North African Identity
Although I am North African and very proud of it, I cannot speak for every Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, or Mauritanian. I have expressed time and time again how I feel about the region, the people, the language, and the history. But my views definitely do not correlate with everyone else from that region. There are plenty of Moroccans and Algerians who see no difference in the Amazigh and Arab Identity. There are also plenty of Libyans who don’t even think about the word “Amazigh.” But of course there are those that think about it a lot, myself included. Another thing that is a hot topic amongst North Africans is the colonialism and what it has done to our countries and our people.
The Sour Taste of the French
Ask an Algerian what they think of the French, and you most likely won’t get a G-rated answer. Yes there are some Algerians who don’t speak a lick of darja and only speak French so they identify as French. But for the most part, the average Algerian doesn’t think about our history and look at the bloody 132 year colonization with a glowing smile. But it happened. So it is important to think about. I bring this up in detail because once the struggle for our independence ended, a new one began: the struggle for an identity.
Since the 7th century when Arabs left the Arabian Peninsula, Arabization has been an issue in North Africa. An article on The NY Times written by Emma-Kate Symons discusses the struggle of Moroccan Amazigh women against their government. She interviewed Amina Zioual, president of The Voice of the Amazigh Woman, who is out to fight against the Arabization of Amazigh women. She states, “We have been in all the countries of North Africa for 3,000 years. We are oppressed by our government. They are always talking about Arabs but we are fighting to rewrite the history of Morocco.” Amazighs make up the majority of Morocco yet the government still puts the Arab stamp on the country.
Arabization didn’t stop when Algeria’s independence began. According to Muftah, a blog dedicated to the education and awareness of the MENA region, “Scholars tend to agree that the key factors catalyzing the politicization of Algeria’s Berbers relate to the nature of the Algerian state and the overwhelming Arabization program that began under President Hourari Boumediene.” Once Algeria gained its independence, although it was a monumental time for the country, the people were still at a loss. Everyone that was alive at the time of independence knew nothing other than Algeria as a French colony. And their ancestors before that knew it as an Ottoman colony and so forth.
How do you identify yourself when you were told by your oppressors to be one way and then once they were gone, had your own people still telling you to identify with the oppressors? The president of Algeria after we gained our independence forced an Arab identity on everyone. Muftah continues with, “In its immediate post-independence years, the Algerian state was socialist, unitary, and emphasized the importance of a single nationalist narrative based on an Arab-Islamic identity.”
By forcing only the colonial languages in school, work, and every day life, the identity of North Africans has shifted greatly. Ursula Lindsey wrote an article for Al-Fanar Media, discussing the issues in Morocco regarding language and identity as well as the government’s influence.
“Not recognizing the language spoken in the country’s poor rural interior was an effective means of discrimination that shut the Berbers out from participating politically, socially and economically in Moroccan society.”
It is not the fault of North African citizens to say they are Arab when all they have ever known is the post colonial Arab identity– especially those that were born during the time of independence or right after. After Algeria and Morocco’s independence, the fight for a forced Arab identity was at its peak. My parents and their friends all grew up during this time so the Arab identity was the norm. Younger generations like myself and my peers are fighting against the forced Arab identity.
Forced Identity for Unity
The political party in Algeria joined forces with the neighboring countries in North Africa and created the Arab Maghreb Union. This was an effort to create unity and eliminate political disputes between Morocco and Algeria and neighboring countries. This of course only added to the region’s forced Arab identity. All the political parties of this region put the Arab stamp on their countries in an effort to rid their countries of problems but that didn’t do the trick.
The political parties in Morocco and Algeria have also been attempting to eradicate the Amazigh identity, but the Amazigh movement is strong. In 2002 Algeria recognized the Amazigh language as a national language while Morocco recognized it as an official language in 2011 according to Muftah.
The struggle for an identity still remains today in North Africa but the fight for decolonization and de-Arabization still remains strong.