The Amazigh Movement and Morocco’s ‘Democracy Spring’

By Bruce Maddy-Weitzman
Submitted to Session P3536 (The King's Dilemma: Politics and Protest in Contemporary Morocco, 2013 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Moroccan Amazigh activists take particular umbrage with the term “Arab Spring”, indeed at anything which categorizes Morocco and the North Africa region as “Arab”. Hence, they characterize the wave of popular protests which swept across Morocco in early 2011as the “Democracy Spring”. Young Amazigh movement activists actively participated in the amalgam of groups which constituted the “February 20th Movement” that sought to achieve a genuine transformation of Moroccan political life.

Worried by the swelling protests, the Moroccan authorities acted swiftly to contain the demonstrators, through a mixture of reform measures, cooption and repression. For the Amazigh movement, the resulting constitutional reform which recognized Tamazight as an official state language and Amazighité as an integral component of Moroccan identity was a historic achievement, but realities on the ground remained cloudy.

Morocco has now entered into a more contentious era, posing new challenges and opportunities to the Amazigh movement. What is the meaning, or meanings, of this moment for Moroccan Amazigh? This paper will provide provisional answers to this question, through a critical examination of the Moroccan Amazigh movement's varied responses to the ‘Democracy Spring’ events: vis-à-vis allies and rivals within civil society, vis-à-vis state authorities, and within the movement itself. Topics to be addressed will include: the nature of Amazigh movement participation in Morocco's broad-based "February 20th" protest movement, and the responses to it by other civil society groups; the multiple, rival viewpoints within the movement regarding the recognition afforded by the Moroccan state and the efforts to mobilize politically on behalf of Amazigh rights within a genuinely democratic, pluralistic Morocco; and the impact of developments in other Amazigh spheres – Algeria, Libya, Tunsia, the European Diaspora and, most recently Mali – on the Moroccan Amazigh movement.

The study will be based on on-site and written interviews and observations and an analysis of the wealth of published materials, in both traditional media outlets and social media sites.