Friday, September 04, 2009

Could Berber replace Arabic as official Moroccan language?

The simple answer is no, Amazigh will never replace Arabic, but that does not stop people calling for it to happen. In a recent BBC interview, Abullah Aourik, an artist and publisher of a magazine in Amazigh, said that he wanted to see Berber replace Arabic as the official language of the country.

"We think it would be appropriate to change part of our constitution so that Arabic is no longer required for legal documents or for any official communication," he insists.
"Most Moroccans grow up speaking Berber - why should they be at a disadvantage in having to use classical Arabic which is a foreign language whenever they brush up against bureaucracy?"

The government may not be ready yet to entertain this idea which seems far-fetched to even the majority of the Amazigh themselves, but the teaching of Amazigh in public schools and at university level could in the future lead to it being recognised as a national language - as it already is in Algeria, Mali and Niger.

Ancient Amazigh script

Fatman, lead singer with the Agadir-based hip-hop band rap2bled says that the Berber language is being used to pass on messages about drug use and unemployment.

"My parents couldn't read a newspaper or understand the television because they were in Arabic," he says. "Now we have our own television channel and magazines in Berber. We feel much closer now to people in the Rif and Atlas Mountains."

Although many Amazigh are illiterate, the government has put in place measures to assist schools to teach the written form of the language.

Although Berbers were Morocco's first inhabitants and account for some 60% of Morocco's population, they faced widespread discrimination and it is only now that the language is required to be taught in public school.

Their academic qualifications may not help them much on the jobs market, but the availability of a further degree in a subject that was once virtually outlawed in their North African country underscores Berber success in gaining official acceptance of the language.

As well as the University of Ibn Zohr offering degrees in Amazigh, an umbrella term for the three dialects of Berber that are spoken in Morocco, the previously oral-only language has moved further into the mainstream with the creation of a Royal Institute of Amazigh language and culture.

The Royal Institute of Amazigh has overseen the creation of an alphabet based partly on the mystical signs and symbols of the Tuareg found inscribed on tombs and monuments.

Yet things are not all going smoothly in a report carried on an Amazigh website, Jillian York, reported that the Moroccan civil registry recently rejected 13 Berber names after receiving a list from the Ministry of Interior with specific Berber names considered in violation of law 99-37 that determines names fit for males and females.

Now, realistically, it's a much smaller percentage of Moroccans who would choose to do so, but the fact of the matter is, Amazigh people are the true Moroccan natives. They are spread throughout the country and beyond. They are urban and rural. And the Moroccan government is trying to tell them that, by naming their child an Amazigh name, they are giving them a name which is "contrary to Moroccan identity."

Today Human Rights Watch has this to say:

Morocco should stop interfering with the right of its citizens to give Amazigh names to their children.

Numerous Moroccans living in cities and villages around the kingdom and abroad who chose Amazigh first names for their newborns have been refused when they applied at local civil registrars to record those names. Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to the interior minister, Chekib Benmoussa on June 16, 2009 detailing five such cases and soliciting an explanation. There was no response.

"Morocco has taken steps to recognize Amazigh cultural rights," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "It now needs to extend that recognition to the right of parents to choose the name of their child."

Morocco's Law on the Civil Registry stipulates that a first name must have "a Moroccan character." Local administrators apparently interpret that requirement to mean names that are Arabic-Islamic, even though the Amazigh people are native to Morocco. The law gives parents the right to appeal a refusal in court and to the High Commission of the Civil Registry. Over the years, the commission has ruled on dozens of Amazigh, European, and other non-Arabic-Islamic names, accepting some and rejecting others.

The five cases documented in the Human Rights Watch letter, involving both residents of Morocco and émigrés living abroad, resulted ultimately in victories for the parents. But they succeeded only after bureaucratic delays and lengthy appeals, sometimes enduring hostile or humiliating questions from Moroccan civil servants and the insecurity of having a newborn who, for months, had no legal identity.

"We are happy that these parents prevailed, but no couple should have to fight their government, at this special time in their life, to be able to name their baby," Whitson said.

On August 26, a first instance court in Tahla (province of Taza) court approved an Amazigh name in a sixth case, allowing Abdallah Bouchnaoui and Jamila Aarrach, to name their five-month-old daughter "Tiziri," which means "moon" in Tamazight, the Amazigh language. The victory came only after the couple, who live in the commune of Zerarda in the Middle Atlas, had endured months of uncertainty.

For a seventh couple, the uncertainty continues. On March 11, Rachid Mabrouky went to the civil registry in the Saâda district of Marrakesh to register his two-day-old daughter as "Gaïa." Mabrouky told Human Rights Watch that the official on duty refused to accept the name, contending that it was "not Moroccan." Mabrouky went to the civil registry at the city's prefecture, only to be told the same thing.

When he explained that the name "Gaïa" was Amazigh and therefore Moroccan, the agent on duty persisted in his refusal, exclaiming, "You Amazigh are all fanatics," Mabrouky said. Mabrouky and his wife, Lucile Zerroust, who is French, filed a case in administrative court, where the case is still pending. "Gaïa" is the name of an ancient Berber prince.

Amazigh will never replace Arabic in Morocco, but the question of Amazigh names is one Morocco should address as a matter of basic human rights.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At early age every one in MOROCCO knows our brothers as sons of imazigh. HRW should concentrate on the slaughters happening in Palestine and Iraq and must stop trying to divid between the berbers and their brothers the arabs The french has tried before and they field thanks to ADHIR AL BARBARY (i will leave it to HRW TO FIND OUT AOUT IT). HRW has lost it credibility since obssession with the arab world and its blid eye to what the west killing and injustice and i tell what i am not surprised because every one knows where and who created these alien organisation whish meant to watch the other not it own creator.