Berbers

Algeria adopts constitutional reforms

The Algerian Parliament on Feb. 6 approved a package of constitutional reforms by a vote of 499-2, with 16 abstentions. The reforms include a two-term limit for the office of the president and recognition of the Amazigh language as an official language in Algeria. Amazigh is spoken by the nation's indigenous Berber population. While Amazigh was recognized as a "national language" in 2002, the constitutional reforms mean the language will be accepted on official government documentation. The two-term limit was lifted in 2008 to allow current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term. Bouteflika was elected to another five-year term in 2014, but concerns about his health following a stroke in 2013 have led many to question if he will remain in office until the end of this term in 2019. The Algerian press service announced the new constitution, calling it a "consecration of the rule of law and true democracy." Supporters of the constitutional reforms in Algeria argue the new laws will support real democracy, while critics suggest there will be little practical change.

Morocco: Polisario blamed in death of Berber activist

Clashes between Berber and Sahrawi students at universities in the Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Agadir on Jan. 23 have left two Berbers dead, with the second succumbing to his injuries four days later. The Amazigh Cultural Movement, representing Berber students, is blaming the youth wing of the Polisario Front in the killings, and calling for a government crackdown on the organization. The rival protests concerned the fate of Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front seeks to establish an independent Sahrawi Arab republic. Berbers (Amazigh) in the territory oppose establishment of an Arab nationalist state, and say that Berbers are repressed in those areas of the the territory controlled by Polisario, as well as in the Polisario-run Tindouf refugee camp just across the border in Algeria. (SIWEL, Bladi, Jan. 28; Telquel, Amazigh24, Jan. 27)

Algeria: Kabyles march for independence

Thousands of members of the Amazigh (Berber) people marched Jan. 12 in Tizi Ouzou, the central city of Algeria's Kabylia region, to assert their right to self-determination and oppose constitutional changes proposed earlier this month by the central goverment. The march marked the Amazigh new year celebration, Yennayer, and was called before the constitutional changes were announced. But protesters rejected proposed changes to the official status of the Berber language, Tamazight. The constitutional reform—in addition to limiting presidents to two terms, a concession to pro-democracy advocates—makes Tamazight an "official language." This upgrades its current status as a "national language," instated in 2002 following a wave of Berber protests the previous year. But the new protesters consider the change inadequate, and also reject constitutional provisions that only Arabic-speaking Muslims can be elected to public office. The Berber movement is now pressing for actual independence from Algeria. Marches were also held in other towns across Kabylia, and 40 protesters were arrested in connection with the mobilization, although no violence was reported. (The Guardian, TSA-Algerie, Tamurt, Jan. 12)

Berbers symbolically raise Kabylia flag at UN

A large crowd of Berber (Amazigh) residents of Algeria's Kabylia region gathered Nov. 12 at the town of Bouzeguène (Wizgan in the Berber language, Tamazight) to symbolically raise the flag of their homeland. The action was called by the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement (MAK), whose president Bouaziz Ait Chebib oversaw the ceremony. The MAK has been demanding recognition of Amazigh language and cultural rights in Algeria, and advancing a right to self-determination for the Kabylia region if these demands are not met. The crowd at Wizgan applauded when it was announced that the Kingdom of Morocco had committed to raise the issue of self-determination for Kabylia at the United Nations. (Morocco World News, Nov. 17; Siwel, Nov. 12)

Ex-Gitmo detainee seeks reparations from IACHR

Former Guantánamo Bay prisoner Djamel Ameziane filed a petition (PDF) with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) seeking reparations from the US government for human rights violations he alleges that he endured while in custody. Ameziane was forcibly returned to his home country of Algeria in December 2013, despite his protests that he would be subjected to persecution based on his ethnic minority status and in violation of IACHR precautionary measures. Ameziane was held for 12 years in Guantánamo Bay without charge and claims he was subjected to physical and psychological abuse there in violation of articles of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is representing Ameziane's case against the government. This filing marks the first time the IACHR will consider a case against US arising from Guantánamo Bay. Ameziane is seeking compensation for the rights violations, the return of money seized from him upon his arrest, and to require the US to "adopt all measures necessary to guarantee the safety and integrity of all men remaining" at Guantánamo.

Algeria issues emergency plan to fight civil unrest

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on July 8 issued an emergency plan to combat ethnic-driven civil unrest in the southern city of Ghardaia. It is reported that 22 people have died due to violence by rival gangs in the region this week. The plan issued by President Bouteflika places the 4th Military Region commander in charge of local authorities to oversee "the restoration and preservation of public order throughout the province of Ghardaia." Unrest in the region [pitting Arabs against Berbers] has been a reoccurring issue over the past years. 

Global mobilization for Kobani

Via Facebook, Oct. 31:

Global Rally Against ISIS — For Kobanê — For Humanity
ISIS [has] launched a major multi-front military campaign against the Kurdish region of Kobanê in northern Syria. This is the third ISIS onslaught on Kobanê since March 2014. As the ISIS was unsuccessful on the two previous occasions, they are attacking with larger forces and want to take Kobanê.

Algeria: Berbers join call for election boycott

Algerian security forces on April 16 violently dispersed an attempt by opposition activists to stage a protest in the capital against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's run for a fourth term in this week's elections. Only a few members of the opposition alliance Barakat—President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—were able to assemble in central Algiers before police routed them. Barakat was able to hold a rally in a stadium, where some 5,000 gathered to chant "Boycott" and "The people want the regime out!" Mohsen Belabes, a leader of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), told the crowd: "The people here are the people who have been excluded, who have been put aside, but this is the real Algeria. The regime will collapse, but Algeria will survive."

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