Mr. Abdesslam Khalafi is a former professor at Al Akhawayn University, who is now a researcher in the Royal Institute for Moroccan Amazigh Culture (IRCAM). The first question for Mr. Khalafi was about whether Amazigh consider themselves as a separate ethnic group or as an integrated group in the Moroccan society. The answer was that this issue is very complex, if we go back to Amazigh history before Islam, we find that they were firmly embracing the concept of “Umma”or community. In the period of the fourteenth century, before Islam, Amazigh used to have a “sultan” or “Aglid” under whom the community was gathered. In North Africa, Amazigh formed a united community that gathers Imazighen (Plu. Amazigh) from different North African countries.
Although the tendency of each region to think that it is better locally, there is still a strong loyalty to “Aglid” among all Imazighen. When creating a state, was it by the Murabitine, Muwahhidine, or Adarissa, there was no separation between ethnic groups, but the focus was on the creation of a Moroccan state that gathers all these people rather than separating them. He gave the example of Rifis even if they are not the ruling group, they do obey the rulings of the sultan was he an Arab, Amazigh, or Rifi. Moreover, when talking to foreigners, Imazighen tend to identify themselves primarily as Moroccans and secondly as Imazighen.
When he was asked about the political and economic situation of Imazighen in morocco, Mr. Khalafi said that politically, the “Arab elites” from cities such as Fes, Rabat and Casablanca tend to have more political power than the Amazigh. In other words, they tend to hold better official and political position and take part of the government.
Economically, people from a Fassi origin tend to have again more economic power. The Sussis, on the other hand tend to be more predominantly present in the army, while the Rifis tend to immigrate abroad. In general, Mr. Khalafi states that Imazighen are still living in the most rural and poorer neighborhoods and therefore they have less advanced educational end economic opportunities.
According to him, while Arabization had a tremendous effect in officially putting aside the Amazigh language, some Amazigh do willingly change their language into Arabic as a means to economically, socially, and politically mobilize and attain better opportunities.
After the King s Dahir or speech, Mr. Khalafi sees that more integration and tolerance had occurred in the Moroccan society due to recovering the Amazigh identity and pride for this identity.
In spite of these advantages of the reintegration of Amazigh into Moroccan society, and though the royal initiative for establishing the Royal Institute for Amazigh- Moroccan culture (IRCAM), Mr. Kalafi sees that many obstacles have been faced in applying and practicing Amazigh rights for language and identity recovery. For example, the lack of trained Amazigh professors able to academically teach the Amazigh language was a major problem faced by the IRCAM. Another problem is that although Amazigh is taught during the first educational years, the fact that it is not taught later on due to a lack in professors prevents the continuation of Amazigh education.
At the institutional level, Mr. Khalafi sees that the government does not put any obstacles on the application of the Royal Dahir, although some officials sometimes refuse to provide help, but he thinks that this is probably due to personal attitudes and positions.
Generally, according to Mr. Khalafi, the Amazigh issue has created a kind of perturbation in Moroccan thinking. He explains that by claiming that in the Moroccan history textbooks; for example, there is no reference to the Amazigh history and thus Moroccans thought of themselves as being Moroccans, and nothing else. He thinks that this is unfair and that we have to give “everyone his rights” and “write the history of the nation rather than writing the history of a race”.
Therefore, Tamazight as a language and culture should be institutionalized in media, education, and schools in order to make it possible for people in Morocco to advance and develop. The first thing to start with according to him is to omit the use of “Berbers”, which has a reference to savagery and barbarism and rather use “Amazigh” which is a more representative term.
AUI News, Issue 2 – May, Spring 2006 (aui.ma)