Qadhafi's enthusiasm for Africa. He began identifying Libya with Africa after rebuffs of his youthful enthusiasm for Arab unity from the other Arab states. Complaints about African migrants were common during my visits to Tripoli, which resumed in 2004. Agree with Mike and idit that this is disturbing and will make the job of national reconciliation that much harder.