Huffpost WorldPost
Jillian York Headshot

Morocco: Disappearing the Amazigh

Posted: Updated:

So it looks like the Moroccans are at it again. Instead of just letting people be who they are, the government is still going on about their naming laws. In other words, if you want to give your child an Amazigh (Berber) name, tough luck. Moroccan human rights groups recently proposed a list of Amazigh names be added to Morocco's approved list of names, however, the proposal was quickly struck down. Alarabiya reports:

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."

What exactly, then, is Moroccan identity? Is it Arab identity? The official language of Morocco certainly is Arabic (although it could be argued that what is actually spoken on the streets is only a distant cousin). Still, it is estimated that 23 of Morocco's 30+ million people speak one of three Amazigh dialects. And according to sociologist and writer Mohammed Chafik, up to 80% of Moroccans are of Amazigh ethnicity.

In neighboring Algeria, where the number of people speaking a Berber dialect is significantly lower (at about 29%), Berber is actually considered a "national language" (though not an official one). Now, I'm not 100% sure, but it seems that in Algeria, there is more naming freedom; either Amazigh names are on the "approved" list, or the law has been done away with entirely. In Morocco, however, you must select a name from a list of (entirely Muslim) names which reflect "Moroccan identity."

Oddly enough, in the past few years, trendy new names have been cropping up in Morocco; names popular in the Levant, such as "Rime," or popular in Iran, such as "Nasreen," have made their way into the Moroccan identity. But try to name your daughter Numidia, and all hell breaks loose.

When will Morocco realize that Amazigh are part of their national identity? Once the languages have died off (another contentious issue is the teaching of Tashelheit, Tamazight, and Tarifit)? Once there are no more Tanasts, Shadens, or Numidias? Once all Amazigh political parties have been banned for good? Or will the history of the Amazigh simply be erased?