Cultural Discrimination, Democracy and Moroccan Language Policy

by Abdellah Idhssaine

On the occasion of the World Voice Day 2020, I am pleased to share with you a few reflections with respect to patterns of cultural discrimination in Morocco, an issue which I thoroughly address in my doctoral research project.

The rebellious uprisings the MENA region has recently undergone could not have gone unnoticed without ramifications on the Moroccan political arena where several popular protests raised slogans against the ongoing corruption underlying the Moroccan socio-economic system. 

The increasing tension expressed by the 20 February movement has resulted in an unprecedented constitutional reform in 2011 whereby the State aimed to reinforce the patterns of democratization among Moroccans both at the macro (i.e., institutional) and micro (i.e., socio-economic) levels. 

The procrastination policy embraced by decision makers to proceed with the, de facto, implementation of the provisions of the amended constitution has not brought about substantial changes as regards the socioeconomic problems Morocco is facing, including gender inequality, access to healthcare, lack of education as well as linguistic and cultural discrimination. 

In what follows, I shall briefly pinpoint a few manifestations of the linguistic and cultural discrimination the Amazigh Cultural Movement is experiencing due to the pan-Arabist and Islamist ideology adopted by the ruling party (i.e., PJD). 

A closer look at the provisions of Article 5 of the amended constitution reveals that both Arabic and Amazigh are recognized as official languages of Morocco. However, the scope of Amazigh in a number of priority domains of public life such as administrations, education, media outlets, official documents as well as courts remains considerably limited, compared to that of Arabic and French. 

A large portion of Amazighs born in remote areas do not speak a word in Arabic; yet, they are required to defend themselves in Arabic during court proceedings, an act which presumably violates the provisions underlying the 2011 constitution. 

Another form of discrimination against the Amazigh community concerns the use of Arabic as medium of instruction for pupils who do not speak the language; this does not seem to align with the regionalization project Morocco aims to pursue to reinforce fair distribution of power at the cultural, economic and political level. 

Despite UNESCO’s urgent recommendation to teach in mother tongues during the early years of primary education, the State continues to assimilate members of the Amazigh community to the Islamic ideology in which Arabic seems to be prioritized over any other language. 

A potential resolution to minimize the linguistic and cultural discrimination against the Amazigh community resides in a democratic implementation of the provisions of Article 5 such that it is compatible with the regionalization project Morocco aims to pursue in an attempt to reinforce patterns of democratization in Morocco. 

About the Author

Abdellah Idhssaine is a Junior Fellow completing a PhD under a cotutelle program between Mohammed V University in Morocco and Bayreuth University in Germany. He is currently conducting research on Moroccan Language Policy and the Berber/Amazigh Language Revitalization. He wrote his master’s thesis, which was published in 2016, on the Syntax of T-agreement in Tashelhit within Minimalism. Besides his experience as a teacher of English language, he has organized and participated in national and international conferences. He also attended the International Summer School Course on Linguistic Politics and Linguistic Planning at the University of Foreigners of Siena in Italy, the International Summer School Course on Advance Research Design and Statistics at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, as well as the School of Democracy at Nimar in Morocco. He is also a published author in Scopus-indexed Journals such as the Journal of North African Studies – Routledge. His research interests include Language and Politics, Minority Languages, Language Shift, Language Revitalization Programs, EFL Teaching and Amazigh Syntax. 

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