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The Djazair-Belgium Network - Documents

Imazighe and the Algerian government

by M. Ferkal

translated from the original French by Chiraz BenAbdelkader

The following is an editorial from the latest issue of the Imazighen review ASS-A, released October 9, 1998. This Special Issue 001/98, is dedicated to "arabization." Copies can be obtained from the head office of Tamazgha, located at: 47, Rue Bénard - 75014 Paris - Métro Pernéty. One can also request the issue by writing to Tamazgha at B.P. 02 75660 Paris-cedex 14 - France. E-mail : for further information.

A shortened list of editorial titles includes: "Imazighe and the Algerian government," by M. Ferkal (posted below); "Chronicle of arabization in Algeria," by Mustapha Hadj-Arab; "Federalism: the solution of the future, an interview with Amar Ouerdane"; "Algeria between life and arabization," by Hakim Smaïl; "Siam Mahdi is no longer with us," by Saïd Chemakh; "Dancers of the night," by Abbas Hamadène; "Assassination of Matoub, grief and attempts to recover," by Tewfik Yanis; "Towards linguistic autonomy for Kabylie" (from Le Monde), by Salem Chaker; "Morocco: arabizing gently," by Moha Mokhlis; and "Jeggren lezzayer s ta<r'abt," by Nacira Abrous.

DISCLAIMER: Editorials do not necessarily represent the views of Djazair Net or its staff.

Imazighe and the Algerian government

On July 5, 1998, the Algerian government has committed to total arabization, by virtue of the law of the generalization of Arabic. So has decided the government of Mr. Ouyahia, a "Kabyle de Bouâdnan," who was in turn encouraged by General-President Liamine Zeroual, a "Chaoui of the Aurès" for whom only the name hides his Berber origins.

Wasn't it he who in 1995 made a gesture unique of its kind in the history of the MCB party? You've guessed it, it consists of the creation of the H.C.A (the High Commissionership for Amazighité). This institution, which reported directly to Zeroual
and was run by Mr. Idir Ait Amrane, a former inspector of Arabic in the office of National Education, had the task of introducing Tamazight in the sectors of teaching and communication.

By doing so, the Algerian government thought it was possible to totally Arabize a people who for at least three millenia have vehemently opposed every attempt to transform it into what it is not. But Kabylie is a land replete, end-to-end, with Afro-Berber traces that
could not be obliterated despite a whole millenium of subjugation and servitude.

It is for this that the Islamist-baathists have chosen, for obvious reasons, a symbolic date--that of the Independence of Algeria--to add a gloss of legitimacy to their feat. An independence which freed us from colonialism, only to place us under the yoke of a totalitarian ideology, Arab nationalism, whose servants have since 1962 proclaimed, claimed, and acclaimed North Africa as being part of the Arab world.

Yet these rulers, eternal rotten olives of History, have forgotten that This One (Kabylie) has never ceased to produce men and women rebellious against injustice and lies, and ready to defend the authentic North African identity even if such cost them their lives.
It is on the streets of Kabylie that men and women have demonstrated to express their total rejection of this Arabization law, and of the Arabic language itself. This language foreign to them, was imposed dictatorially by the proponents of the pan-Arab ideology
founded on the aspirations for a great Arab nation, Algeria being a mere satellite province of the Middle East.

The angry youth who demonstrated in Kabylie shouted for the whole world to hear: "We are not Arabs!" Once again, they have expressed their rejection of a political system that despises them.

The history of Kabylie since Independence is full of other such events, the Berber spring of 1980 and the 1994 school boycott to name a few, which stand as witness to the popular resistance to the Arab-Islamist ideology of the rulers.

The recent demonstrations took place in the midst of the extreme tension that followed the assasination of the singer-poet Lounes Matoub. An assassination which seemed to provoke not only Kabylie but Berberism as a whole.

Indeed it has cost him his life for Lounes Matoub to have had the courage to clamor his hatred for the tandem fundamentalist-Islamist-military powers that be.

How can we have faith in a government whose doctrine is to systematically oppose the will of the people? We shall never trust such a government that kills an entire population, its languages and cultures, and falsifies its history and identity.

It is now so obvious that we cannot continue in this situation. We cannot take anymore injustice than we already have endured.

Our struggle shall continue incessantly. In fact, students, artists and Amazigh militants led by Salem Chaker have put forward a declaration-petition demanding linguistic and cultural autonomy for Kabylie. But will the government react to this initiative? Will the
citizens of Kabylie adhere to this idea and defend it? The near future will tell us the answer to this.

M. Ferkal

Comment from Blanca Madani on above editorial

It is my perception that most Algerians opposed the implementation of the Arabization law, for varying reasons. The constitution of Algeria recognizes the Amazigh-Arab identity of Algerians, and in a democracy, not only is there majority rule, but the rights of the minority should be protected. However, Mr. Ferkal's comments are little more than a polemic diatribe. He appears to group the Arabic language, Arab nationalism, and Islam into one entity, all equal to one another.

Islam, the religion, has nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or language. While one can consider him/herself "Arab," linguistically speaking, this does not mean that the individual favors Arab nationalism and follows a "baathist" party line. If one is an Islamist, it is doubtful that he/she would be a "baathist," as the baathist ideology is a secular one, which professes the goals of wahda, hurriya, wa ishtirakiya (unity, freedom, and socialism). In fact, of the three major contributors to the early development of Baathist ideology in the 1930s, only one--Salah al-Din al-Bitar--was a Muslim. Michel Aflaq was a Christian and Zaki al-Arsuzi was a Nusairi (better known as Alawite), their similarities being, not in religion, but in their middle-class origins, their education at the Sorbonne in Paris, and their profession as educators.

Furthermore, a true Islamist looks beyond nationalism to "Islamism." In other words, they would not limit themselves to the "Arab" world, but to the Muslim world, whose borders go far beyond those of Arab countries. In fact, the largest Muslim country in the world is not an Arab one. A perfect example of this identification was shown recently during the questioning of suspected Islamist activists in France. When asked their nationality, they refused to say "Algerian," and certainly did not respond "Arab." They identified themselves as "Muslim."

When Ferkal speaks of the "government whose doctrine is to systematically oppose the will of the people," which people does he refer to? Algerians? Kabylies? Or only those Kabylies who are of his frame of mind? In almost the same breath, he speaks of the "Arab-Islamist ideology of the rulers," but this is not the ideology of the rulers alone. Virtually all Algerians are Muslim, and most Algerians do not have a problem with Islam as part of their identity. This is not to say that they agree with political Islamists. A Muslim can consider him/herself thus, but prefer a secular government. The Arab identity is also recognized by most. This is not a racial identity, but a linguistic one. Again, this does not mean that the Algerian "Arab" considers him/herself as one and the same as an Arab from Iraq or the Gulf or the Levant. The differences in culture between the Middle East and North Africa are very apparent, and Algerians are well-aware of them. Music, food, customs are all different. The Arabic spoken throughout North Africa, not only Algeria, is syntatically and grammatically influenced by its Amazigh roots.

This is not to say that the Arabization law was a proper move. And realistically, it cannot be enforced. But opposition to it should be to favor recognition and respect for the native languages and cultures of the country, the variety of which has greatly enriched Algeria. Opposition to this law should not be presented in such a way as to further drive a wedge between two groups of Algerians.

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1999 Cheb. All Rights Reserved.

Page Information: [ 0008394 - Tuesday, August 17, 1999 ]