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Algeria: Arab-Amazigh Dispute over Using Arabic Alphabet for Berber Languages

Algeria: Arab-Amazigh Dispute over Using Arabic Alphabet for Berber Languages

Thursday, 17 January, 2019 - 08:15
Amazigh Algerians celebrate the start of the Amazigh New Year 2629 in Algeria this week (EPA)

Algeria’s Supreme Islamic Council, considered the country’s highest state-run religious authority, triggered nationwide controversy over its bid to inscribe the Berber languages in Arabic letters.

Amazigh tribes, which pushed for their languages’ recognition as official, voiced their strong objection to their dialects being written in Arabic letters, saying they wish for Latin inscriptions to substitute the original Tifinagh letters.

Earlier this week, Council Chairman Bouabdellah Ghlamallah, in a speech given in the predominantly Amazigh Tizi Ouzou Province, stressed the need to revive and develop the Berber languages by writing it in Arabic, which he cited as a “source for pride”.

Fighting back against the demand for Latin alphabets taking over the Berber languages, Ghlamallah blasted the Amazigh tribes for not placing their languages’ best interest at heart, saying the only way forward for the language is through the adoption of Arabic alphabets.

Ghlamallah, nevertheless, reaffirmed that the final decision will be made by the Algerian Academy of Amazigh Language, according to the constitutional amendment ratified on February 7, 2016.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika ordering the establishment and empowerment of the Academy and the adoption of the Amazigh New Year as a national and official holiday in early 2018 was seen in two different lights, one of which triumphs the longstanding struggle of Amazigh tribes gaining recognition as an essential part of the Algerian culture, and another that views it as a political move by the president to rally support for a fifth term.

A sharp dispute, often ideological, has long stoked differences between Berbers, the aboriginal inhabitants of t North Africa, who persistently fought for teaching Amazigh throughout the country’s educational system, and Arab Algerians who insist on the prevalence of Arabic as the sole official language used in government affairs.

Some Berbers are actively involved in separatist movements calling for the independence of the tribal region.

Despite the Algerian political echelon promoting Arabic, it fails to act upon its preaching as most government departments and companies are adopting French.

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