The Berbers (Amazigh)

Authored by: Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Routledge Handbook of Minorities in the Middle East

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138649040
eBook ISBN: 9781315626031
Adobe ISBN:


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The Berbers are the autochthonous population of North Africa beginning west of the Nile Delta extending westward to the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and bounded by the Mediterranean Sea in the north and the Sahara-Sahel region in the south. Interacting with conquerors throughout recorded history, they “form the basis of the whole North African edifice.” 1 Although many Berber activists reject the “minority” label, on both numerical and ideological grounds, there is no doubt that Berber speakers are in a minority in all states where they are found (modern-day Berberists insist, and not without justification, that the majority of Arabic-speakers in North Africa, and especially in Morocco, are Arabized Berbers). In fact, the number of Berber speakers has been declining, in percentage terms, for more than a century, owing to a variety of political, social, and economic factors, and particularly over the last half-century as newly independent states vigorously pursued policies of Arabization and national integration. In response, a modern Berber identity movement has arisen in recent decades that challenges dominant national narratives and state-building projects that relegate Berbers to the realm of folklore. In foregrounding Berber language, culture, and history, it seeks to refashion the identity of North African states.

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