Brian Whitaker notes that the draft interim constitution released by Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) includes no reference to Libya as an “Arab state”. Article 1 of the document reads as follows:
Libya is an independent democratic state wherein the people are the source of authorities. The city of Tripoli shall be the capital of the State. Islam is the Religion of the State and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). Arabic is its official language while preserving the linguistic and cultural rights of all components of the Libyan society. The State shall guarantee for non-Moslems the freedom of practising [sic] religious rights and shall guarantee respect for their systems of personal status.
The omission of any form of ethnic or racial identity is notable; Arab, Berber or African identities receive no specific mention. It has been reported that Berber strugglers in the west of the country had drawn up a list of demands on this issue, in hopes of gaining protections for Berber culture and communities (which simply did not exist under the Qadhafi regime). For example, the New York Times reported on 8 August:
No sooner had the Qaddafi forces pulled back from this city than its residents began reasserting their standing, even as the Qaddafi military lingered just beyond rocket range.
They followed a model seen in other traditionally Amazigh cities — including Nalut and Jadu — that have already broken free of the government’s grip. And they hope to build on gains realized by Amazigh people elsewhere, including in Morocco, which gave official standing to the language in June.
Classes in Tamazight are being held. An Amazigh security force has been formed. A local weekly newspaper, called Tamusna, for “wisdom,” has started to circulate in three languages — Tamazight, Arabic and English.
And Amazigh cultural and political leaders have framed a set of public demands for a postconflict Libya. As part of their vision, Tamazight will have an equal standing with Arabic, and Libya will become a parliamentary democracy based on a constitution grounded in tolerance and respect for human rights.
One wonders what sort of conversations took place on the language issue. Certainly there are many fewer Berber-speakers in Libya than Algeria or Morocco where constitutions recognize Arab, Berber and Muslim culture as the identity of state and assign a specific status to Berber in relation to Arabic. And the response is likely to be interesting. One also wonders how accurate reporters’ descriptions of the strugglers’ in Jebel Nafusa as far as language is concerned. How much participation was there from the western part of the country in drafting this document? A later version might deal with these questions differently.
The full document includes 37 Articles divided into five parts:
- “General Provisions”; Articles 1-6, which includes language on identity, the family and national unity;
- “Rights and public freedoms”; Articles 7-15; including language on human and civil rights, censorship, property, refugees/asylum-seekers, etc.;
- “Form of State Governance during the Transitional Stage”; Articles 16-29, laying out the role of the TNC, the outline of government at various levels, the election of a president, the appointment of state of officials, the budget, handling of the TNC’s move to Tripoli and so on;
- “Judicial Guarantees”; Articles 30- 32, defining the judiciary’s role, scope, powers and independence;
- “Conclusive Provisions”; Articles 33-37, describing areas of continuity and discontinuity between the laws of the Jamahiriya and the TNC’s governing structures and related questions.
It is a relatively progressive document, and makes reference (especially in section two which functions very much like a bill of rights) to grievances rooted in Qadhafite abuses, for example the specific mention to protecting the privacy of phone lines or the “sanctity of the home” from arbitrary entrance of use by the state. Many Arab constitutions include similar language on the people’s welfare and so on but the TNC’s draft provides a wide range of relatively well defined protections for citizens. There are concerns, for instance, in section three that outline the composition and formation of transitional governing bodies and in section four which one would hope might be clearer and more explicit (how will the courts be independent?). But these are for Libyans to sort out. This is a forward looking document for sure. One might have hoped for more explicit language on how the new state would protect the rights of cultural minorities, particularly given the especially aggressive campaign against them under the Qadhafite regime. There are areas where it is very specific and might thus cause problems; but perhaps not. (Obviously, this comes from the standpoint of a layman, who is not a lawyer or constitutional expert. Those with more constitutional experience likely have more interesting comments.) It will be fascinating to watch the Libyans rebuild political order in the wake of one of the most bizarre and sanguine systems of political organization and “philosophy” ever attempted in the region is done and away.