Moroccan parliament adopts draft law on Amazigh, controversy persists

Approximately one-quarter of Morocco’s population speak one of the three Berber dialects — Tachelhit, Tamazight or Tarifit — every day.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Long-awaited measure. Tifinagh seen on a public sign at a school in Casablanca.(Saad Guerraoui)
Long-awaited measure. Tifinagh seen on a public sign at a school in Casablanca. (Saad Guerraoui)

CASABLANCA - The Moroccan parliament unanimously adopted a measure on Amazigh to be written in Tifinagh on public signs but activists said the language is far from being on an equal footing with Arabic.

The legislation confirmed Amazigh’s official status, eight years after it received preliminary recognition as an official language in the constitution following a decades-long battle by activists. This came despite objections by proponents of Arabic, who argued recognition would weaken Morocco’s Arab identity.

The measure is designed to bolster the use of Amazigh alongside Arabic by public institutions and in cultural life.

Deputies approved the adoption of Tifinagh after the issue had been blocked for two years by the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which was pushing for Amazigh to be written in Arabic.

“The draft law will formalise the Amazigh language in all priority areas of public life and integrate it into the sectors of education, legislation and parliamentary action, media and communication, as well as different fields related to artistic and cultural creation,” said Moroccan Culture Minister Mohamed Laaraj.

The draft law stipulated that national identification cards, passports, securities, money, water and electricity bills, telephone and administrative certificates must be issued in Tifinagh as well as other areas of public services.

Tifinagh is used in labelling public buildings, alongside Arabic and French.

Approximately one-quarter of Morocco’s population speak one of the three Berber dialects — Tachelhit, Tamazight or Tarifit — every day, the 2004 census determined.

Morocco has struggled to cement the language’s status and Berber activist Mohamed Assid criticised the law for not going far enough.

“It is not what most Amazigh were waiting for. This law remains vague. It does not say that Amazigh must be taught or used by the media,” Assid said. “We demand a conceptual change for equality between the two official languages but it is not the case. Discrimination continues with this law.”

Another Berber activist Mohammed Eddarhor blamed the PJD-led government for deliberately delaying the bill.

“This delay was due to some political parties’ defence of their own interests and political agenda both in Morocco and overseas besides their protection of Arabic language for fear that Amazigh threatens their values and Arab identity,” Eddarhor said.

The draft bill must be passed by the House of Councillors before final adoption. It provides a timetable for the introduction of Amazigh in official documents, which will be done gradually over ten years to give public institutions time to adjust to the regulations.

“It will take years to approve the draft bill but Amazigh will still have less importance within public institutions than Arabic due to the wordings contained in Article 5 of the constitution,” said Eddarhor.

Article 5 declares Arabic as the official language of Morocco. It also states: “Tamazight [Berber] cultural and environmental character, enumerated constitutes an official language.”

Laaraj said the draft law “aims to strengthen the skills of the private and public sectors in Amazigh communication with users, to promote scientific research related to the development of this language while encouraging the creation, productions and festivals with Amazigh as a language of expression.”

Eddarhor slammed discrimination in the media, citing examples of television programmes on Amazigh channel that must be subtitled in Arabic and dubbed in three Berber dialects.

“For instance, it is more costly to make documentaries or series in Amazigh than in Arabic because of the additional work on dubbing and subtitles but it pays much less. It is simply discriminatory and this practice must end,” he said.