Thousands of members of the Amazigh (Berber) people marched Jan. 12 in Tizi Ouzou, the central city of Algeria's Kabylia region, to assert their right to self-determination and oppose constitutional changes proposed earlier this month by the central goverment. The march marked the Amazigh new year celebration, Yennayer, and was called before the constitutional changes were announced. But protesters rejected proposed changes to the official status of the Berber language, Tamazight. The constitutional reform—in addition to limiting presidents to two terms, a concession to pro-democracy advocates—makes Tamazight an "official language." This upgrades its current status as a "national language," instated in 2002 following a wave of Berber protests the previous year. But the new protesters consider the change inadequate, and also reject constitutional provisions that only Arabic-speaking Muslims can be elected to public office. The Berber movement is now pressing for actual independence from Algeria. Marches were also held in other towns across Kabylia, and 40 protesters were arrested in connection with the mobilization, although no violence was reported. (The Guardian, TSA-Algerie, Tamurt, Jan. 12)
A statement from leaders of the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK) said: "With this new constitution, they are planning to say that Tamazight, the language of North Africans, is an official language but Arabic is even more official. [I]t represents an insult to the Amazigh native people… [T]hey are constitutionalizing racism." (SIWEL, Jan. 6)
MAK's New York coordinator Mansour Bensahnoune Ulhady told World War 4 Report: "By putting Tamazight in a secondary paragraph in the so-called constitution, the Arab regime of Algeria really showed its colonial nature… This Yennayer march clearly gave the Kabylian independence movement a great mandate in pursuing the fight for independent and free Kabylia, and for establishing a strong democratic and secular state that will serve as an example and model for all North Africa and all the oppressed peoples of the world."