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Morocco: To Berber or Not?

Date : 2011-05-04 08:14:00



Al Arabiya

A royal speech termed historical by state media and political parties in Morocco has opened the stage for a war of words over the status of the country’s indigenous Amazigh language, also known as Berber, in an expected new constitution.

Following his speech March 9, Moroccan King Mohammed VI formed a handpicked committee to draft a new constitution, which he said should recognize the Amazigh language.

But, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. While some political parties and civil society groups suggest that the ancient language be recognized in the constitution as “national,” others insist it should be placed on equal footing with Arabic by giving the “official” designation.

The ruling Istiqlal party, which has worked since independence from France and Spain in 1956 to institute a policy of Arabization, has called for recognizing the Amazigh language and culture “as part of the Moroccan national identity.”

Mohamed al-Khalifa, a member of the party’s executive committee, said the language should not be recognized as official because “it would be difficult to apply it on the ground.”

Berber activists hold the Moroccan flag during a protest. (File photo)

He criticized the demands of Amazigh activists as “political exploitation of the Amazigh issue.” He claimed that his party was the first to defend the Amazigh cause and it is the only one that represents the Amazigh people in the parliament.

But Ahmad Assid, an Amazigh activist, rejected these claims and accused the Istiqlal party of “racism” and “chauvinism.”

“The Istiqlal party worked for 50 years to kill the Amazigh language and identity through the implementation of various Arabization policies,” Mr. Assid said.

“We want Amazigh to be an official language similar to Arabic and not simply a national language,” he added. “Granting the language official recognition in the constitution means granting it judicial protection …. It will become the responsibility of the state to protect this language from extinction.”

The moderate Islamic opposition Justice and Development Party first called for recognizing the language as “national.” But amid fears this position could cause its large base of supporters to erode, the party recently called for the language to be recognized as an “official” instead.

An estimated 40 percent to 45 percent of Morocco’s 32 million people speak one of the three main Amazigh dialects, according to government figures. Independent sources say the percentage of the Amazigh people in Morocco is much higher.

Morocco consists of Sunni Muslims of Arab, Berber or mixed Arab-Berber ancestry. The Arabs brought Islam, along with Arabic language and culture, to the region from the Arabian Peninsula during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century.

Today, a small Jewish community and a largely expatriate Christian population live in the country. Arabic is Morocco's official language, but French is widely taught and serves as the primary language of commerce and government. Moroccan colloquial Arabic is a combination of Arabic, Berber and French dialects.

Along with Arabic, about 10 million Moroccans speak one of the three Moroccan Berber dialects -- Tarifit, Tashelhit and Tamazight). Spanish is also used in the northern part of the country. English is rapidly becoming the foreign language of choice among educated youth and is offered in all public schools from the fourth year on, according to InfoPlease.

(Mustapha Ajbaili of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at:

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Readers comments : NB: Please note that the comments represent the views of their authors and that AmazighWorld don't endore them

Glad I\'ve finally found smoething I agree with!  
Glad I\'ve finally found smoething I agree with!  
Par: Luckie

Gee whiz, and I tohhugt this would be hard to find out.  
Gee whiz, and I tohhugt this would be hard to find out.  
Par: Wind

- I visited Morocco in the High Atlas monatuins and trekked through many of the villages in the Imlil area and your photos capture the spirit of this  
- I visited Morocco in the High Atlas monatuins and trekked through many of the villages in the Imlil area and your photos capture the spirit of this area exactly as I remember it. Amazingly diverse country and some of the friendliest people I have ever met.I have a photo of an impromptu lunch in one of the mountain villages. One of the guys in our group happened to know somebody in the village and we sat on carpets under the shade of big walnut tree in their back yard while the women used the food we brought and added some of their own to prepare a delicious lunch for everyone. Great experience!!!!  
Par: Andranik

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