wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
06RABAT540 2006-03-28 11:06:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

THE BERBER (AMAZIGH) IN MOROCCO, PART I

Tags:   PREL PGOV PHUM PINR MO 
pdf how-to read a cable


1. (C) SUMMARY: Poloff and PAO traveled from Rabat to
Al-Akhawayn University, located in the foothills of the
Middle Atlas mountain range, south to Erfoud in the
anti-Atlas, west to Agdaz and north to Ouarzazate and through
the High Atlas range to Marrakesh from March 10 through March
17 on a combined outreach and reporting trip. Prior to the
trip Poloff met with members of the Berber (Amazigh)
community in Rabat and discussed various aspects of their
society and culture, while at the same time probing for
political definitions. Throughout the trip the Amazigh
populations in the anti-Atlas were clear about how they
define themselves, what their priorities are, and how they
view their circumstances. The population's participation in
formal governmental structures, including political parties,
was of interest, and, as might be expected, varied from
sub-region to sub-region. This cable is an introduction to
the Amazigh in Morocco and the recently completed trip. END
SUMMARY.



--------------------------


The Amazigh: The Rabat View


--------------------------





2. (SBU) The Berber or Amazigh (Comment: Amazigh is
"Berber" in the local language. The population prefers to be
called Amazigh. End Comment.) population of Morocco is not
always separately identified. In fact, many Moroccans,
including the royal family, claim Amazigh heritage. King
Mohammed VI encourages the population to think of itself as
one with a diverse heritage, including Berber, Arab, African,
and European elements. At the same time, the constitution of
Morocco supports this diversity and the understanding of a
multi-religious society, that is Muslim, Jewish and
Christian, with Islam as the official religion. Following
the formation of Israel in 1948, large numbers of Amazigh
Jews emigrated to Israel. Today, Israelis of Moroccan
Amazigh Jewish descent continue to return to Morocco for
festivals. In fact, the current leader of the Israeli labor
party, A. Peretz, is originally from a village near Oujda and
recently visited it (reftel C). To the casual observer,
there are few if any tensions within the multi-cultural
society.



3. (SBU) In 2000, the new King (Note: Hassan II died in


1999. End Note.) began a series of trips through Morocco.
One of these was to Ajdir, an agricultural village outside of
the town of Khenifra, located southeast of Rabat in the
Meknes-Tafilalt region. (Note: There are sixteen regions in
the country. End Note.) In his Ajdir speech, the King
announced the creation of the Royal Institute for Amazigh
Culture (RIAC) and emphasized that there should be no
confrontations between the Amazigh and the Arabs, who also
reside in the region. He followed up on this speech with
several initiatives: the creation of an Amazigh radio
station, delivering of television news in Amazigh, and the
support of movies and plays in the Amazigh language. At the
same time, the Ministry of National Education and the RIAC
wrote textbooks to be used in predominantly Amazigh speaking
areas of the country. The RIAC also financially assists
scholars who wish to preserve aspects of Amazigh culture.



4. (SBU) During the mid-1980s, after the Amazigh population
of Algeria was put under some pressure by the GOA, an
organization named "Tamaynout" was formed to promote Amazigh
cultural activities throughout Morocco. The head of the
organization today, Hassan Eid Belkacem, is an outspoken
proponent of Amazigh activism. He supports a separate
Amazigh identity in order to initiate political change and
involvement (reftel A). According to Belkacem, forty to
fifty percent of the Moroccan population is Amazigh, and he
believes this fact should be recognized. Keeping children in
school, in the view of Belkacem and other activists, directly
relates to the use of the children's primary language,
Amazigh. (Note: The issue of Amazigh education was
consistently discussed during the trip. Varying attitudes
were expressed. End Note.)



5. (C) In February, Poloff met with Abdelwahad Driouche, an
Amazigh from Tinghir, a village located on the edge of the
Atlas between Ouarzazate and Er Rachidia. Driouche works for
the "external relations division" of the upper house of
parliament and is an outspoken proponent of Amazigh rights
and importance in Morocco. Driouche is of the opinion that
control of the GOM and the economy of Morocco is in the hands
of very few, and the Amazigh population is ignored. He
advocates a realigning of the regions which would take into
consideration Amazigh tribal considerations. During the
meeting, Driouche was quick to point out differences between
Amazigh and Arab tribal understandings. He, like other
Amazighs, understands Arabs not inclusive and entrenched in
traditional systems. Amazighs understand themselves as
treating women better and having a more equitable tribal
system because members of councils are elected, i.e.,
membership is not dependent on age. Driouche discussed
Mohammed V's and Hassan II's attitudes towards Amazighs. In
1950, the Amazigh tribal rulers told Mohammed V that they
would not be ignored once independence from France was
granted. As a result, the King had the French free Amazigh
prisoners in 1957. Under Hassan II there were revolts in 1973
and 1974 against the monarchy because the Amazigh desired
greater independence -- eighty-two Amazigh were arrested;
thirty-nine were put in prison. Overall, Driouche gave the
impression that the past could not be forgotten and that the
Amazigh should be treated better.



--------------------------


Setting the Stage for the Trip


--------------------------





6. (SBU) The east-west Atlas mountain range separates the
southern part of eastern Morocco from the rapidly expanding
great Sahara Desert. South of the Atlas mountains is the
area known as the "anti-Atlas." While Amazigh historically
were throughout modern Morocco, and stretched east to Libya
and Egypt, the definition of Amazigh territory/ies is
circumscribed today. (Note: Scholarly debates continue
about the relationship between the Tuareg and the Berbers.
Today, the people of the anti-Atlas readily claim a relation
to Tuareg; however, this claim may solely be based on the
desire to attract tourists. The traditional Tuareg blue
scarf is worn by tourist service providers, sold in shops and
brandished as the appropriate regional souvenir. When asked,
the local people easily say they are using the scarf for the
tourists. End Note.) In Morocco, there are three main
Amazigh areas: Soussi to the west with the city of Agadir as
its center; Shlouh in the area of the Atlas mountains, both
to the north and south; and, the Rif area around Tangiers.



7. (U) While north of the Atlas mountain range is
exhibiting an abundance of flowers with rainfall exceeding
expectations, the eastern section of the anti-Atlas, i.e.,
from Ait Sila east, continues to be in a drought. (Note:
The six-year Moroccan drought has ended. In some areas,
people are saying rainfall this year is the most in over
twenty years. End Note.) The anti-Atlas area is part of two
of the sixteen regions in Morocco: Sous-Massa, which
corresponds to the area of the Soussi; and, Meknes-Tafilalt,
which abuts the Rabat-Sale region in the north, extends
through the middle Atlas and into the anti-Atlas. Over the
mountains and in the anti-Atlas, Er Rachidia is the first
town, and, the one to which the people of the eastern
anti-Atlas look for assistance.



8. (U) The Meknes-Tafilalt (reftel B) region is the country
of the Filali, who are Arabs from the Beni Hilal of the
Hejaz. They arrived during the Arab-Muslim conquest of the
area in the eighth century. Just south of Er Rachidia is an
oasis area, "Meski," or "Source Bleue de Meski," which is the
place identifier for the division between the Filali Arabs
and the Amazigh to the south. The Amazigh, and the Arabs
following the eighth century Arab-Muslim invasions,
controlled the ancient trade routes in the Sahara, two of
which culminated in Sijilmassa (one from the western section
of the Sahara and one from the east), modern Rissani, south
of the town of Erfoud.



9. (SBU) In June 2005, the King appointed Hassan Aourid as
the new Wali of the Meknes-Tafilalt region. (Note: A "wali"
is a "super-governor," is appointed by the King, and reports
to the Minister of Interior. Governors are appointed to
regions by the King as well, whereas a "caid" is appointed by
the Ministry of the Interior. The number of caids in an area
is dependent on the population.) Aourid was a classmate of
the King's and was the palace spokesperson after the King
came to power in 1999. Originally from Er Rachidia, Aourid
heads an Amazigh "think tank" named Tarik Ibn Ziad and he was
part of the steering committee which established the RIAC.
Aourid's appointment was welcomed by the Amazigh in
Meknes-Tafilalt.



10. (SBU) The difference between the Sous-Massa and
Meknes-Tafilalt regions is obvious. While there is
agriculture in the latter, it is far less impressive than
that in the former. Part of this difference is due to the
amount of rainfall, but, even more so to the economic base of
Sous-Massa which is heavily dependent on tourism in Agadir
and the surrounding vicinity. Aourid is increasing the
revenues for Meknes-Tafilalt. Last year, the group Amazigh
marriage festival in Rish, located near Er Rachidia, was made
into an international event attracting a large number of
visitors. This year he is organizing an international
agricultural fair in Meknes to which farmers and
international agricultural firms, including Israeli firms,
will be invited. (Note: The revenues available to a region
in Morocco are directly dependent on the population's own
resources. End Note.)



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------





11. (C) The "view from Rabat" is an important part of
understanding the Amazigh in modern Morocco. It is not,
however, the entire story, as was quickly learned on the trip
to the anti-Atlas. Not unexpectedly, the capital's views
vary in importance from place to place. In fact, tradition
won in the mountainous, less accessible regions of the
anti-Atlas around Agdaz, and bids to keep the Erfoud area
alive with the tourism industry seemingly are winning.
Amazigh identity has its own regional variations -- the Atlas
mountains divide the country, and, the history and geography
with all of the environmental questions and variations play a
role in how people establish their priorities and interact
with the central government and its priorities.

******************************************
Visit Embassy Rabat's Classified Website;
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/rabat
******************************************

Riley