Berbers Break New Ground in Morocco

Morocco is introducing reforms that further protect the Berber identity, including integrating the Amazigh language into the constitution, school curricula, the media and public administrations, writes Moha al-Naji. 

al-monitor Berbers celebrate the festival of the Prophet at Sidi Jogtte sanctuary in the Todra oasis, near Tinerhir. 2009.  Photo by REUTERS/Rafael Marchante.

Topics covered

pluralism, morocco, king mohammed vi, democratic transition, democracy, berber, amazigh

Jul 23, 2012

Morocco is currently undergoing a number of fundamental reforms. These reforms include the introduction of the Amazigh [Berber] language into the constitution and integrating it in educational curricula, the media and public administrations. Reforms are also taking place in the religious sector.

Promoting the Amazigh language and religious reform contributes to the modernization of society and rids the country of residues of the past. It also cultivates a culture of democracy, cultural pluralism, citizenship, equality and dialogue that involves all of the Moroccan people and combats isolationism. There is no democracy without dialogue, which protects the freedom to create. As a result of these reforms, we may be able to move forward to address global issues, including the serious challenges of globalization, economic and technological backwardness and poverty.

What distinguishes Morocco from the countries of the Middle East is its Amazigh component. The Amazigh community gives Morocco cultural plurality, and it is an important component of the country’s Islamic national identity. The Amazigh population is entirely Muslim and Islam has played an instrumental role in the history of Morocco. A new civilization was born when the Amazigh character merged with the greatness of Islam, and the Arabic and Amazigh languages coexisted. The Amazigh community had never had any problem with the Arabic language, until today.

Morocco is a Muslim country with two national languages, Arabic and Amazigh. Policies aiming at excluding one of the components of Moroccan identity would cause segregation and extremism. The Amazigh language is a language of the Muslim world, and it must be officially recognized and respected before it disappears due to the dominance of globalization and Western culture. No language can survive without proper care at the official level.

In order to bring respect back to the Amazigh language and culture, and in response to the demands of the Amazigh Cultural Movement, King Mohammed VI announced the establishment of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture on October 17, 2001. This move was unprecedented in the region and stems from a central conviction of the need to preserve an integral part of Morocco’s national culture.

The protection of Amazigh culture is not only related to questions of Amazigh identity in Morocco. It is also related to our country’s ongoing democratic process. There is a relation between Amazigh revival and the social movement aimed at reinforcing irreversible democratic gains. The Amazigh movement contributes to the democratic transformation and development of the Moroccan people’s ability to create new forms of cooperation. The movement actively improves Morocco's economic, social and cultural conditions and promotes a culture of freedom through cultural dialogue, research, and innovation.

Promoting Amazigh culture will also contribute to the rewriting of Moroccan history. It will renew respect for the collective memory of the Moroccan people, and enlighten future generations. Without historical memory, the Amazigh community will continue to be marginalized, torn between waves of alienation and the negative effects of globalization. The integration of the Amazigh language and culture will help consolidate a state of law and rights. Given that democracy should achieve sustainable development through the participation of citizens, granting linguistic and cultural rights to the Amazigh-speaking population will help put Morocco on this path. Multi-culturalism is a valuable resource that can benefit all segments of Moroccan society. The integration of the Amazigh language and culture will help to cement equal opportunities in key areas such as education, justice, and the economy.

Recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language is a recognition of the linguistic and cultural diversity in Morocco. The promotion of Amazigh culture contributes toward the establishment of democracy and the rule of law against all forms of extremism and isolationism. The latest election campaign, in which political parties used the Amazigh language to communicate with all voters, showed that the Amazigh language is alive and instrumental for the democratic transition and achieving national unity, not a tool for division as some claim. The Amazigh issue does not only concern the Amazigh-speaking population, but all Moroccan citizens. It is a national and cultural issue that is viewed as essential to all conscientious forces. Thus, threatening the components of Moroccan identity — whether Arab, Amazigh or Muslim — is a violation of the dignity of Moroccan citizens.

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