The state of Amazigh culture in Algeria and Morocco


Originally from North Africa, the Amazigh people, sometimes known as Berbers, have spent decades fighting for cultural recognition in the predominantly Arab region. For years, Amazigh activists have engaged in a battle against oppressive policies while trying to promote measures that would help preserve Amazigh identity. Despite recent successes, however, it may be some time before Amazigh activists are able to reverse the results of secular marginalization.

Defining the Amazigh identity

At the heart of past and present Amazigh renewal movements are the concepts of Awal (Tongue), Akkal (earth), and Damn (some blood). As a result, one of the significant results of Amazigh activism has been the designation of the Tamazight Amazigh language as the official language in the Algerian and Moroccan constitutions. Regarding Akkal, Amazighs take land conservation very seriously, balancing the fine line between communal and private property. The third pillar of Amazigh identity: Damn, represents a sense of belonging through the cohesion of family and culture, while also signifying sacrifice. Indeed, Amazighs believe that a problem is not resolved until the sacrificial blood is shed.

Towards recognition

The 1970s ushered in the first attempts at open advocacy for Amazigh rights and the recognition of Amazigh heritage. These efforts were born in Algeria in response to the aggressive Arabization efforts of the FLN regime, which banned the use of Tamazight and its variants as well as the activities of Amazigh militants. After years of repression, Amazigh activists began to promote open expressions of Amazigh identity. Musician Hamid Cheriat, also known by his stage name Idir, produced the first international release album in Tamazight, A Vava Inouva, leading to the flourishing of Amazigh music throughout North Africa and a corresponding revival of literature.

This cultural renewal paved the way for Algeria Tafsut Imazighen, or Amazigh Spring: on March 10, 1980, the authorities suppressed a conference featuring Amazigh activist Mouloud Mammeri at Hasnaoua University in Tizi-Ouzou. The cancellation of the event sparked a wave of protests that resulted in mass arrests of dissident Amazigh activists. These arrests have become a key rallying point for the formation of civil society organizations such as the Rassemblement pour la culture et la democratie (RCD) and the Berber Cultural Movement (MCB), both of which have pleaded for greater recognition and acceptance of a distinct Amazigh cultural and linguistic identity. and the protection of the human and legal rights of Amazighs. Although Tamazight was not officially recognized in the Algerian constitution until 2016, activists consider this period critical for the development of an open movement defending the rights of Amazighs.

In 1994, the Amazigh movement was finally able to make its way in Morocco after demonstrators marching with a banner written in the Amazigh language were arrested and questioned by the police. Such an act sparked outrage across Morocco. In the aftermath of the arrest, the Moroccan media closely followed the trials of the activists, allowing the movement to rally support for the rights of Amazighs. On August 20, 1994, King Hassan II became the first Alouite king to recognize the importance of the Imazighen for Morocco and its development after responding to new support for Amazigh causes by speaking publicly about the need to teach Tamazigh in the schools.

Nonetheless, the battle for rights and recognition continued for much of the new century. In 2001, King Mohammed VI published a royal decree mandating the creation of the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM). Created to educate and support Amazighs across the country, ICRAM has standardized the Amazigh language and strived to slowly integrate it into schools and the media, while successfully presenting the Moroccan public with the Amazigh identity and its contribution to general culture. Despite these achievements, however, the overall effectiveness of ICRAM has been debated and some have even argued that the organization categorizes and simplifies Amazigh identity. That being said, the main Amazigh movements supported the creation of IRCAM and its promotion of greater recognition of Amazigh identity in Morocco.

As Amazigh cultural activism increased, so did the Amazigh presence in political life. While many Amazigh political parties that emerged during the first decade of the 21st century were closed because the Moroccan constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on the basis of ethnicity, some have found a way around it. ethnic ban. For example, although its platform is not aimed only at Amazighs, the Popular Movement (MP) party, one of the largest parties in the Parliament of Morocco, is largely associated with the Amazigh community. Indeed, the MP, which was founded in 1957, works in close collaboration with Amazigh activists and has mobilized support for the Amazigh movement across the country, advocating for the recognition of Amazigh cultural practices and the protection of the rights of the Imazighen.

In 2011, the events of the Arab Spring strengthened the social, political and cultural institutions created by the first Tafsut Imazighen and allowed the Amazighs to gain political momentum. In February of the same year, an unlikely coalition calling for the expansion of freedom in Morocco was formed between the Amazigh union and Islamist protesters. Broad support for the demands of this coalition ultimately led to the introduction of a new constitution recognizing Tamazigh as the official language in Morocco and according to which the Amazigh identity is consistent with the Moroccan national identity.

Current challenges

Initially a popular movement, the Amazigh cultural renewal movement has gradually gained political influence over the years. As he continues to gain national and international attention, North African governments are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore his calls.

The Amazigh people of the Maghreb have thus acquired a significant degree of recognition, particularly in Morocco and Algeria. Likewise, their situation is improving appreciably in Tunisia and Libya, knowing that a few decades ago, these dominant political discourses presented the Maghreb as totally Arabic in language and culture.

It is widely believed that in Morocco the government will hopefully recognize the Amazigh New Year as a national holiday in 2019 and remove the qualifying term “Arab” from its official news agency: Maghreb Arab Press (MAP). The government can also name streets, boulevards and institutions after well-known Amazigh people. In Algeria too, the dynamic of recognition of Amazigh culture is in full swing and the process will certainly continue in 2019. It is hoped that these new achievements will also motivate changes in Tunisia and Libya.

However, in Morocco, government concessions may block further progress. Many Amazigh activists believe that the adoption of the Tifinagh script over the Latin script is a subtle way to further separate Berber from Arabic in contemporary Moroccan society (many of whom are learning to read and write French. before Arabic). Meanwhile, activists who support government participation (called makhzenized by their former colleagues in arms), believe that it could be a small price to pay for a final acceptance.

Today, the official Ircam is in decline. Over the years, the Moroccan establishment has used it extensively to subdue Amazighs and keep out loud voices calling for full recognition of Tamazight cultural rights. It is mainly made up of people from the Moroccan Association for Cultural Research and Exchange (AMREC) who, from the very beginning, have been used as the Amazigh arm of the Moroccan establishment to advance its own vision of Amazigh culture. : obsequious and submissive.

And when it comes to the political implications, the current situation is bittersweet. If the states of North Africa want to achieve peace with their Amazigh populations, they must not only accept Amazigh culture as Amazigh, but also become part of the culture of the country. This overlapping identity is still a new idea that is just starting to germinate, and if the gap can be bridged between government rhetoric and individual activism, acceptance and fair treatment can be achieved.

Amazigh activists and activists are now focusing on greater open recognition of the Amazigh cultural presence by politicians, pressuring governments to adopt the geographic name “Grand Maghreb” instead of “Arab Maghreb” for the region from North Africa.

Thus, the political movement of Tafsut Imazighen has both propelled and given birth to important cultural vestiges of the affirmation of the Amazigh identity, leading to the positive developments of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM) in Morocco, to the creation of radio networks and Amazigh television, information and fine arts outlets in theater, literature and dance and full recognition of the language and civilization in Algeria as well. The incorporation of Tamazight and other aspects of Amazigh identity has occurred since the earliest recorded attempts at colonization by the Phoenicians, and it has survived in this way to the present day, and so it is important to celebrate the appreciation of Amazigh arts in popular culture today in tandem with positive political developments, because their interaction is dynamic.

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About Wesley V. Finley

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