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Women in Algeria  

Kamal Salhi

North African historiography is interested in the history of mankind, though it tends to overlook the contribution of half of humanity: women. Women are often characterized by virtues of sobriety and purity, or the conventional attributes of wives, mothers, and mistresses common in pre-Roman times. Within an erroneously interpreted Muslim tradition, prevalent since the Ottoman period, the Algerian woman was under patriarchal protection and considered a genitor, destined to perpetuate the group. It was expected that she stayed in a private, enclosed space, inaccessible to any foreign male gaze. The veil she wore created around her body an impermissible mobile believed to control her desires. In reality, the fantasizing of its representations has contributed key points to the Western—mostly French—history of women in Muslim-influenced Algeria. The haremic image of polygamy in general essentially problematizes Western Muslim societies. The Western imagination of the past, as well as that of all contemporary societies, has long nurtured the Muslim East, characterized by the appealing odalisque, far removed from any consideration and daily concerns. The examination of the contexts in which Algerian women have become hypervisible as centers of debate and protest is no less essential to the understanding of Algeria than the history of the successive roles and challenges women have taken and experienced. Political attitudes, predominantly male, led to the introduction of the restrictive Algerian Family Law in postcolonial Algeria. Women have become the focal point for a contemporary dutiful discourse that presents itself as saving Muslim women, and that can be construed to pose a dilemma to the Western emancipation model. Women’s critical role in the unpredictably rapidly developing nation has marked events and national realizations. Despite Algerian women’s participation in various struggles and the roles assigned to them in nation-building, or even the centrality of social, political, and religious life consequential in gender relations, they demonstrate predispositions for transformational roles.

Article

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.

Article

Berber-Arabic Language Contact  

Maarten Kossmann

Since the start of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century ce, Berber and Arabic have been in continual contact. This has led to large-scale mutual influence. The sociolinguistic setting of this influence is not the same, though; Arabic influence on Berber is found in a situation of language maintenance with widespread bilingualism, while Berber influence on Arabic is no doubt to a large degree due to language shift by Berber speakers to Arabic. Linguistic influence is found on all levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. In those cases where only innovative patterns are shared between the two language groups, it is often difficult to make out where the innovation started; thus the great similarities in syllable structure between Maghrebian Arabic and northern Berber are the result of innovations within both language families, and it is difficult to tell where it started. Morphological influence seems to be mediated exclusively by lexical borrowing. Especially in Berber, this has led to parallel systems in the morphology, where native words always have native morphology, while loans either have nativized morphology or retain Arabic-like patterns. In the lexicon, it is especially Berber that takes over scores of loanwords from Arabic, amounting in one case to over one-third of the basic lexicon as defined by 100-word lists.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: Morocco (1510-1822)  

Stephen Cory

Between 1510–1822, Morocco went through significant changes that laid the foundation for its modern nation state. Most noteworthy among these changes was a shift from the Berber dynasties that had dominated the country for almost five hundred years to governments headed by shurafā’, Arab leaders who claimed lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. A combination of external threats (e.g., colonization from Portugal and Spain, and the threat of Ottoman expansion) and internal developments (e.g., the rising influence of murābitūn and shurafā’ within the country), along with the perceived inability of the Berber Wattasids to meet the Portuguese challenge, contributed to this dynastic change. In the five hundred years leading up to the early 21st century, two separate sharifian dynasties have governed Morocco, and the country has vacillated between periods of strong central rule and times of unrest (fitna) and weak central government. However, since the rise of the ʿAlawi dynasty in the late 17th century, ʿAlawi supremacy has not been seriously challenged, even during extensive periods of fitna or foreign colonization. Although Morocco developed a flexible system of government that helped unify the country during this period, it still fell behind European states in terms of technology, science, economy, and military strength. A degree of intellectual and social stagnation set in, such that European visitors in the 19th century perceived Morocco to be a country stuck in its medieval past. This weakness vis-à-vis its near neighbors to the north (particularly England and France) eventually set the stage for the direct colonization of Morocco by Europeans in the early 20th century.

Article

Afroasiatic Languages  

Zygmunt Frajzyngier

Afroasiatic languages are the fourth largest linguistic phylum, spoken by some 350 million people in North, West, Central, and East Africa, in the Middle East, and in scattered communities in Europe, the United States, and the Caucasus. Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, Somali, and Oromo, are spoken by millions of people, while others are endangered with extinction. As of the early 21st century, the phylum is composed of six families: Egyptian (extinct), Semitic, Cushitic, Omotic, Berber, and Chadic. There are some typological features shared by all families, particularly in the domain of phonology. Languages are also typologically quite distinct with respect to syntax and functions encoded in the grammatical systems. Some Afroasiatic languages, such as Egyptian, Akkadian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, and Ge’ez, have a longtime written tradition, but for many languages no writing system has yet been proposed or adopted. The Old Semitic writing system gave rise to the modern alphabets used in thousands of unrelated contemporary languages. Two Semitic languages, Hebrew (with some Aramaic) and Arabic, were used to write the Old Testament and the Koran, the holy books of Judaism and Islam.

Article

Women in Morocco  

Fatima Sadiqi

Women in Morocco have a rich, complicated history. In the past, they expressed themselves through creating designs in rug-weaving and related arts such as cloth making, tattoos, jewelry, collecting and safeguarding oral literature, building one of the first universities in the world, and serving their communities as political leaders and saints. In the postcolonial era, women have continued to produce oral and written texts. Such texts have been used to resist colonization; others have called for girls’ and women’s education and participation in politics. Since Morocco gained independence, women have continued to be present in the public sphere and have built one of the strongest women’s-rights movement in the Arab world by constantly adapting to historical, political, and social changes and endeavoring to network beyond ideological and political “redlines” that have characterized postcolonial Morocco. Using approaches that may be termed secular, Islamic, or a combination of both, Moroccan women organized themselves in the public sphere and advocated for social, economic, legal, and political reforms. In this way, they succeeded in marking important eras in modern Morocco and became crucial players in the public landscape. In the aftermath of the 2010–2011 uprisings that shook North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries, Moroccan women have produced new forms of movements and activism and given new meanings to their actions. More importantly, they are reinventing their identities, using new strategies and methodologies, and continuing the creativity and resilience that has marked their long history of agency. With the 2011 formalization of Amazigh (Berber) language as an official language in Morocco, women’s ancestral knowledge has come full circle not only as part of Moroccan women’s voices but as a central feature of Morocco’s homegrown identity.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: 600–1060 CE  

Allen Fromherz

The history of North Africa from the coming of Islam to the rise of the Almoravid Empire in the 11th century is a crucial period in the making of the Islamic Maghrib. From 600 ce to 1060 ce Berbers and Arabs interacted in a variety of ways and through a process of acculturation. This interaction created a distinctive cultural and historical zone called the “Maghrib” or the “land of the setting sun,” a zone that would be recognized throughout the Islamic world. While many questions remain unanswered or yet to be explored from this period due to issues with sources, the first centuries after the coming of Islam to the Maghrib (7th—11th centuries) set the stage for the rise of the great Berber and Muslim empires: the Almoravid and Almohads. This period is crucial for understanding the development and history of Maghribi Islam.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: 1147–1500  

Allen Fromherz

The Maghrib, “land of the setting sun” in Arabic, is the region of northwest Africa consisting of the countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and, often, Mauritania. Even in flat, desert regions and plains of the Maghrib, the dominant geographical feature of the Maghrib is the Atlas Mountain range, looming over the horizon. These mountains not only create the geographic conditions for the desert, in terms of human geography, but they also form a massive, natural backbone and fortress from southern Morocco into Tunisia. For most of classical history the Atlas Mountains have been a great stumbling block for rulers. This changed in the early 12th century with the coming of the Almohads, who controlled the mountains and turned them into the heart of their empire. Before the Almohads, no power, not even the Romans, could claim to control the mountains. Instead, successive rulers tried to go around the range or to build fortifications at mountain passes, often in vain. Originating within the Atlas Mountains and maintaining their power all along its spine and into the southern Sierra Nevada of Iberia, the Almohads were the first to use the Atlas Mountains to their advantage. In doing so, they created the first unified, single polity across the Maghrib, originating too the idea that the Maghrib could be a politically united geographical space. Connections with Sahara and the Mediterranean could also now be strategically controlled. This era of Almohad unification, however, did not last long, a short fifty or sixty years from 1147 to the first decades of the 13th century, when the Almohad empire faced defeat from external forces and began a process of breaking apart into successor dynasties. Despite many later attempts to revive the Almohad model, no subsequent power was able to effectively restore the Almohad Empire’s reach across the Maghrib. Nonetheless, that unlikely and extraordinary success created the dream, or memory, of unification, one that continues to influence the people of the Maghrib.

Article

Language Contact in the Sahara  

Lameen Souag

As might be expected from the difficulty of traversing it, the Sahara Desert has been a fairly effective barrier to direct contact between its two edges; trans-Saharan language contact is limited to the borrowing of non-core vocabulary, minimal from south to north and mostly mediated by education from north to south. Its own inhabitants, however, are necessarily accustomed to travelling desert spaces, and contact between languages within the Sahara has often accordingly had a much greater impact. Several peripheral Arabic varieties of the Sahara retain morphology as well as vocabulary from the languages spoken by their speakers’ ancestors, in particular Berber in the southwest and Beja in the southeast; the same is true of at least one Saharan Hausa variety. The Berber languages of the northern Sahara have in turn been deeply affected by centuries of bilingualism in Arabic, borrowing core vocabulary and some aspects of morphology and syntax. The Northern Songhay languages of the central Sahara have been even more profoundly affected by a history of multilingualism and language shift involving Tuareg, Songhay, Arabic, and other Berber languages, much of which remains to be unraveled. These languages have borrowed so extensively that they retain barely a few hundred core words of Songhay vocabulary; those loans have not only introduced new morphology but in some cases replaced old morphology entirely. In the southeast, the spread of Arabic westward from the Nile Valley has created a spectrum of varieties with varying degrees of local influence; the Saharan ones remain almost entirely undescribed. Much work remains to be done throughout the region, not only on identifying and analyzing contact effects but even simply on describing the languages its inhabitants speak.

Article

The Almohad Empire, c. 1120–1269  

Amira Bennison

The Almohad empire was founded during the mid-12th century by a militant religio-political movement that originated among the Maṣmūda tribes of the High Atlas Mountains in what is now Morocco. At its height, the empire extended across North Africa to modern Tunisia and also incorporated the southern parts of modern Spain and Portugal. The original religious leader of the movement was Muḥammad b. Tūmart, but the empire was ruled by a dynasty known as the Muʾminids after ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, Ibn Tūmart’s successor as leader of the Almohads. The empire was one of the largest Islamic political formations of its time and played an important role in the western Mediterranean and beyond prior to its demise in the mid-13th century. The empire was distinctive in several ways. The Almohads saw their interpretation of Islam as a revival of Muḥammad’s message to which all Abrahamic monotheists should convert, a radical position leading to a black myth that they were persecutors of religious minorities, although the limited reach of medieval government meant that they could not always implement their objectives. As a Maṣmūda-backed empire, the Almohads also promoted public use of the Maṣmūda language, one of the Berber or Amazigh family of languages, alongside Arabic, and created an imperial elite from across their empire. They are also famous for their promotion of new styles of urban architecture, especially their huge square-tower minarets, and for patronage of the arts and sciences at court, making the Almohad century one of intellectual ferment as well as religious and political change.