Marginalized Indigenous Peoples of North Africa


The Berbers are the descendants of the pre-Arab populations of all of North Africa, from the far west of Egypt to the countries of the Maghreb.

The Berbers, who refer to themselves as the Amazighs meaning “free man”, have been fighting for a long time for greater recognition of their ancient ethnicity, their culture and their language.

Here is some information on the Berber communities that spread across North Africa long before the Arab conquests:

Morocco

At the northwestern tip of Africa, Morocco is home to the region’s largest Berber community.

Their language – of which there are three main dialects – only received official status alongside Arabic in a new constitution in 2011.

One of the major consequences of this recognition was the appearance of their Tifinagh alphabet on public buildings alongside Arabic and French.

Since 2010, the Tamazight television channel has dedicated itself to the promotion of Berber culture.

A few years ago, lawmakers caused a stir by speaking in Berber during parliamentary sessions.

Despite the advances, the Moroccan authorities still sporadically refuse to register Berber names in the official register.

The Amazigh flag was a major symbol of the protests that hit the depressed Rif region in the north of the country in 2016, where the group is in the majority.

Algeria

The Berbers comprise around 10 million people in Algeria, or about a quarter of the country’s total population of 40 million.

They live mainly in the mountainous region of northern Kabylia, and like in Morocco they have fought a long struggle for their rights.

After some progress, such as the recognition of Tamazight as the country’s second official language in 2016, Berber has been the target of numerous repressions in the repression of anti-government protests.

Several dozen demonstrators were sentenced to prison terms for waving the Amazigh flag, banned from assembling by the army.

Libya

Persecuted under the dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who denied their existence, the Berbers of Libya called for the officialization of their language alongside Arabic and for greater political representation.

They make up about 10 percent of the 6.4 million and live mainly in the mountains west of Tripoli or in the vast desert regions to the south.

Their demands have become more vocal in this country in turmoil since the ouster and death of Gaddafi in 2011. The Berber flag is now visible on administrative buildings.

Textbooks in their language have also been produced, but they have not been officially approved by the government supported by the international community.

Under a draft constitution approved by parliament, but still awaiting ratification, the languages ​​spoken by the various communities, including Tamazigh, are recognized as part of Libyan cultural heritage but do not enjoy official status. .

Tunisia

In Tunisia, estimating the number of Berbers is difficult because official statistics based on ethnicity are prohibited.

Apart from their traditional southern heart, the Berbers find themselves mainly in the capital Tunis following a rural exodus.

They complain of being marginalized and excluded in a state that only recognizes Arabic in its constitution.

Jallol Ghaki, the president of the Tunisian Association of Amazigh Culture, estimates that while half of Tunisians may be of Berber origin, the vast majority have been fully Arabized and only one percent speak the local dialect of Chelha.

While activists complain that the state makes no effort to preserve or educate children about Berber culture, there have been some improvements since the Tunisian revolution of 2011.

About Wesley V. Finley

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