Speaker: Hussein Elkhafaifi, Associate Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilization. Part of the Voices in Middle East Studies series sponsored by the Middle East Center, Jackson School of International Studies
Abstract: The Maghrib (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) experienced the Arab Spring in different manifestations and to varying degrees. The Amazigh movement and Berbers across the region played and continue to play many different roles in the evolving political fortunes of North African states. Among their shared aims is achieving a genuine recognition of Amazigh ethnocultural demands as part of a broader democratic transformation of society and state, a goal in which the Amazigh movement has made significant contributions. As in most modern ethnic-based identity movements, intellectuals have played a key role in articulating and disseminating the fundamental tenets of modern-day Berberism. In Libya, whose Berbers make up about 10% of the population, Berber proponents are mostly secular, promoting an ethno-linguistic identity with occasional anti-Arab tones. For Libyan Berbers, this championing of the language is more of a proxy rather than a true linguistic cause. In contrast to other North African countries, Libyan Berbers not advocate opposition to Islam. My aim is to analyze how Berber political activists have used the demand for an official status for the Berber language, Tamazight, to be equal to Arabic, within a broader agenda of political change and democratization but also in an effort to influence the concept of ‘Libyan-ness’ defined by the state as associated closely with Arabic culture and language.