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The Amazigh Revival in Morocco
By Driss Benmhend

After years of repression, the Amazigh movement in Morocco is now going through a very active and decisive stage in the struggle for the recognition of the Moroccan Amazigh identity. More Imazighen are getting organized and involved in their local communities in order to denounce the marginalization of the Amazigh culture and language. More than a dozen Amazigh associations were created in the last five years. Moreover, newsstands and bookstores in all the major cities are filled with new Amazigh magazines and other publications that provide outstanding articles about the Amazigh culture.

This enthusiasm is not shared by the national press or the government controlled radio and television, however. Moroccan Amazigh children grow up hearing everyday that Morocco is part of the “Umma Arabia” (Arabic nation) which spreads from the Gulf to the Atlantic, making them Arabs in spite of themselves. Moreover, some people in the government and the parliament seem to be annoyed and disturbed by the revival of the Amazigh identity of Morocco, which they argue is advocated by people who are supported by foreign parties whose goal is to divide the country. These government and parliament representatives believe that Morocco needs to become Arab only, in order to maintain the national unity.

Since the dawn of history, Imazighen have lived in North Africa. The area was then known as Tamazgha. After the Arab invasion, this part of the world became known as Almaghrib. Although Imazighen were eventually converted to Islam, their ethnic and linguistic purity has remained. Little by little, however, Tamazgha or Almaghrib has started losing its original Amazigh identification. After being French, Italian, and Spanish, Tamazgha is now becoming known to the world as the Arab Maghreb after the creation of the so called “Maghreb Arab Union”.

It is very naive to consider Morocco Arab only, and to throw away all the historical facts that prove that after the Arab invasion, Amazigh dynasties (Almoravides, Almohades, Merinides, etc.) ruled Morocco for centuries. Moreover, almost half the Moroccan population of Morocco speaks Tamazight-Atlas, Tarifit or Tashalhit and uses them (in certain areas) as an exclusive mean of communication in daily socio-economic and cultural activities. Therefore, the official attempts to exclude the Moroccan identity of the Amazigh culture are a dangerous attack on the Moroccan people's right to enjoy its cultural and historical heritage. The bottom line is that Morocco is Amazigh, Arab, and African whether we like it or not. As Robert Kaplan once wrote: “Morocco is not an Arab country at all, but a Berber one with a deceptive Arab veneer.” The Amazigh heritage is what makes Morocco and other North African countries unique and different from the Arabs of the Near and Middle East. Furthermore, the Arab nationalism that the national media advocates is the real threat to our national unity, because of the anger and resistance that it creates among millions of Moroccans.

In spite of these hurdles, nothing can stop or even slow down the machine of revival. The Amazigh heart is beating stronger than ever. Amazigh associations in North Africa, Europe and the USA are working very hard not only to preserve the Amazigh culture but also to fight Arab cultural dominance in North Africa. Amazigh magazines are published not only in Tamazight but also in French and Arabic in order to reach out and encourage militancy amongst all citizens against the cultural discrimination against Tamazight. Furthermore, while the Maghreb Arab Union is still struggling to exist, the first Amazigh World Congress is meeting in the Canary Islands at the end of August in order to unite and streamline the efforts to preserve the Amazigh cultural heritage.

We have started seeing some results in the Amazigh struggle. In his speech of August 20, 1994, the king of Morocco stressed the necessity of preserving the Amazigh culture, and declared that Tamazight will begin to be taught in schools in Morocco. Moreover, since August 24th of 1994, the national television station started broadcasting the news in Tamazight three times a day. Even though these actions are only a small part of what we are striving for, and Tamazight courses are still not in school curricula in our nation, these achievements are a positive step toward reaching our ultimate goals. The king's (head of state) declaration shows that Imazighen have been taken seriously, and makes us more proud of our language and heritage. This is probably worth celebrating. However, celebration will be sweet once our Amazigh identity and cultural rights are fully restored. I am very optimistic, not because of what is achieved so far, but because of the strong commitment of Imazighen throughout the nation to push our sacred cause further towards the reinstatement of the Amazigh linguistic and cultural rights. There is more work to be done at the local and national level, in order to educate and motivate all Imazighen to rise against the cultural discrimination and assert their identity rights.

Driss Benmhend
Washington; June, 1997

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