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U.S. Defense Intelligence Assessment

Special Psychological Operations Assessment

PSYOP Issue Analysis:

The Rise of Amazigh Nationalism
and National Consciousness
in North Africa

prepared by Dr. Larry A. Barrie
Strategic Studies Detachment
4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne)

August 1998


NOTE: This document has been replicated word-for-word as printed by the US government. While benificial in bringing the Amazigh question to light, the paper does not include any documentation and has some errors. Therefore, it should not be used as "proof" for arguments, as that is not the intent of this paper. An additional note, this document describes FIS leader Abassi Madani as a Kabyle, which is incorrect. Madani was born in Sidi Okba in Biskra, in the south of Algeria. His family is from this area, which is not Kabylie territory. He is, therefore, not a Kabyle, nor has he ever identified himself as an Amazigh of any group.

Blanca Madani WAAC

The Issue


The term "Amazigh" used in this study is the preferred term for the Berber people of North Africa. The still widely used ethnolinguistic word "Berber" is disliked because of its pejorative and demeaning character--it implies that the person so called is "barbarian" in every sense of the word. "Berber" derives from the Greek word "barbaroi," denoting one who did not speak Greek but babbled unintelligibly and was thus a barbarian. The Romans and Byzantines continued this use of the term. During and after the Arab invasions of the seventh century, the Arabs followed the Greco-Roman practice and referred to the indigenous peoples they encountered as "barbar." The French and English speakers adopted "Berber" and "Berber" coined the word "Barbary," implying that the inhabitants were indeed barbarians.

On the Internet and elsewhere, Amazigh "nationalists" are lobbying for the use of the term "Amazigh," which they use to describe themselves in their own languages. "Amazigh" signifies "free" or "noble" person; the plural is Imazighen. To define, in the most generic way, the language that they speak, Imazighen use the term "Tamazight." This term is also used specifically for the speech of the Imazighen of Kabylia in Algeria and the Middle Atlas in Morocco. Regional Tamazight speakers use their own localized terms to define their own regional variations, such as Tarrifit in northern Morocco, Tashilhit in Morocco's Sous Valley, and the like. The original Amazigh alphabetic transcription system is referred to as "Tifinagh." Variant transcription systems in use include Latin and Arabic adaptations of Tifinagh representations.


Tuareg elements in Mali call their ancestral homeland Azouad (in northwestern Mali), and the Tuareg of Niger call theirs Air (in the Air mountain massif of north central Niger, with its capital at Agadez) and refer to themselves as the Kel Air (i.e., "People of Air). Small groups of Imazighen are also found in Libya and at Siwa Oasis, Egypt, but they have not been as vocal as other groups in their expression of ethnic or national consciousness. The word "Amazighité" (i.e., Berberism) is often used to sum up the qualities that Amazigh persons might share. These include speaking an Amazigh language, revering the national homeland (Tamazgha) of the Amazigh people (including all of the Arab Maghreb Union [AMU] countries, Siwa Oasis in Egypt, and parts of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, the Canary Islands, and Chad), practicing various customs common to the Imazighen, and instilling a historical awareness of the basic outlines of Amazigh history and famous historical figures.

Substance and Origins

Since the dawn of history Imazighen have been the indigenous inhabitants of North Africa; their territory reaches from Egypt to Mauritania and from the Mediterranean to the boundaries of historic sub-Saharan Black Africa. Various empires and peoples have conquered portions of historic Tamazgha, beginning with the Phoenicians and Greeks and continuing through the Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, French, British, Spanish, and Italians. Imazighen have been subjected to various religious beliefs: their own early pantheistic concepts; the polytheistic dogmas of the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; and monotheistic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Since the 13th century, most Imazighen have professed the Islamic faith and Islam has sunk most deeply into their psyches.

Throughout their history, the Imazighen have always had their heroes or heroines who have defended their ancestral homeland but then succumbed to the superior "civilizational" might of their conquerors. In 814 B.C., for example, Amazigh chief Iarbas negotiated a deal to marry Princess Dido, daughter of the King of Tyre, in return for a small piece of real estate that eventually became Qart Hadasht (i.e., the New City, or Carthage). Kings Juba and Massinissa intrigued with the Romans against the Carthaginians. Royal prince Jugurtha learned Roman fighting techniques and then led a formidable rebellion from 106 to 104 B.C. according to the Roman historian Sallust's account of the Jugurthine War.

In the early stages of the Arab invasions, Aures tribal chief Kusaila, and later the Kahena (thought to have been an Amazigh Jewish priestess), fought the Arab invaders in the late 7th-early 8th century until the Arab forces overwhelmed them, and they were forced to submit. Salih of the Moroccan Berghawata took Muhammad as his model and created his own variant of Islam; he is even reputed to have authored an "Amazigh" Koran and to have repulsed Arab penetration of Morocco's Atlas Mountains. Amazigh leaders Yusuf ibn Tashfin and Ibn Tumart established the great Amazigh medieval empires of the Almoravids (al-Murabitun, "People of the Ribat") and the Almohades (al-Muwahhidun, the "Unitarians"), which dominated much of North Africa and Spain in the 12th and 13th centuries. From the 13th century on, however, Arab bedouin tribes (the Banu Hilal, Banu Sulaym, and Banu Ma'qil) began to inundate the low-lying plains of North Africa and began a process of Arabization that would continue into the 20th century.

The Imazighen retained their native tongues only in the Atlas Mountains and remote sections of the Sahara not penetrated by these Arab groups. As a result, Amazigh consciousness remained strong only in the High, Middle, and Riff Atlas sections of Morocco; the Kabylia mountain massifs east of Algiers; the Aures Mountains of eastern Algeria; the Mzab region of the northern Sahara of Algeria; Algeria's Tuareg sectors of the Ahaggar and Tassili-n-Ajjer; and a few other remote sections of the Algerian Sahara, the Jabal Nafusa Mountains south of Tripoli, the Kufra Oasis complex, the Tebu sections of the Tibesti mountain massif in southeastern Libya, the Saharan Siwa Oasis complex in western Egypt, the Tuareg Azouad territory of northwestern Mali, and the Tuareg-occupied Air mountain massif of north central Niger.

Except for an attempt by the French to separate Moroccans through the so-called Berber dahir (decree) of 1930, which backfired and helped to unify Arab and Amazigh against the French usurpers, the rising consciousness of Amazigh peoples of North Africa has been primarily a late 20th century post-independence phenomenon that has become increasingly acute since the "Berber Spring" of 1980 in Algeria. This consciousness has achieved near-nationalistic levels in Algeria and Morocco and has become the basis of antigovernmental guerrilla activities in Niger and Mali. Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Mauritania (except for the influx of Tuareg refugees from Mali) have not experienced any high degree of Amazigh-related cultural or political activities, as a result of the sparse numbers of Amazigh ethnics in these countries.

Algeria's Berber Spring occasioned much organizational activity with political repercussions involving violent reactions and other severe measures that resulted in severe measures taken by the government to repress Amazigh aspirations. In the after-math, Amazigh political movements emerged that were transformed into political parties when Algeria's one-party system was "opened up" in 1989. The cultural vehicle that grew from the Berber Spring was the Berber Cultural Movement (Mouvement Culturel Berber, MCB), which later formally remained separate from the political parties. Two political parties were legally recognized in 1989: the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Ralliemen Constitutionnel Democratique, RCD), led by Said Saadi, and the Socialist Forces Front (Front des Forces Socialistes, FFS) of Ait Ahmed. Neither claimed Berberism, or Amazighité, as their overriding political philosophy, but most of their constituents were Kabyle Imazighen and remain so today.

In Algeria, the Tamazight-speaking minority, including all those who speak variations of Tamazight, constitutes about 20 percent of the population. From the Amazigh perspective, however, perhaps 80-90 percent of the population remains ethnically Amazigh, although that portion has substantially Arabized and has thereby lost its original Amazigh identity. Tamazight speakers survived in remote mountain and desert regions isolated from the primarily lowlander Arabs and Arabized members of the population. Kabyle Imazighen have largely opposed the regime, while Shawi Imazighen have dominated the Algerian state since 1965 when Shawi military leader Houari Boumedienne overthrew Ahmed Ben Bella, a western Algerian Arab. Nearly every Algerian president since 1965 has been Shawi Amazigh. The Shawi Imazighen differ from their Kabyle counterparts in their support for Arabization and their attempts to conceal their Amazighité. Because of their identification with the larger Arab mass of Algerians, the Shawi leaders have always tried to suppress movements of Amazigh cultural or political autonomy. The main proponent of Amazighité and the Amazigh cultural and political role in the Algerian nation has been and remains the large Kabyle Amazigh minority. The MCB, RCD, and FFS are primarily Kabyle cultural and political associations. The main Islamist opposition party, Algeria's now-banned Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut, FIS), is led by Kabyle Amazigh Abassi Madani. The Kabyle Imazighen are at the forefront of the latest issue of concern to Imazighen: the Algerian government's determination to implement the Arabization law of December 1996 on 5 July 1998. This will outlaw the use of French and Tamazight for all practical purposes.

In the case of Morocco, official statistics allege that 40 percent of the population speaks Tamazight, including local variants. Moroccan Imazighen leaders, however, claim that 80-90 percent of the population, as in Algeria, are ethnic Imazighen who have lost their cultural identity in the process of Arabization since the 13th century. Also, as in Algeria, Tamazight speakers survived in mountain fastnesses and remote Saharan areas while the lowlands were inundated from the 13th century on by Arabic-speaking bedouin tribesmen who assimilated lowland Tamazight speakers. From the middle of the 18th century until the early 20th century, Morocco possessed two identities: the Bled al-Siba, or "Land of Dissidence," which lay outside government control and was largely Amazigh in speech and culture, and the Bled al-Makhzin, or "Land Subject to Governmental Authority," which lay within the administrative control of the central government and was primarily Arabic in speech and culture. It was the achievement of the French Protectorate to unify Morocco politically by incorporating the Bled al-Siba between 1911 and 1934 into the area of government control. This achievement laid the basis for the national consolidation of the Moroccan state for the first time since the 1720s. One unforeseen result of this was the introduction of Arabization into former strongholds of Amazigh culture. The tension created by this process peaked in the 1980s and witnessed in the 1990s the resurgence of Amazigh culture and political parties, including demands for the teaching of Tamazight in the public schools, allocation of media time for Tamazight and other Amazigh dialects, and recognition of the Amazigh role in the creation of the Moroccan nation. The latest government measure opposed by Imazighen is a new law passed in late 1996 that restricts the use of names for Moroccan children to approved Arabic-Muslim names and indirectly outlaws the use of Amazigh names not on the approved list.

Parties to the Dispute

The Amazigh peoples of North Africa are the primary protagonists in the heightening of national and cultural consciousness. Those most vocal in support of this rising consciousness have been the Imazighen of Morocco and Algeria and their minority counterparts in Mali and Niger where the Tuareg Imazighen have fought desperate guerrilla wars against the black majority governments for national independence or at least autonomy in their ancestral homelands of Azouad (Mali) and Air (Niger). Those who look askance at the Amazigh movements comprise the Arab populations of North Africa and the black majority populations and governments of Mali and Niger.

Various Positions on the Dispute

The Amazigh Position

The basic Amazigh contention is that there exists a geographical entity known as Tamazgha that comprises all the territory formerly inhabited by the original indigenous population of North Africa who they contend were Imazighen. Various invaders and conquerors throughout history have sequestered and occupied Amazigh land and pushed the rightful inhabitants off the land, killed them, enslaved them, or assimilated them. As a result of such successive waves of invaders, Imazighen have been marginalized and swept aside onto the fringes of the mainstream civilizations. While much of the North African population has remained ethnically Amazigh, those Imazighen who have remained in close contact with the intrusive civilizations have assimilated linguistically and culturally to those civilizations. The latest in the succession of invaders has been the Arab-Muslims, who succeeded in assimilating lowland Imazighen through the joint processes of Arabization and Islamization. These processes have reduced the Imazighen speakers to minority status through linguistic affiliation while ethnically the population remains predominantly Amazigh. Imazighen readily identify with Islam as their preferred religion, but are concerned about the state-directed attempts to Arabize the Tamazight-speaking minority and thereby eliminating the Amazigh existence from all memory. In Niger and Mali, outright extermination of the Amazigh people was state policy until the early 1990s.

While the Amazigh people for the most part recognize that they cannot physically reconstitute Tamazgha, they would like to preserve their separate identity and to gain recognition of the historical role played by the various Amazigh peoples in forming the various nations that have emerged during the course of national liberation movements against European colonialist powers. To maintain their separate identities, the Amazigh peoples would like the various governments that run the states within which they live to recognize their various languages as "state" languages, to provide schools for training Amazigh children in these languages, and to secure media time for news and other broadcasts in their various languages. Imazighen would like each national state to recognize their contributions to the nation, if possible, through clauses in the national constitutions. In Mali and Niger, Amazigh elements seek autonomy so that they can preserve their identity in the face of state and social genocide practiced against them by the government and people of these states.

Arab State and Popular Positions

Arab state positions allege that Arabic is the national language and that Islam is the state religion. Only the governments of Morocco and Algeria have made concessions to the Amazigh peoples by agreeing to provide instruction in Tamazight at the elementary level and provide access to audiovisual media for radio and television broadcasts. Government attempts to carry through with classes in Tamazight are fraught with difficulties because of the lack of textbooks. In Morocco, following a 15-minute news broadcast from 1:00 to 1:15 p.m. daily, there are 5-minute news summaries broadcast in Tamazight, Tarrifit, and Tashelhit. Algeria has permitted some regional radio broadcasting in Tamazight. Making Tamazight an official national language, however, is a moot question. National recognition of the Amazigh contribution to the formulation of the nation was not accorded the Imazighen in Morocco's constitutional referendum of 13 September 1996, although it had been openly requested in a letter signed by many Amazigh leaders in April 1996. While some concessions have been made, no Arab government is about to conceded its Arabness on behalf of its minority citizenry, no matter how rightly or cogently they might present their arguments. The Arab majority must be recognized and appeased, but the Amazigh minority appeased only to the extent necessary. While their contributions to the nation were not formally recognized in Morocco's new constitution, the Imazighen achieved much in the constitutional decentralization that will provide considerable local autonomy to Amazigh political and cultural groups. In the popular mind, the Arab majority views the Imazighen with some suspicion, remembering that Amazigh troops participated heavily in Morocco's two abortive coups of 1971 and 1972. Moroccan Arabs also view this latest Amazigh ploy as a replay of the Berber dahir of 1930 in which the French sought to divide the Moroccan nation into two separate camps (recalling the Bled al-Siba--Bled al-Makhzin division of past centuries). Imazighen are becoming more aggressive in their attempts to remove the pejorative term "barbar" or "berber" of Arabic-French usage in favor of the preferred word "Amazigh." New music tapes now depict Amazigh music as musiqa amazighiyah whereas formerly these tapes were labeled musiqa barbariyah. On the French side, Larousse has agreed to incorporate the word "Tamazight" into its new lexicon, replacing "Berber" for the language of the Imazighen. There is an open campaign on the Internet to encourage those of Amazigh descent to demand usage of the term "Amazigh" over "Berber" to describe their ethnicity. While some Arabs resist these attempts, others accept them, and "Amazigh" is becoming more acceptable as the "politically correct" expression.

Black African State and Popular Positions

The black African governments of Mali and Niger have long sought to eradicate their northern Tuareg confreres as thorns in their sides. Both the governments and the black populations have regarded the Tuareg as former enemies and slave masters who descended upon them periodically and dispatched many of their fellows as slaves across the infamous trans-Saharan caravan routes to Arab North Africa and the Middle East.

US Policy Goals

The United States is primarily concerned with furthering the process of democratization and expanding human rights sensitivities in North Africa. In this respect, US policy supports recognition of minority rights and the incorporation of minorities in the process of democratization. In this context, US policy welcomes the expansion of consciousness of the Amazigh peoples.

Key Groups

Those groups most closely identified with the issue of Amazigh national consciousness include the Imazighen; the Arab populations in Algeria, Morocco, and Mauritania; and the black African populations of Mali and Niger.


For the most part, Imazighen are not culturally active spokespersons for their various local communities. But since the early 1980s Amazigh leaders have stimulated Amazigh national consciousness through the media, cultural activities in their local areas and in Europe, and occasional political confrontations with the powers that be. Today they have established a number of fora in North Africa and Europe through which they can express their basic aspirations and inform their communities of their actions. In the printed media, in various public and cultural fora, and on radio and television, Amazigh leaders have brokered a general rise in the national consciousness of the Imazighen and in the non-Imazighen a sense of the accomplishments of their Imazighen confreres. As a result, many Imazighen have come to agree with Amazigh activists and to see the appropriateness of their advocating national recognition of contributions Imazighen have made to the national heritage. They have come to support the teaching of Amazigh languages in Amazigh areas and even at the national level. Many support the development of Amazigh-based political parties to attain goals of autonomous rule in Amazigh districts, and they would like to see their role in the national heritage enshrined in the national constitution.

Algerian, Moroccan, and Mauritanian Arabs

Arab elements in North Africa disagree with the Imazighen and their analyses of North African ethnicity, which hold that the vast majority of the population consists of ethnic Imazighen who have been Arabized and Islamized over the centuries. Most Arabs prefer to retain their Arab identity and dispute the Amazigh arguments as tendencious and without sufficient evidence. Many regard these Amazigh claims with suspicion and see them as essentially political; they accuse the Imazighen of aspiring to political power while disguising this reality behind various cultural issues such as that of language. Most Arabs also view the Imazighen as backward, primitive people whose Islamic faith belies much non-Islamic influence. Arabs also see the rise in Amazigh national consciousness as another ploy by the French to spread divisiveness among North African peoples, similar to the French attempt to divide Arabs and Imazighen through the Berber dahir of 1930. Arabs resist attempts by Imazighen to increase their slice of the national cultural heritage.

Black African Populations of Mali and Niger

Black Africans are generally hostile to the Imazighen who live in Mali and Niger, perceiving them as former slave raiders and traders as well as rebels against the black African governments. The Tuareg Imazighen have fought for separate territories of their own; Azouad, in northwestern Mali, and Air, in north central Niger. These Tuareg rebellions have generated much ill feeling among the black populations of Mali and Niger that have at times subjected the Imazighen to near-genocidal retribution. The black African militaries in both countries have on occasion massacred Tuareg in retaliation for attacks against government forces. Black Africans remain very suspicious of the Tuareg and view the support that the World Amazigh Congress extends to the Tuareg as foreign interference in a domestic political problem.

Media Environment

While audiovisual media are mostly government controlled in North Africa, the print media encompass various independent publications that support or question Amazigh aspirations. Many independent Amazigh publications can now be found in North African newsstands; some are published locally while others are imported from abroad. Some radio and television programs are locally available for reportage on Amazigh matters, indicating the limited nature of audiovisual opportunities for the Imazighen. The best US media positions continue to be to uphold US support for democratization and human rights issues.

This is a Department of Defense Intelligence Document. Information Cutoff Date: 15 June 1998. Prepared by Dr. Larry A. Barrie, Strategic Studies Detachment/CENTCOM, 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne), Fort Bragg, NC 28307-5252.
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