The Amazigh culture in Morocco, a singular charm

The Amazigh culture in Morocco, a singular charm which reinforces the mixing of identity in the Kingdom.

By Solaimane Lbakassi

May 15, 2021

Morocco, a unique country of its kind, a country on the southern shore of the Mediterranean where different cultures, civilizations, languages, beliefs and religions intersect. a cultural diversity which is added to a geographical diversity leading in this respect to an ethnic symbiosis.

The thousand-year-old history of the Kingdom is full of several examples of cohabitation and tolerance, a history whose benchmarks analyzed demonstrate this unconditional link with the cradle of civilization (the Fertile Crescent, Mesopotamia, the Levant …). Of course, historical writings proportionately reveal to us the major events of each historical phase, but reading and analysis must be multidisciplinary and even interpretative. In epistemology and history, empirical work follows a process of historical methodology (interpretation, deontology, ethnology, etc.). It is in this historical framework that we will focus our attention on an ethnic group known by its seniority and its cohabitation with different civilizations; this ethnicity considered as the natives of North Africa (North Africa, Egypt, the Canaries) were present over a very vast geographical territory. Unfortunately, this considerable omnipresence in North Africa was beginning to be restricted, at a certain point in history, for known reasons (invasions, wars and repressions).

In Morocco The Imazighen represent 15,000,000 – 20,000,000 of the Moroccan population, a presence that exceeds half of the population. This considerable presence pushed Moroccan intellectuals to demand new reforms in favor of Amazigh culture. In fact, the Amazigh culture has lived through moments of oblivion and political marginalization for a long time (questions of identity and Arabization…). This process of claim was not well received by some opponents, fortunately the Kingdom of Morocco is guided by a Monarch who decides and adopts the reforms following talks, of course, with the parties concerned.

To further identify the reasons that pushed Amazigh intellectuals to claim the right to institutionalize Amazigh culture in Morocco, it is necessary to relativize and analyze the social, cultural, political and identity context during the period of the emergence of the Amazigh movement. in Morocco, this period of social and political upheavals favored the emergence of an educated middle class which will be the basis for the emancipation of the Amazigh community on social, political and identity questions (in parallel, the left movements and Marxism is gaining ground in Morocco and elsewhere…).

This unexpected craze requires full involvement of intellectuals and the state, something necessary to create a discursive identity that values ​​the Amazigh individual. This intellectual movement firmly rejected the term Berber, perceived as pejorative, and adopted the term Amazigh as an identity, removing in this regard a nomination unsuitable for Amazigh culture. Therefore, the most important point remains the enhancement of Amazigh as a language and not as an orality, another discrimination of this culture at that time, in response to opponents who judge the Amazigh dialects inferior to the Arabic language, this coming and going between the intellectuals of Pan-Arabism and the Amazigh movement will be an advantage in favor of the Amazigh question in Morocco (Post-colonialism 1960),

But what intrigued the intellectuals of this period is, how to ensure this correlation between a movement confined to academia and the Amazigh population, a population dispatched over an immense territory?

In the 1960s, there was the birth of the first Amazigh Cultural Movement, a first in Morocco, this movement brought together several figures who campaigned for the recognition and adoption of their identity. The political context of the time closed to any freedom of expression as well as the fragility of the nascent movement explain this reluctance to recognize certain notions (Amazigh instead of Berber). It was not until the 1980s that the term “Amazigh” was explicitly used. There was also, in 1967, the creation of the Moroccan Association for Research and Cultural Exchanges (AMREC), an Association which aims to promote cultures and the arts.

From the 1970s, other associations were created in Rabat, Nador, Agadir and Casablanca. The year 1980 established the visibility of the nascent Amazigh Cultural Movement. It corresponds to the holding of the first session of the Agadir summer university, whose theme is “Popular culture. Unity in diversity ”. Ten years later, in 1991, we witness the signing of what is considered the founding act of the MCA, namely the Charter relating to the Amazigh language and culture in Morocco. This “Agadir Charter”, signed by six associations, brings together the main demands of the Movement broken down into seven objectives to be achieved, including: the stipulation in the constitution of the national character of the Amazigh language, alongside the Arabic language; the integration of the Amazigh language and culture in various fields of cultural and educational activities, and their inclusion in educational programs; the right of citizenship in the media. The state’s response to Amazigh demands came in 2001 with the creation, by royal dahir, of the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture (IRCAM). The institution is responsible for“To safeguard, promote and strengthen the place of Amazigh culture in the national educational, socio-cultural and media space as well as in the management of local and regional affairs”. In 2011, a historical event emerges on the cultural and political scene, Article 5 of the Constitution provides that Amazigh was to become an official language of the State as a heritage common to all Moroccans without exception, a first in the region of North Africa, below an excerpt:

Section 1: Constitutional principles

Article 5

The State undertakes to:

  1. a) Guarantee the Amazigh language, culture and civilization as an identity and heritage common to all Moroccans, without exception;
  2. b) Guarantee the equality of the two official languages, without any discrimination, and consider any depreciation or contempt of the Amazigh language as a form of racial or ethnic discrimination punishable by criminal penalties,
  3. c) Preserve and promote the Amazigh cultural and civilizational heritage.

This officialization of the Amazigh language in elementary and primary education will guarantee a total preservation of this rich identity, which constitutes a vital component of the Moroccan identity.

It was a laborious process to recognize the Amazigh culture, but the will of the state was there, which led to the adoption and historic formalization of this vital component of Moroccan society, a society that brings together other strings. identities namely; the Sahrawi Hassani component, the Jewish component and the Moorish component. all of these components constitute a privilege and a wealth for the Moroccan identity. A symbiosis which reigned in the Souss, the North and the Sahara between the Amazighs, the Arabs and the Jews without harming any of them and, the cultural heritage reveals to us this unprecedented tolerance in the region. indeed, we can say that the situation of Amazighs in Morocco is much more favorable compared to other neighboring countries, since the status quo in these countries demonstrates a gloomy situation of this culture oppressed by the powers and the media. To better understand the emancipation of the State from the Amazigh cause in Morocco, we must go back to the 1990s, in order to understand this skyrocketing Amazigh political leaders, a field previously dominated by the Fassis and the Arabs.

In the early 1990s, the presence of the Amazigh in the political scene began to increase, giving access to parliament to several emblematic Amazigh figures. Currently, (current government) the Amazighs have imposed themselves within the government alliance, the Moroccan prime minister is an Amazigh from the Souss region. This social rise is not a coincidence for a community from marginalized and less equipped regions, it is a process of long struggle and perseverance that characterizes the Amazighs. To move up the social ladder, they left their regions and set up in the economic capital, where they launched a takeover bid on trade and commerce. They first start with grocery stores, which will then allow them to invest elsewhere (restaurants, bakeries, hotels or clothing stores). This social ascent led to a political ascent, then favoring the break-up of an Amazigh bourgeoisie which claims an increasing interest in areas with a strong representation of this culture. Despite the reforms carried out so far, certain regions in Morocco, where there is a high concentration of Amazighs, still suffer from the absence of several elements vital for a healthy and fair life, these regions are even less equipped and less connected. to other urban regions, which constitutes a kind of marginalization and disparities between these people and other Moroccan regions. then promoting the break-up of an Amazigh bourgeoisie which claims an increasing interest in areas with a strong representation of this culture. 

 To conclude, the advances made in this question of institutionalization of Amazigh culture in Morocco are considerable, no one can deny this development encouraged by the Kingdom, international organizations and by the Amazigh community, this indigenous community that has been able to adapt. to the migratory flows coming from the four corners of the globe, and which created a mixing and a cultural symbiosis in the Kingdom, giving an example of tolerance for the other neighbors of the region.