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Tufts University

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Morocco: Migration and Transnational Identity


The Arab Spring has seen North African and Middle Eastern youth organizing against the status quo and challenging what they perceive as political, economic, and social injustices. In Morocco, while the Arab Spring may not have been as substantial as in neighboring countries, demonstrations are still occurring nearly everyday in major cities like Rabat as individuals protest issues including government transparency, high unemployment, and, for specific interest of this paper, the marginalization of the Amazigh people. The Amazigh, also popularly referred to as Berbers in most Western academia and literature, are regarded as the original inhabitants of Morocco and the rest of the Maghreb before the introduction of Arabic in the 7th century.[1] This was only further complicated by the introduction of French colonialism and their issued dahir, an attempt at separating the Arabs and Amazigh by having each population adopt its own separate laws, and the subsequent rise of Arab nationalism. Since then, Amazigh actors argue that their culture has been historically underrepresented by the Morocco regime and that their communities are economically and politically marginalized.

While this marginalization ultimately resulted in a decline in the number of Amazigh speakers, as Bruce Maddy-Weitzmen explains, it also caused “a gradual increase in the self-conscious manifestations of Berber culture and the demands of the Berber groups.”[2] This increase, he argues, is a result of a “threat factor,” as individuals became more aware of their collective Amazigh identity when it was being threatened.[3] This increase in Amazigh consciousness has manifested itself into an Amazigh movement, a social movement focused primarily within cultural and linguistic grounds rather than political, placing importance on both

recognizing the impact of Amazigh culture on Moroccan history as well as the importance of the Amazigh language, commonly referred to as Tamazight. The movement has been successful in some respects, placing enough pressure on the regime to create the IRCAM, the first government institution dedicated to Amazigh culture, and to have Tamazight recognized as an official language of the state in the new Constitution. In the context of the Arab Spring and larger Berber awakening throughout North Africa, the Amazigh movement is continuing to gain more traction as more and more Amazigh associations form and coordination with Berber groups in other countries has given the movement a transnational scope.[4]

[1] Michael Brett and Elizabeth Fentress, The Berbers (Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA). 3.

[2] Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, “Contested Identities: Berbers, ‘Berberism’ and the State in North Africa,” The Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 6 No. 3 (Autumn 2001). 24.

[3] Ibid.

[4] North-west Africa’s Minority: Springtime for Them Too?, http://www.economist.com/node/21525925.


African Studies | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures | Place and Environment | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Sociology of Culture