In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Libyan Amazigh Supreme Council, representing the country's Berber ethnic minority, has decided to boycott the referendum on the country's newly released draft constitution. In a statement issued July 24, the council called the draft charter "racist and unjust," saying the country's Amazigh (Berber) people would not accept the results of its referendum. "Clear rejection of us as national partner will oblige us to do the same," the statement said. Berbers boycotted the elections for the Constitution Drafting Assembly in February 2014 in protest of low representation of their community in the body, created by the General National Congress in 2013. Two seats in the CDA were given to Berbers, among six allocated for "cultural and language components" of Libyan society; the other four were given to representatives of the Tuareg and Tubu peoples. Berbers want their language to be official in the Libyan constitution, given equal status with Arabic in administration and education. (Libya Observer)
Angry protesters massed in front of the Moroccan parliament building in Rabat June 27, one day after the sentencing of several leaders of the 2016 uprising in the country's marginalized Rif Mountains. Demonstrators chanted "We are all Zefzafi," "Freedom, dignity, justice," and "Long live the Rif." Among 53 protest leaders sentenced the previous day was Nasser Zefzafi, who became the symbol of the al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or "Popular Movement,"which demanded jobs, regional development and a crackdown on corruption. Zefzafi was among four activists who were sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Casablanca court for "plotting to undermine the security of the state." Other defendants received one year in prison and large fines. A march against the sentences was also held in the capital of the Rif region, Nador. Some protesters carried Amazigh (Berber) flags in the demonstrations. (AFP, Morocco World News)
In Episode 12 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg pays homage to the martyred Algerian Berber singer and songrwiter Lounes Matoub on the 20th anniversary of his assassination. It remains unclear to this day if Matoub was killed by agents of the Algerian state or militants of the Islamist opposition—as both were equally opposed to the Berber cultural renaissance that he represented. The Berbers, or Imazighen (singular: Amazigh), are the indigenous people of North Africa, whose language and culture have been suppressed to varying degrees by Arab-dominated regimes from Morocco to Libya. The 1980 "Berber Spring" in the Kabylia region of Algeria was key to Matoub's politicization, and his assassination was followed by a second round of "Berber Spring" protests in 2001. This presaged the international Arab Revolution that broke out a decade later—which in North Africa was really also a Berber Revolution. The 2011 protests and uprisings resulted in advances for Berber cultural rights and autonomy in Algeria, Morocco and Libya alike—a sign of hope amid the current atmosphere of counter-revolution and reaction throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
As Turkey invades Syrian territory to attack the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, the Assad regime and its Russian sponsors are bombarding the rebel-held province of Idlib. Civilian populations in each are facing military attack. And the Rojava Kurds as well as the autonomous municipalities of Idlib are animated by an ethic of popular council-based democracy. But while Noam Chomsly and David Graeber issued a statement in support of Afrin, they—like most of the Western left—are silent about the aggression against Idlib. The destructive meddling of the Great Powers could unleash an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in Syria—a potentially disastrous sequel to the war against ISIS. It is urgent to rebuild Arab-Kurdish solidarity against the Assad regime, the jihadists and the intervening imperialist powers—and for a democratic and secular future for Syria. Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode Two of the CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
In a victory for Berber activists, Algeria officially celebrated Yennayer, the new year holiday of the Amazigh people, for the first time. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said declaration of Yennayer as a national holiday was officially approved at a meeting of his Council of Ministers. Yennayer marks the first day of the agrarian calendar, celebrated by the Berber (Amazigh) people across North Africa on Jan. 12. This Yennayer marks the first day of the year 2968 in the Amazigh calendar, which starts counting from the enthronement of Shoshenq I in Egypt, initiating a Berber-ruled dynasty. The move to recognize Yennayer is part of a general effort by Algeria's government to permit greater expression of Amazigh culture in order to head off a separatist movement, marked by the recent proclamation of a Provisional Government of Kabylia in the country's Berber-majority eastern region.
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)
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)