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Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa  

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

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Amazigh Cultural Movement and Media in Morocco  

Abdelmalek El Kadoussi, Bouziane Zaid, and Mohammed Ibahrine

The Amazigh, ethnographically known as the local inhabitants of North Africa, constitute more than half of the Moroccan population. As of 2023, the Amazigh question is a pending contention spot in the current political and public debate. The Amazigh’s contribution is evident in the Moroccan premodern political history (11th–17th century), the protectorate period (1912–1956), and the post-independence nation-building period (1956–1975). However, after independence, the linguistic, cultural, and ideological choices of modern Moroccan national identity did not include the Amazigh, since their cultural recognition and visibility remained marginal. Constitutions prior to 2011 denied local and Indigenous languages and prohibited ethnicity-oriented political parties with very few exceptions. Cultural marginalization, underrepresentation, and misrepresentation were far more evident in Moroccan media, especially the government-owned ones. From its inception, the Amazigh cultural movement (ACM) has militated for both communicative and socioeconomic rights. ACM activists were aware of the importance of Amazigh languages for the construction, consolidation, celebration, and reimagining of the Amazigh collective identity. They were also aware of the centrality of mass media for Indigenous identity politics and cultural representation, articulation, and diffusion. Drawing on secondary and case study data analysis, quantitative and qualitative indicators testify to Amazigh underrepresentation and misrepresentation in Moroccan public media. They show, for example, that Amazigh broadcast outlets’ poor content quality and amateurish diffusion styles tend to be a disservice rather than a service for indigenous communities and culture. However, the advent of the internet and digital platforms offered Indigenous cultural activists convenient spaces and effective venues for revitalizing cultural identity politics. Techno-savvy Amazigh youths managed to do in a few years what their ascendants failed to do in many decades: join efforts of home-based and diaspora activism; gather established scholars, academics, artists, and advocacy groups to address that question from different perspectives by engaging in multidirectional digital activism; build a multilayered virtual community that transcends geographical borders; and, most importantly, firmly address the political authorities and hold them to account.