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The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States

By Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Publication Year: 2011

Like many indigenous groups that have endured centuries of subordination, the Berber/Amazigh peoples of North Africa are demanding linguistic and cultural recognition and the redressing of injustices. Indeed, the movement seeks nothing less than a refashioning of the identity of North African states, a rewriting of their history, and a fundamental change in the basis of collective life. In so doing, it poses a challenge to the existing political and sociocultural orders in Morocco and Algeria, while serving as an important counterpoint to the oppositionist Islamist current. This is the first book-length study to analyze the rise of the modern ethnocultural Berber/Amazigh movement in North Africa and the Berber diaspora. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman begins by tracing North African history from the perspective of its indigenous Berber inhabitants and their interactions with more powerful societies, from Hellenic and Roman times, through a millennium of Islam, to the era of Western colonialism. He then concentrates on the marginalization and eventual reemergence of the Berber question in independent Algeria and Morocco, against a background of the growing crisis of regime legitimacy in each country. His investigation illuminates many issues, including the fashioning of official national narratives and policies aimed at subordinating Berbers in an Arab nationalist and Islamic-centered universe; the emergence of a counter-movement promoting an expansive Berber “imagining” that emphasizes the rights of minority groups and indigenous peoples; and the international aspects of modern Berberism.

Published by: University of Texas Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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Note on Transcription and Terminology

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pp. ix-x

For the purposes of clarity and simplicity, I employ the Arabic letters ayn (ʿ) and hamza (ʾ) in the middle and at the end of a word, but not at the beginning, and, for the most part, the common French spelling of Arabic names and places (e.g., Kabylie, not Kabylia; Mohamed, not Muhammad). With some reluctance, I also employ the commonly written ...

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pp. xi-xii

This book could never have been completed without the assistance of numerous individuals and institutions, to which I am delighted to pay tribute. More than a decade ago, Ofra Bengio pushed me to research the question of state-Berber relations in Algeria, placing me on the path that eventually led to this study. All along the way, she provided ...

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pp. 1-10

The Maghrib—i.e., the Islamic “West,” roughly encompassing the present territories of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Mauritania in Northwest Africa—has, as L. Carl Brown reminds us, long been recognized by historians and social scientists as a useful unit of analysis. It was there that an “imprint of geography with history, terrain with ...

Part I. Entering History

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One. Origins and Conquests: Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, Arabia

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pp. 13-36

The purpose of this chapter and the following one is to give a succinct overview of the history of North Africa from antiquity to independence, with an emphasis on its Berber components, particularly in the territories that constitute modern-day Algeria and Morocco. This is not a Berberist reading, per se, although such a reading can hardly ...

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Two. The Colonial Era

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pp. 37-62

France’s conquest of Algiers in 1830 and initial years of rule constituted an “old-school” kind of imperial policy.1 However, just as the Ottomans extended their rule of Algiers in an improvised, unplanned way and ended up maintaining a presence for three hundred years, the initial absence of French intention to permanently rule Algeria was soon superseded. ...

Part II. Independence, Marginalization, and Berber Reimagining

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Three. Morocco and Algeria: State Consolidation and Berber "Otherness"

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pp. 65-101

From the outset, the newly independent states of Morocco and Algeria were intimate rivals, offering competing geopolitical, ideological, and sociocultural visions and orientations.1 Within just over a year of Algeria’s achieving independence, the two countries would find themselves in a sharp, albeit brief, armed conflict against one another, the “War ...

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Four. Algerian Strife, Moroccan Homeopathy, and the Emergence of the Amazigh Movement

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pp. 102-126

At its outset, the decade of the 1980s had been envisaged by Arab leaders as the “decade of development.”1 However, matters turned out differently. These years were marked by a steep decline in the price of oil at mid-decade, the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, which bled the two countries white (causing an estimated one million casualties and costing ...

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Part III. Reentering History in the New Millennium

At the turn of the new century, scholars of the contemporary Maghrib were in general agreement that North African states, nearly a half-century after having achieved independence, were at a cross-roads. Clement M. Henry characterized the regimes as “desperate,” threatened by the burdens of economic adjustment programs and facing confrontations ...

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Five. Berber Identity and the International Arena

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pp. 131-152

In recent years, the expansion of an international discourse on human rights, which includes the recognition of the existence and rights of subordinate, nondominant ethnolinguistic groups, has created new opportunities for the promotion of the Berberist agenda. Consequently, a number of Berber organizations, both in North Africa and the ...

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Six. Mohamed VI’s Morocco and the Amazigh Movement

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pp. 153-182

The ascension to the throne of King Hassan II’s eldest son, Mohamed VI, following Hassan’s death in July 1999, occurred smoothly and without incident, attesting to the degree of both stability and legitimacy that Hassan had attained in time to pass on to his eldest son. Notwithstanding Hassan’s last years, the dominant image of his era was that of ...

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Seven. Bouteflika’s Algeria and Kabyle Alienation

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pp. 183-201

Backed by the military, which was badly in need of the legitimacy provided by civilian rule, Abdelaziz Bouteflika registered resounding success in consolidating his position in the decade following his ascent to the presidency in 1999. The Islamist insurgency was finally broken, although not entirely stamped out; Algeria’s standing in the international ...

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Conclusion. Whither the State, Whither the Berbers?

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pp. 202-210

Over the course of recorded history, Berbers have straddled multiple worlds; they have been multilingual, multicultural, always part of the “other”; and always engaged in one form of accommodation or another with stronger, more advanced civilizations—from Roman to Byzantine, Islamic to modern times. Historical dynamics have ...


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pp. 211-254


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pp. 255-278


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pp. 279-292

E-ISBN-13: 9780292734784
E-ISBN-10: 0292734786
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292725874
Print-ISBN-10: 0292725876

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 741751261
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Berber Identity Movement and the Challenge to North African States

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Algeria -- Politics and government.
  • Nationalism -- Morocco.
  • Nationalism -- Algeria.
  • Morocco -- Politics and government.
  • Berbers -- Ethnic identity.
  • Berbers -- Politics and government.
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