Ban on Berber flags will only strengthen Algerian solidarity


While the Amazigh people and culture are undeniably part of Algeria’s history and national identity, tensions between Berbers and Arabs have been exploited by both French colonial forces and the Algerian state, after the country’s independence in 1962.

It seems that “the power“(” the power “that runs the country) is resorting to old tactics to try to dig cracks in what has been a strong, collective and visible demonstration of opposition to the Algerian regime through the mass demonstrations that have taken place since the end of February.

The Amazigh people are the indigenous population of North Africa, with around 75 percent of the people in Algeria being of Berber descent.

A recognition of Berber history has been a notable part of the protests with the waving of Berber flags, placards referring to notable Berber personalities and musicians, and chants referring to the unity between different ethnic groups.

The ridiculous ban on Salah and arrests of dissidents galvanized protesters again

Perhaps those in power were not paying attention to the political messages emanating from the protests, and – as has been demonstrated by its shameless totalitarian regime in recent decades – they seriously underestimate the Algerian people.

The ridiculous ban on Salah and the arrests of dissidents further galvanized the protesters and strengthened the unity of the movement.

Even during the weekly demonstrations organized by the Algerian diaspora in the United Kingdom, the speeches reinforced the unity of the Berbers and the Arabs, and that the struggle is for the liberation of all, regardless of ethnicity, language, culture or identity.

Algerians have understood and have become all too aware of the habits of dividing and ruling in a state which has done a great disservice to the territory’s rich history.

For months, young Algerians in Béjaïa have been demonstrating against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
– who resigned in April – and his regime [Getty]

We grew up with the understanding that the fight for a liberated Algeria, a fight that took more than 130 years to win and cost us over 1.5 million lives in a bloody 8-year war, was meant to guarantee the freedoms of all in the territory.

However, it was not until 2002 that the Berber languages ​​were officially recognized by the state, and a bloody clash between the Berber demonstrators in 2001 and the authorities, for such a concession to be made.

The struggle is for the liberation of all, regardless of ethnicity, language, culture or people’s identity

The collective memory of the people has not been erased, despite the best efforts of the state.

The trauma of 126 people massacred by regime forces during what are today called the Berber spring protests and the strike movement, is now commemorated in the most beautiful way.

Not only do Algerians refuse to divide in this way, but they are also determined to rewrite the many wrongs that have surrounded the Berber question in Algeria for more than six decades.

Read more: Algerian protest movement challenges zombies from colonial past

In some ways, the timing and target of Salah’s ban was even more surprising, as thousands and thousands of people took to the streets to mark the 39th anniversary of the dark spring.

Demonstrations took place in different towns of Tizi Ouzou, from Bouira to Béjaïa, with special attention to ensure that such massacres never happen again.

The actions were so vibrant and without excuse, with banners in Kabyle (the most widely spoken of the Berber languages) and an emotional tribute to the human rights activist and defender of the Mozabite people – another Berber population – Kamel Eddine Fekhar.

The Berbers have been at the heart of the resistance waged against the army over the past four decades

The Berbers have been at the heart of the resistance waged against the army over the past four decades. This is probably why, despite the political climate, Salah and his ilk have decided to wage war on the population through his symbols.

Indeed, after the victorious war of independence, the question of what type of state the National Liberation Front (FLN) would build became a major concern. It quickly became clear that the military was aiming to centralize power and eliminate all opposing voices – leftists, trade unionists, women, or student groups.

At the heart of this process was the intensification of a national narrative that identified Algerian history as Islamic-Arab and projected a vision of the state that would represent that unitary identity.

The non-Arab or pre-Islamic populations were erased from the history of the new state despite the very large proportion of its population coming from these tribes and peoples.

It is therefore not surprising that throughout the 1980s, when the economic and political project of the Algerian state encountered growing difficulties, it was among the Berber populations that the first large-scale rebellions against the state have emerged.

Algerians are also determined to rewrite the many evils that have surrounded the Berber question in Algeria for over six decades.

Claiming the right to be recognized has become much more than the defense of an unrecognized identity, it is the vehicle through which activists put forward the image of a different, freer, pluralist and democratic republic; decentralize the identity narrative to decentralize the power of the state.

The millions of people in the streets since February who parade with the Amazigh and Algerian national symbols are therefore part of a long tradition, just like the generals who try to repress them.

The movement brings back all the voices and all the actors that the military have tried to silence since the early 1960s, reminding their oppressors that they kill revolutionaries but never revolution.

The Amazigh flag is not – as the regime claims – a sign of separatism or division. It is the promise of a future built on the unity of all peoples who make up the beauty, strength and radical tradition of the Algerian people.

Malia Bouattia is an activist, former president of the National Union of Students and co-founder of the Students not Suspects / Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board, or its team.


About Wesley V. Finley

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