Racism and false accusations? In this interview Libya Minister of Culture Mabruka Toghi Othman tells her truth

By Vanessa Tomassini, this interview originally appeared on the Italian “Strumenti Politici“.

Many, including herself, considered the arrest a form of racism because a lot of Libyans do not imagine and accept to have a black woman from the south in the country leadership. What happened to her made many Tebu to switch alliances, and they are now supporting the parallel government appointed by the House of Representatives. Today, she lives in a temporary house because in Tripoli was living in a house rented by the government and she did not return to her job despite being released since early January. We are talking about Mabruka Toghi Othman, the minister of Culture and Knowledge in the Libyan Government of National Unity. Salama Al-Ghwell, who was appointed in her place temporarily, has not stepped down and the government has not formally commented on her acquittal. She faced great racism on Libyan social media. She has been called a slave, described as Nigerian and Chadian, in an attempt to make her appear less of a citizen. We reached her to hear her truth.

Minister Mabruka, first of all let me thank you for accepting this interview. Is it true that your arrest is a form of racism? How did your colleagues in the Ministry of Culture and other ministers in the Government of National Unity reacted to your arrest?

“The first female official in charge in Libya’s history, who represents the executive branch and carrying out her functions and who is supposed to have immunity was arrested. Isn’t that selective and racist? I look forward to a better situation in Libya. Although I do not deny that there is some sort of racism in the Ministry of Culture, many cultural offices took a public stand and protested against this kind of discrimination as a solidarity act, as well as intellectuals, artists and members of society throughout Libya. Many of my Ministry’s colleagues had supported me, especially women.”

How is the Tebu general situation in Libya today? And that of Tebu women in particular?

“Tebu’s problems are deeply rooted since the establishment of the State and can only be addressed through a just consensual constitution that guarantees and safeguards their rights. The State must be the guarantor and fair in the implementation of this Constitution through its executive organs. As for the Tebu women, they are powerful fighters and have always been extremely patient. This is what we inherited from our mothers and grandmothers.”

Since your appointment, rumors have spread about your close ties with the eastern authorities. Particularly, we remember a photo with the Eastern Army flag alongside Libya’s. These allegations are a clear sign that unity in Libya remains elusive. What do you think about that?

“The Government of National Unity, as such, came to unite institutions and consolidate differences towards Libya’s unity, which I believe has been largely successful in that, as evidenced by the fact that my colleagues in the Government are from all Libya During my work in the ministry of culture, I was keen to bring souls and hearts closer to each other through visits and tours in all regions of Libya. And not everything that’s broadcast through the media is true.”

Which armed group carried out the arrest? Have they acted on the basis of an Attorney General order?

“I was arrested by the Attorney General’s Office on a malicious complaint presented by Undersecretary of Public Affairs Khairi Randy who threatened to bring in an armed group to arrest me and expel me from the Ministry. He repeated the use of verbal violence with me in front of a group of employees, because I resisted corruption in the Ministry and closed the doors in the face of illicit profits. After the charges that were attributed to me, which I was later cleared from by the Ministerial Committee formed by the Prime Minister at the 10th Meeting of the Council of Ministers, they reached acquittal for lack of evidences of any charges and there is no reason to prevent my return to work.”

What are your priorities and biggest successes during your time in office?

“Libya has experienced a regrettable setback for years after its institutions were destroyed, divided and corruption decimated. The Ministry of Culture as a large institution suffered: Firstly, when it was divided between Governments to the East and West and secondly when it was formed as a public body of culture. My efforts were to unify this institution and reset its affiliates. I visited all offices of culture in the East and West, as well as the South, and looked at their needs and their bottlenecks with the available means and resources. I’ve also worked on programs to promote reading in the society, support for the national millennium and support women. All this without allocating an adequate budget to the Ministry and it has earned me all the friendliness, respect and appreciation from people. But after all of this, I had to face more warfare and an attempt of assassination that break my solid personality after standing out as a strong woman from the South and as a competitor in the political arena. That was my tax to pay after all the hard work.”

How did your situation change after you were appointed Minister?

“Since my childhood times, I grew up in an educated family that has a political and social presence. The ministry was more a mandate than honor.”

How are you and your family living this Ramadan?

“With my arrest, my passport was withdrawn by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and they are still in possession of it, so I was not able to be with the family and my children.”

What do you think of the current political division between Dabaiba and Bashaga? Have you been contacted by the new government for a position?

“I hope it will dissolve and reach a political understanding that will lead us to elections as soon as possible. And yes, at the beginning of its formation, there were indirect contacts for a ministerial portfolio. However, now my priorities are rehabilitation as a result of my suspension as Minister, and the rehabilitation is through the Presidency of the Government to get me back to my work in the Ministry.”

How is your relationship with Prime Minister Dabaiba today?

“He always called me an honorable lady and was very upset by the news of my arrest and always praised my work at the Ministry.”

How can the international community help Libyans overcome this impasse?

“To focus on the creation of a fair and consensual constitution involving marginalized groups before the groups represented itself. In addition to supporting Libya’s liaison workshops within Libya and supporting all efforts towards elections.”

A last word for your citizens…

“Libya is beautiful with cultural diversity. Unity, Justice and Reconciliation renovate Libya. We have to take advantage of previous lessons and not get into the same dilemma and use local and international experience, we have to share with everyone without the exclusion of any group. We treat Libya with a modern, non-racial mindset.”

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