By Robert D. Kaplan

  • June 6, 1982

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Arabs came to North Africa in the seventh century. But since the dawn of history, there have been Berbers in this part of the world that the Arabs call the Maghreb. When the Arabs invaded, the mountain fastnesses of Morocco inhibited intermingling of the two peoples, and although the Berbers were eventually converted to Islam, their ethnic and linguistic purity has been preserved until today.

Morocco has long been considered the most Western-oriented society in the Arab world. The reason has less to do with politics and geography than with Berber culture. For Morocco is not an Arab country at all, but a Berber one with a deceptive Arab veneer.

Half the Moroccan population speaks Berber, a Hamitic language similar to ancient Libyan with an alphabet that bears no resemblance to Arabic. Berber dynasties ruled Morocco throughout much of the medieval period, since Arab control of the country was always tenuous. Though the Alaouit Dynasty – sovereign from the 17th century to the present day – is considered Arab, King Hassan II’s wife, Latifa, is Berber, as have been the wives of previous Alaouit monarchs. ”The Berber is what makes the difference between the Maghreb mentality and the Arab mentality of the Near East,” said Mohammed Chafik, Inspector General of National Education, himself a Berber.

The word Berber may have been derived from ”barbari,” the Greek and Roman term for foreigners, but the Berber’s word for Berber is ”Amazigh,” which means ”free man,” and their culture exemplifies this principle. While Arab societies are generally authoritarian, Berber villages since antiquity have been governed by democratically run councils, or jamas. Because of the difficult terrain, central authority was never strong; each village was governed by its own set of rules. ”The jama established a tradition of pluralism in Morocco long before the country’s contact with the West,” said Mr. Chafik.

Morocco today may actually be the most pluralistic society in the Arab world. All kinds of people can be found in its government corridors, from Moslem clergy to women clad in the latest Paris fashions. The tension that exists between social groups in other Middle Eastern countries is largely absent.

It is no accident that women have a higher status in Morocco than in the Moslem societies of the Near East. The plethora of professional, single women who have their own apartments in the cosmopolitan centers of Rabat and Casablanca owe their freedom to Berber traditions established long ago in the hinterlands of the kingdom. Berber women never wear veils and are free to choose their husbands. Berber villages high in the Atlas Mountains hold annual festivals where women can divorce their husbands and enter into new courtships. Many village women are literate.

Significantly, at a time when Morocco is binding itself culturally and politically closer to the West, the Berber heart of this country is beating stronger than ever. Amazigh, for example, has become the name of a bimonthly magazine in Morocco dedicated to the preservation of Berber culture. It is one of many recent manifestations of an upsurge in Berber ethnic consciousness. As the magazine’s editor, Ahmed Bouskoul, observed: ”We are not seeking to foster a new militancy among Berbers. Rather, Amazigh is published in French precisely because it is for all Moroccans. Our aim is to tell our countrymen what makes them different from other Arabs, to help them open the door to their own civilization. The magazine is a rearguard action to preserve true Moroccan culture.”

Public readings by Berber poets have become part of the effort to preserve the language and traditions, an effort that seems to be succeeding. According to Mr. Chafik, who wrote a United Nations report about the Berbers, ”The language of the Amazigh is undergoing a veritable renaissance in the latter part of the 20th century.”

There is, however, another element to this revival -a protest against Arab cultural dominance. ”Though the majority of rural people speak Berber, all media institutions are Arab,” complained Atabje Lahoucine, a Berber engineer. Though by law all Moroccans are equal, discrimination exists. Khadija Ouhnane, a public affairs specialist and herself a Berber, claims: ”A foreigner may not know the difference between Berbers and Arabs, but for Moroccans it is easy to tell.” Even names can be a distinguishing factor, Khadija and Aisha being common first names for Berber women, while Hamu is popular among Berber men.

Since the discrimination is cultural, and not legal, dissatisfaction in Morocco does not have the political overtones that Berber unrest in the Kabylia region of Algeria has had. The Kabyles, like all Berbers, formed the forefront in the battle against French colonialism, but they retained a strong French-language tradition. That tradition is now threatened by the Arabization program initiated by Algeria’s President, Chadli Bendjedid. The university in Tizi Ouzou, the main city of greater Kabylia, was the scene of large-scale protests against the program in the spring of 1980 and 1981. This year, the Algerian Government closed down the campus for the spring semester. Kabylia itself is quiescent. But many observers believe that however small, the Berber population is a force -oriented toward the West, by way of the French language – that must be reckoned with in charting the development of Algeria’s political culture.

In Morocco, where Berbers are not an isolated minority as in Algeria, this force is surer. In ”The Challenge,” King Hassan wrote: ”Morocco is like a tree nourished by roots deep in the soil of Africa, which breathes through foliage rustling to the winds of Europe.” The foliage of the King’s metaphor could easily represent the Berbers. Said Mr. Chafik, ”They have actively participated in the fusion of the Latin and Moslem cultures.” ——————————————————————— Robert D. Kaplan is a freelance journalist specializing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

Definition of ’Moroccan’

In other languages Moroccan

British English: Moroccan /məˈrɒkən/ ADJECTIVE Moroccan means belonging or relating to Morocco or to its people or culture.

  • American English: Moroccan /məˈrɒkən/
  • Arabic: مَغْرِبِيٌّ
  • Brazilian Portuguese: marroquino
  • Chinese: 摩洛哥的
  • Croatian: marokanski
  • Czech: marocký
  • Danish: marokkansk
  • Dutch: Marokkaans
  • European Spanish: marroquí
  • Finnish: marokkolainen adjektiivi
  • French: marocain
  • German: marokkanisch
  • Greek: μαροκινός
  • Italian: marocchino
  • Japanese: モロッコの
  • Korean: 모로코의
  • Norwegian: marokkansk
  • Polish: marokański
  • European Portuguese: marroquino
  • Romanian: marocan
  • Russian: марокканский
  • Spanish: marroquí
  • Swedish: marockansk
  • Thai: ของโมร็อกโก, ซึ่งเกี่ยวกับโมร็อกโก
  • Turkish: Fas
  • Ukrainian: марокканський
  • Vietnamese: thuộc nước/người/tiếng Maroc

British English: Moroccan /məˈrɒkən/ NOUN A Moroccan is a person who comes from Morocco.

  • American English: Moroccan /məˈrɒkən/
  • Arabic: مَغْرِبِيٌّ
  • Brazilian Portuguese: marroquino
  • Chinese: 摩洛哥人
  • Croatian: Marokanac
  • Czech: Maročan
  • Danish: marokkaner
  • Dutch: Marokkaan
  • European Spanish: marroquí
  • Finnish: marokkolainen henkilö
  • French: Marocain
  • German: Marokkaner
  • Greek: Μαροκινός
  • Italian: marocchino
  • Japanese: モロッコ人
  • Korean: 모로코 사람
  • Norwegian: marokkaner
  • Polish: Marokańczyk
  • European Portuguese: marroquino
  • Romanian: marocan
  • Russian: марокканец
  • Spanish: marroquí
  • Swedish: marockan
  • Thai: ชาวโมร็อกโก
  • Turkish: Faslı
  • Ukrainian: марокканецьnf
  • Vietnamese: người Maroc

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Definition of Moroccan from the Collins English Dictionary Read about the team of authors behind Collins Dictionaries.

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