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Concerns raised over situation of minorities in Middle East and North Africa

16 March 2011

Minority Rights Group International said on Wednesday it was seriously concerned about the situation of different ethnic and religious minority groups affected by the violence in North Africa and the Middle East.

‘Minorities in Libya, Bahrain and Egypt are all under threat of either being caught up in the violence or in some cases specifically targeted for attack because of their identity,’ says Carl Söderbergh, MRG’s Director of Policy and Communications.

On Monday afternoon there was heavy fighting reported in Zuwara, a town in northwest Libya, which by Tuesday morning was under the control of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s troops. Zuwara is predominantly populated by Amazigh Berbers, who are the largest non-Arab minority in the country and retain their own culture and language. Other Berber-populated towns, such as Nalut, Jado and Kabaw, are not under military control.

According to reports reaching MRG, a number of Berbers have been injured in the fighting and there are increasing concerns that members of the community who engaged in protests against Colonel Gaddafi could be targeted for human rights violations in the days ahead.

Libya’s other minorities include Tuareg, who live in towns such as Ghat, Ghadames and Awbari in the south of Libya, and the Tebu community, which lives in areas such as Kofra in southeast Libya. They are also under threat of being affected by the continuing violent attacks against civilian populations in the country.

Bahrain ’s Shi’a population, although a numerical majority, are politically disadvantaged. The participants of recent anti-government protests mainly belong to this community, as are the targets of the government’s armed response. Since the uprising began a month ago, at least ten people have been killed and several hundreds injured. On Tuesday, the government of Bahrain declared a state of emergency, and some 1,500 troops have been sent from the neighbouring states to control the unrest.

There have also been media reports of arrests of Shi’a activists in Saudi Arabia. In both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the Shi’a community wants political reform which will give them increased representation in government.

In Egypt, while MRG welcomes the positive strides towards democracy, the organisation is concerned about continuing attacks against Coptic Christians and their lack of representation in the political process.

On 8 March 2011, over a dozen people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between Muslims and Coptic Christians. The clashes came as Christians protested the burning of a church. In December 2010, 23 people were killed in a suicide bombing in a church in Alexandria.

‘Coptic Christians have been targeted for attack in Egypt many times in recent years. Minority rights protection should be taken very seriously as Egypt writes a new constitution. The country should also ensure the safety of Christians and other minorities who are targeted for attack,’ Söderbergh adds. ‘The grass-roots and peaceful nature of the protests have been a source of inspiration for many around the world. Let this not be marred by attacks on minority communities.’

Notes to the Editor

  • For more information or to arrange interviews with MRG experts, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].
  • Listen to an interview with a member of the Amazigh community of Libya
  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.