The Moroccan Parliament has enacted legislation that establishes the official form of the script for the Tamazight (Berber) language, resolving ongoing dispute on the matter. The law also confirms Tamazight integration into the education system and more broadly into Moroccan public life.
Rabat – The Moroccan Commission of Education, Culture and Communication adopted a law yesterday confirming that the Tamazight language (also called Berber) is to be written in the “Tifinagh” alphabet.
The new law number 26.16 also confirms the integration of Tamazight into the education system and public life more broadly. It was approved by 19 votes. Six voters opted to abstain and no one opposed the introduction of the law.
Article-1 defines the Tamazight language as the dialects spoken across the country, as well as linguistic and lexical works created by institutions. Importantly, it confirms that Tamazight is written and read in “Tifinagh.”
Tifinagh, or Lybic script was used in the North Africa region from 2000 BC to the 3rd century AD. A modern derivative of the script known as Neo-Tifinagh was re-introduced in North Africa during the 20th century to write Tamazight, which until then was purely an oral language.
The use of the Tifinagh alphabet to transcribe Tamazight has been a matter of contention in Moroccan politics.
The conflict came to a head last month when the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) proposed an amendment to existing law to introduce Tamazight script on Moroccan banknotes and coins. The nationalist Istiqlal Party and the Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) blocked the proposal, as did a number of other parties.
According to Abdellah Bouanou, the President of the Commission for Finance and Development in the House of Representatives, the law was blocked because rather than amending existing law to introduce Tamazight script on banknotes, it was more appropriate to wait for the freestanding law n26.16 (which would resolve the matter) to be introduced.
“Why rush into introducing an amendment into an ordinary law, which has less legal weight than a freestanding law [law n.26.16]? […] We should just wait for the freestanding law on Tamazight to be introduced,” Bouanou told Moroccan newspaper Media24.
Attack on Arab identity
Some see the use of the Tifinagh alphabet on banknotes, and more broadly, as an attack on Arab identity, and want the Tamazight language to be written in Arabic script.
In response to the proposal to printing banknotes with the addition of the Tamazight language, the famous Moroccan Salafist preacher Hassan El Kattani posted on social media: “ Suddenly, we will find Tifinagh letters printed at our banknotes… a further marginalization and restriction of the language of Islam and Muslims [the Arabic language].”
The introduction of law n26.16 yesterday confirms that Tamazight will not be written in Arabic script, but will be written in Tifinagh, ending the debate on the matter.
Article-4 of the new law also mandates Tamazight be taught throughout Morocco and across all levels of education. Amazigh has been taught in some schools and universities for a number of years. The new law however officially standardizes its teaching.
Tamazight is a key element of the Amazigh peoples’ cultural identity.
In 2011, the Moroccan Constitution recognized Tamazight as the country’s official language alongside Arabic. Yesterday’s new law, eight years later, finally provides concrete avenues for the integration of the Tamazight language into Moroccan public life. It is an important step forward for the Amazigh rights movement.