Morocco: Reforming the Constitution, Fragmenting Identities

Most Moroccans applaud – and rightly so – King Mohamed VI’s bold decision to include in the preamble of the proposed new constitution the official recognition of Tamazight as a state language alongside Arabic, the first official recognition Amazigh (Berber) identity on a constitutional basis. level in a North African country. In fact, it was this inclusion that, according to some analysts, led to the overwhelming approval of the July 1 constitutional referendum; Thomson Reuters reported that 98.5% of the population voted in favour, with a turnout of 73% of registered voters. Skeptics cast doubt on this figure, citing voting irregularities, and point out that the King of Berber ID game is nothing more than an attempt to push through a cosmetically new constitution while retaining his monarchy. The more cynical suggest that the consequences could be disastrous and lead Morocco down the path of the Algerian model of tension between people of Arab and Berber descent.

The second preambular paragraph of the amended constitution describes the national identity of Morocco:

“[Morocco is] a sovereign Muslim state, committed to the ideals of openness, moderation, tolerance and dialogue to promote mutual understanding among all civilizations; A Nation whose unity is based on the fully assumed diversity of its components: Arab, Amazigh, Hassani, Sub-Saharan, African, Andalusian, Jewish and Mediterranean components.

The recognition of Tamazight is quite a change; as recently as 2005, when Amazigh activists Ahmed Dgharni and Omar Louzi attempted to launch a political movement advocating Berber identity, their Moroccan Amazigh Democratic Party (PDAM) was banned by the Interior Ministry in 2007 , then legally dissolved on the grounds that ethnic parties were (and still are) banned in Morocco.

While Amazigh revival movements are a relatively recent trend in Morocco, Berber identity politics in the region is nothing new. During the colonial period, the French administration implemented policies intended to sow discord between Berbers and Arabs, while actively promoting a French-speaking culture. The so-called “Berber decrees” issued in May 1930 attempted to institutionalize two distinct legal systems in Morocco, one based on local “customary” laws for those considered “Amazigh” and the other based on the law Islamic for the “Arabs”. Later nationalist movements in Algeria and Morocco responded by emphasizing pan-Arab unity and the role of the Maghreb in the Arabic-speaking world. The quest for national and regional identity has emphasized Arabic while marginalizing Amazigh throughout North Africa, suppressing Berber identity for fear of dissident movements – the most famous being the Berber Spring of 1980, which resulted in the arrest of hundreds of Berber activists in Kabyle and a general strike that lasted for weeks.

While the politics of “dual identity” succeeded in creating major social schisms in post-independence Algerian society, it failed in Morocco, where after centuries of cross-cultural exchange and intermarriage, it became difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish a “pure Amazigh”. of a “pure Arab”. Historically, claiming Arab or Amazigh ancestry in Morocco was nothing more than a political accentuation of subjective identities, one or the other being sometimes emphasized and sometimes downplayed as the relationship between population movements and cultural changes were mediated by power. Claim the Arab-Islamic title of sheriff (noble) evoked a prestigious lineage linked to the Prophet Muhammad, conferring on the suitor the political legitimacy associated with the “commander of the faithful”. On the other hand, other Moroccan leaders emphasized an Amazigh pedigree in order to associate themselves with figures such as Abdelkrim al-Khattabi, the Berber revolutionary who defeated the Spanish army in the Battle of ‘Anoual in 1921. It follows that Amazigh and Arab identities are not mutually exclusive, and that being one or the other is a common cultural heritage for all Moroccans, even those who choose not to not identify themselves as such.

Although historically different from Algeria, Morocco is not immune to a possible rupture between two fluid identities so far if the political reforms in progress fail to deliver a true civic identity. Amazigh and pan-Arabist activists across Morocco have returned to the question of identity politics according to the model of division: within the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM), academics are asking whether Morocco rightly belongs title to the “Arab world”, while pan-Arab activists respond that Morocco’s Islamic identity is proof enough, accusing IRCAM of fostering ethnic divisions by choosing the neo-Tifinagh alphabet (rather than Arabic) for write Tamazight. Some Amazigh scholars and activists, such as IRCAM member Meriem Demnati, fear that Morocco is following Algeria’s example of “second-order formalization”, in which recognition of Berber identity is devoid of practical application. These activists have become fierce critics of the Islamist Justice and Development Party and the nationalist Istiqlal Party, which they accuse of being “Amazighophobic Arabists” bent on preventing official recognition of Amazigh identity and language. That said, political parties based on ethnicity (even those advocating Berber identity issues) enjoy little popular support and are also still illegal under the newly approved constitution.

The official recognition of the king will also be felt elsewhere in the region. Ferhat Mehenni, president of the Kabyle provisional government (the Kabyle being the Amazigh equivalent in Algeria) greeted constitutional reforms in Morocco, predicting that they will spur other groups to push for similar constitutional recognition of Amazigh culture and language. So far, other North African nations have, at most, recognized the vague “national” status of Amazigh, but left Arabic as the sole “official language” of state affairs. . Mehenni hinted that it won’t be long before the Algerian constitution will be changed if a working model is put in place alongside.

Younes Abouyoub, Ph.D. studies political sociology in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies at Columbia University.

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