Morocco’s Amazigh want their new year to become official holiday

Amazigh people celebrate their new year outside the parliament in Rabat. (Reuters)

Hundreds of people gathered in Morocco’s capital Rabat late on Saturday to mark the start of the Amazigh new year with a sit-in calling on the state to make the celebration a national holiday.

Home to North Africa’s biggest Amazigh, or Berber, population, Morocco long marginalized its language and culture in favor of Arabic and French, giving rise to an Amazigh identity movement which has steadily gained influence.

Demands of the Amazigh movement featured prominently in 2011 protests which led to Morocco adopting a constitution and the Moroccan monarch to devolve some of his power to an elected government.

“This day is an occasion to highlight our strong attachment to the land and pay tribute to those who defended our freedom,” Adil Adasko, an Amazigh civil society leader, told the rally.

The first day of the year in the Amazigh calendar, rooted in seasons and agriculture, marks the anniversary of the ascent of Libyan King Sheshong to the throne of Egypt, according to historians. The new year which begins on Sunday is year 2969.

Morocco recognized Amazigh as an official language only with the new constitution in 2011. Eight years on, parliament has yet to enact the legislation required to establish its use in education and public life, and activists accuse the government of dragging its feet.

Last week, 143 out of a total of 395 members of parliament submitted a motion to Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani asking for the Amazigh new year to be recognized as a national day, a step already taken by neighboring Algeria.

Government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said Othmani was studying the issue.

The Amazigh movement has also played a role in protests in some of Morocco’s marginalized areas, including demonstrations over economic and social grievances in the Rif region in 2016 and last year in the Souss region.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:52 - GMT 06:52