Washington DC - The current protests in Morocco’s northern region of the Rif pose a real conundrum for the Algerian government.
Washington DC – The current protests in Morocco’s northern region of the Rif pose a real conundrum for the Algerian government.
The usually spiteful Algerian media that celebrates political and social troubles in Morocco has been silence for the most part. This rare calm between the two North African rivals is driven by a shared concern of a resurgence of Amazigh activisms that could spell trouble in both sides of the borders.
Long before the Rif’s Hirak (the Arabic term used to describe political and social protests in Morocco) it was the Amazigh Spring. The 1980 bloody revolt of Algerian Kabyle was the first major Amazigh political rebellion of post-independent North Africa.
While the Amazigh Spring did not survive the Algerian military harsh suppression, it did pave the way for the creation of a Berber activist movement in the region. In fact, it led to the formation of “the Movement for the autonomy of Kabyle (MAK)” years later.
Today’s Hirak in the Moroccan Rif is a nightmare for the Algerian Military but a ray of hope for the Kabyle nationalists. Youth groups in two major Kabyle cities, Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou, are actively supporting the Hirak and trying to internationalize the Moroccan movement. These calls of support are a direct challenge to the Algerian authorities and a strategy to jump on the Rif train to reach self-rule for the Kabyle.
However, there is a major difference between the Hirak and the Kabyle struggle for independence. Few in the Rif believe in independence or see it in some vague meaning and most would rather that Rabat cleans its act and rids the country of corruption and social injustices. On the other side of the border, most Kabyles see independence as central to their quest for self-determination. In fact, Kabyle activists view The Rif movement as a dry run for a possible drive for independence.
Both Moroccan and Algerian Security agencies are following the flow of money and support from Belgium and Holland to Riffian activists. The Europe-based Hirak campaigners tend to push for a more radical agenda centered on independence. This new European element in Amazigh activism, which pressed the Moroccans to create counter measures to contain it, has generated new fears for the Algerians who dread its impact on the development of more extreme Berber groups
Algiers has been watching nervously as some Riffian Moroccans residing in Europe keep trying to hijack the Hirak and turn it into a crusade for independence, thus setting a precedent for the Algerian Amazigh movement. Since the “ethnic” question is not gone in Algeria, a MAK incited and Europe supported rebellion in the Kabyle region is as real as ever before, especially given the health of the economy and political system in the country.
The Kabyles are eager to capitalize on the political dividends of the Hirak. However, with no or little international support, a Rif independence will never actually happen. On the other hand, for Kabyle nationalists who have an already established government in exile and possess a solid on the ground network of activists, the possibility of self-rule of some sort seems possible.
The Hirak in the Rif has undoubtedly captured the imagination and hopes of the next generation of young Kabyle secessionists. It has shown them a way to capture world attention and harness their diaspora’s political might to advance their goal for self-rule. Algeria should be worried about such developments.
As the situation in the Rif remains fluid, Amazigh groups in North Africa continue to follow events and learn lessons. Regardless of the outcome of protests in Morocco, the Kabyle independence movement will survive and thrive. For their advocates in France, the Hirak is a sign that their eventual victory is simply a matter of time.
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