FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Imazighen-State Relations in Morocco and Algeria

Imazighen-State Relations in Morocco and Algeria

BONUS LINK:  My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here. 

Research Question

As ancient inhabitants of North Africa, the Berber populace has survived more than a millennium of invasions and myriad regime policies.[1]  Over the centuries their identity has oscillated between a proud ethnic one, a dormant marginalized one, an insular tribal one and one struggling for its voice in society.  Their ability to survive and to maintain a distinct ethnic identity throughout it all has largely been a product of negotiations and interactions with ruling regimes and an ability to balance an ethos of fierce resistance (and independence) with an evolving concept of their own group identity.  These group identities (i.e. the regional Berber tribes unique to Algeria and Morocco) have remained in various degrees of tension with a gradually developing Arab-Islamic identity since the Arab invasion in the 7th century.   During the battle for colonial independence, the Berbers consistently fought against the French and Spanish occupiers.  After independence, however, these two states each embraced unique forms of government and experienced subsequent, but varied, periods of political instability and violence due to regime changes and rebellion.  Throughout this process, Islamism (i.e. political Islam) developed and emerged as a major movement while a collective national identity superseded the Berber one for several decades.  This substrata Berber identity existed only passively until the rise of identity politics in the 1970’s.  An increasingly mobilized Berber movement would actively pursue language objectives beginning in the 1990’s and continuing into the new century.
In Morocco today the Berber movement remains strong but divided.  King Mohamed’s July 2001 creation of l’Institut Royal de Culture Amazigh (IRCAM) has created a split that still exists today with many members of the Amazigh Cultural Movement (MCA) refusing to participate in what they view as the monarchy’s attempt to co-opt and temper their movement.  Politically, Berber activists have increasingly rejected the loyalist Mouvement Populaire (MP); the most radical activists forming the Parti Democrate Amazigh Marocaine (PDAM) in 2005. This party was eventually banned by the Moroccan judiciary as illegal due to legislative prohibitions on regional or ethnic political parties.[2]  After the widespread protests fueled by the Arab Spring’s success in neighboring Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the movement won recognition of Tamazight as an official language alongside Arabic.  Even this victory remains as subject of controversy with some in the movement lambasting it as only a token concession by the palace and part of a broader (and successful) effort to weaken the February 20th movement.[3] 
Despite being overwhelmingly concentrated in the Kabylie region of Algeria, the Mouvement Culturel Berbere (MCB) has been consistent in its longtime advocacy for linguistic and cultural recognition of Berbers as a whole versus Kabylia regionally.  This national outlook is not monolithic, though, in 2001 Kabyle singer and activist Ferhat Mehenni created the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK).  The MAK asserts that because the MCB and long-time Berber supported opposition political parties (e.g., Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS) and Rassemblement pour la Culture Democratie (RCD)) have all failed in effecting reform within the Algerian state as a whole, the focus should shift for reform at the regional level.  Based in Paris, however, the MAK remains an outlier, especially due to its pro-Israel stance.  Overall, the Berber movement in Algeria remains hamstrung in its efforts to promote a national agenda by its weak regional political base and geographic seclusion.  The future of the movement may hinge on its ability to leverage its demands for recognition of its cultural and linguistic autonomy with an agreement to cooperate in pursuing burgeoning Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) forces in the mountainous Kabylia regions.[4]
The past 40 years have witnessed considerable struggles for the sizable Berber minority populations in both states.  There is an opportunity to investigate the outcomes of these struggles vis-a-vis the Algerian and Moroccan state policies.  This examination of state-movement relations may explain the two very different outcomes for Berber populations in both states as affected by the state.  With one state (i.e. Morocco) more inclusive and progressive and the other more repressive and exclusionary (i.e. Algeria), what are the factors that explain these different outcomes?   Since the awakening of a Berber identity in the late 1970’s through the Arab Spring to 2012, has one factor been most influential and emerged most consistently, or are the explanations specific to time and state?   This thesis aims to identify the factors that influence Algerian and Moroccan state interactions with their Berber minority populations.

[1] Mordechai Nisan, Minorities in the Middle East : A History of Struggle and Self-Expression, Vol. Second Edition (Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2002), 54.
[2] Michael J. Willis, Politics and Power in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 220-222.

[3] “North Africa’s Berbers Get Boost from Arab Spring,” The Cortez Journal (May 5, 2012).
[4] Ibid., 223-225.

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