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Morocco: A new dawn for the Amazigh cause

By Hassan Toumi, in Rabat
Posted on Thursday, 21 January 2021 15:08

Amazighs (Berbers) participate in a rally to celebrate the Amazigh New Year known as Yennayer in Rabat, Morocco, January 12, 2020 © Chadi / XINHUA-REA

This new year begins with an electoral baptism in Morocco: that of the Front de l'Action Politique Amazighe (FAPA), founded in January 2020.

This newcomer formed an alliance at the end of 2020 with two political parties that are members of the government majority, the Rassemblement National des Indépendants (RNI) and the Mouvement Populaire (MP).

Under the leadership of these two political formations, activists of the Amazigh movement are preparing to participate in Morocco’s next legislative, regional and communal elections, which are scheduled to be held in September.

The objective: to promote the Amazigh cause within governmental institutions. The Amazigh or Berber ethnic group is located in North Africa, in countries including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya. This is a historic decision for the Moroccan Amazigh movement, which is now positioned on the political scene after decades of boycotting elections.

The birth of the front

The initiative, which brings together several actors of the Amazigh movement in Morocco – including the Amazigh lawyer and activist Ahmed Ahermouch – is intended as a platform to “broaden the space for public debate on the issue of political participation by the Amazigh movement”, reads the front’s first press release. In the eyes of its co-founders, the time has come “to open up a new front for the Amazigh struggle” and to fight for the movement’s demands within public institutions.

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It is a struggle that began in the aftermath of independence. “The birth of the Amazigh movement is first and foremost a reaction to the exclusion of the Amazigh people since the end of the French protectorate,” says Mohyi Eddine Hajjaj, FAPA’s national coordinator.

“A certain force within the state has succeeded in imposing the monism doctrine at all levels of Moroccan society, to the detriment of the Amazigh people.” Since then, the movement has mobilised itself through different forms, without becoming part of the country’s governmental institutions.

However, several initiatives have been launched in the hope of creating an Amazigh political party, all to no avail. The most emblematic was led by the lawyer and writer Ahmed Dgharni (1947-2020).

The interior ministry banned his Parti Démocrate Amazigh Marocain (PDAM) in 2007, and it was dissolved by the Rabat administrative court in 2008 for non-compliance with the laws governing political parties. They ban the creation of parties based on ethnicity. Other initiatives, such as the Tamount (unity in the Amazigh language) party in 2018 or Changement Démocratique in 2019, have not been successful.

“The Amazigh movement called for a boycott of the elections, simply because we were not recognised by the state,” says an Amazigh activist. “The constitution did not recognise our identity or our language. We didn’t exist, so voting meant absolutely nothing.” The constitution approved in 2011, which recognises Amazigh as an official language, has changed everything.

Progressive benchmark

More than nine years later, FAPA has broken from its boycott policy advocated by the movement for decades. To achieve this, the front has entered into dialogue with four political formations: the RNI and the MP of the government majority, as well as the Parti Authenticité et Modernité and Parti du Progrès et du Socialisme.

According to FAPA’s Hajjaj, these formations were chosen on the basis of three main axis.

  • The Amazigh issue comes at the top of the list of criteria for the alliance. “It was inconceivable for us to work with a party that would not develop and renew this framework,” he says. The same goes for freedoms and other causes we are working on within the Amazigh movement.”
  • The second axis is organisational.
  • The third is electoral participation. “If we want to change things through institutions, we need access to these institutions. And the main door is through the elections,” Hajjaj continues.

With these political parties, the representatives of the front went straight to the point: “We repeated over and over again that we did not only come to defend Amazighity as a language and culture,” says Hajjaj.

“There are also economic and social objectives.” The new party wants to engage in the debate on the country’s new development model, whose special commission, appointed by King Mohammed VI, is expected to produce its report in the coming days. “We have given our opinion on the issue during these meetings,” adds Hajjaj.

Leading the fight in public institutions

After nine months of dialogue with the four political formations, FAPA finally chose to form an alliance with the RNI and the MP. “Our activists will work in both parties. The choice between the two formations is the responsibility of the regional or local sections of the front,” explains Hajjaj.

“We are writing history,” said Aziz Akhannouch, president of the RNI and agriculture minister, during the ceremony held last November on the sidelines of the signing of the agreement.

“We are changing ideas and mentalities with regard to the issue that brings us all together: the Amazigh issue. We supported the idea of involving the leaders and symbols of the Amazigh movement in political action and the electoral process so that we can, together, lead this fight within public institutions.”

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At a similar ceremony held in December, Mohand Laenser, president of the MP, said that “this step reflects what […] we have always believed in, namely that the MP is open to all Moroccans, and that our defense of the Amazigh issue has never been reduced to narrow political or electoral purposes because we consider that this issue is an important identity to Morocco.”

This alliance is, in the eyes of the former interior minister, “a starting point for the implementation of what we aspire to, namely the integration of the Amazigh language in all aspects of public life.”

Towards an Amazigh New Year holiday

In an interview given to Jeune Afrique in 2019, Akhannouch explained that “the 2011 constitution requested by His Majesty provides real answers to what is called the Amazigh cause. Unfortunately, the implementation decrees have been much delayed. It must be resolved.”

The Rassemblement Constitutionnel, a joint parliamentary group of the RNI and the Union Constitutionnel, tabled a bill on 13 January to declare Amazigh New Year’s Day, Yennayer – celebrated on 13 January in Morocco – as a paid holiday, as has been the case in Algeria since 2018.

For their part, the MP’s two parliamentary groups, in partnership with FAPA, organised a roundtable around the theme of “officialisation of Amazigh as an institutional issue” on 14 January. “The Amazigh people have been excluded by a political decision. They can only be rehabilitated by a political decision,” says Hajjaj. A struggle whose fruits could be reaped in the next elections.

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