Berbers

Libya: fatwa against 'infidel' Berbers

The Amazigh Supreme Council (ASC) of Libya, representing the Berbers in the country's western mountains, released a statement responding strongly to the fatwa issued by clerical authorities attached to the "Interim Government" based in Libya's east against the practice of Ibadhi branch of Islam. The edict, issued earlier this month by the Interim Government's  High Commission of Fatwas, refers to Ibadhi Muslims as "infidels" and "Khawarij"—referring to a schism in early Islam now considered heretical by the orthodox. Nearly all followers of Ibadhi Islam in Libya are ethnic Berbers in the Nafusa Mountains and the western port of Zwuarah. The ASC called the fatwa "a direct incitement for genocide of the Amazigh people in Libya." The statement added: "[W]e call all Libyans to refrain from being persuaded by such racist and menacing speech... Furthermore, we call the international community to commit to its duties of protecting civilians. (World Amazigh News, July 18)

Arab-Berber unity in Morocco protests

Protests continue for a second week in Morocco's neglected Rif region which has been shaken by unrest since death of a fish-monger at hands of police last year. More leaders of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement," were detained by police in the flashpoint town of al-Hoceima, but protests also spread to cities throughout the country. On June 11, thousands took to the streets of the capital Rabat to demand release of the detained activists. Chants included "Free the prisoners!" and "We are all Apaches!"—a reference to an insult the late King Hassan II aimed at the people of Rif, who are mainly Berbers. The Rif was at the heart of the Arab Spring-inspired protests in Morocco in February 2011, which prompted a constitutional reform and greater cultural rights for the Berber people. (Irish Times, June 12; Middle East Online, Middle East Eye, June 11)

Arab Revolution re-ignited in Morocco

Protests spread in cities across Morocco on May 28 as thousands demonstrated solidarity with activists who had taken to the streets in the fishing port of al-Hoceima and were met with mass arrests. Rallies were reported from Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakesh and Rabat, where the protesters massed outside the parliament building. The wave of anger was sparked when authorities issued an arrest warrant for Nasser Zafzafi, a leader of the new al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) in al-Hoceima, on charges of "undermining state security." Zafzafi had allegedly interrupted Friday prayers at a mosque to call for further protests. At least 20 others were detained as residents took to the srteets of al-Hoceima in support of Zafzafi.

Women, Berber rights at issue in Libya constitution

The leaders of the two major factions in Libya's civil war—Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the Tripoli-based "official" government, and the eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar—reportedly agreed to hold new elections after meeting in the UAE last week. The elections, aimed at finally unifying the country, are said to be tentatively scheduled for March 2018. (MediaLine, May 4) An "accord committee" of the new Constitution Drafting Assembly has meanwhile been holding meetings at locales around the country to discuss a draft for the country's long-awaited charter. But the draft, drawn up under the supervision of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), has been meeting with harsh criticism. (Libya Observer, April 22)

Protests in Morocco after death of fish vendor

Thousands of Moroccans held protests in several towns and cities after a fish vendor was crushed to death in a garbage compactor while trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police Oct. 28. The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of al-Hoceima immediately sparked widespread outrage on social media, and protests quickly spread to Marrakesh, Rabat and elsewhere. The protests, on a scale rarely seen in Morocco, were called by the February 20 Movement, which organized demonstrations during the "Arab Spring" of 2011. Angry postings on social media referred to "hogra," a term for official abuse and injustice.

Media confusion on passing of Polisario leader

The passing last week of Mohammed Abdelaziz, longtime leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front, occasioned confusion in media coverage as to the difference between Arabs and Berbers—which is fast becoming a critical issue in the contest over the Moroccan-occupied territory. Most embarrassingly, the New York Times writes: "The Polisario Front was formed in the early 1970s by a group of Sahrawis, indigenous nomadic Berber tribesmen, in opposition to Spain's colonial presence in Western Sahara. When Spain withdrew from the region in 1975, the Sahrawis fought attempts by both Mauritania and Morocco to claim the territory." The Sahrawis are not Berbers. They are Bedouin Arabs who arrived from across the Sahara centuries ago. The Berbers are the actual indigenous people of North Africa, who had been there for many more centuries before that. Ironically, the Times goes on to state: "He was selected as secretary general [of Polisario] in 1976 after the death in combat of the front's military leader, Al Ouali Mustapha Erraqibi. Later that year, he was elected president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic." 

Algeria: protests commemorate 'Berber Spring'

Tizi Ouzou, principal city in Algeria's restive Kabylia region, saw two mass mobilizations April 20 to commemorate the 1980 "Berber Spring" uprising. One, organized by the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RDC), pressed demands for official recognition of the Amazigh language in Algeria's constitution. But the second, led by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), called for the region's actual independence from Algeria. Each drew thousands, and several arrests were reported. Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in a 2002 constitutional reform, and second reform earlier this year upgraded it to "official" status, meaning it can be used in government functions. However, Berber activists say that even the new reform maintains Amazigh in a subsidiary position to Arabic.

UN pressed on North Africa's colonized peoples

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on a tour of North Africa, on March 5 visited the sprawling refugee camps at Tindouf in the Algerian desert, where nearly 200,000 Sahrawi Arabs displaced from Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have for more then four decades been exiled. Ban called the Tindouf refugee camps "among the oldest in the world," and called on the parties involved in the Western Sahara conflict to end the "unacceptable" plight of the Sahrawi. Ban meet with refugees and their representatives at Smara Camp, and later with leaders of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara, including the group's secretary general Mohamed Abdelaziz. Ban also visited the headquarters of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in Laayoune, Western Sahara's capital. The UN-mandated referendum on the territory's status has been stalled for over 20 years, with Morocco and the Polisario Front unable to come to terms (Jurist, AFP, March 6)

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