Who’s who in North Africa, by Arezki Metref (Le Monde diplomatique

A pilgrim at the El-Jammaa Oufella (‘upper mosque’) in the Djurdjura mountains, eastern Kabylia, July 2015

Farouk Batiche AFP Getty

There is often the confusion over Algerians, Arabs, Berbers and Kabyles. An Algerian is an Algerian national, independent since 1962, regardless of the ethnolinguistic group to which he belongs. A Kabyle is from Kabylia, a mountainous region east of Algiers.

Being Algerian does not necessarily mean being Arab: the Kabyles are Berbers, from an ancient North African indigenous people whose presence is attested at least since the time of Herodotus. The Berber language, Amazigh, transmitted orally, has survived for over 2,000 years, and the Berbers are scattered across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Kabyle, with five to six million speakers, is the second most widely spoken Berber language after shilha (eight million) in North Africa.

In Algeria, despite the Arabization policy pursued with energy since independence, 25 to 30% of the population is Berber-speaking – and not only the Kabyles, but also the Tuaregs, the Shawiya of Aurès, the Mozabites of M ‘ zab and the Shenwa of Mont Chenoua.

Kabylia has always been at the center of Berber claims, in particular those who want to recognize that the Algerian identity is not reduced to Arabic. Berber has been a “national language” in Algeria since 2002 and an “official language” since 2016, although its status is lower than that of Arabic, which remains the “national and official language of the state”.

About Wesley V. Finley

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