Review: Amazigh Politics in the Wake of the Arab Spring, by Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

By Juliet O’Brien

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman’s latest work, Amazigh Politics in the Wake of the Arab Spring, explores the complexities of the increasingly salient Amazigh identity movement in North African (and diasporic) politics and society since the so-called Arab Spring of 2011. His study possesses both depth and breadth, examining five case studies of Amazigh activism in Algeria, Libya, Azawad (Mali), Tunisia, and Morocco. By focussing specifically on Amazigh interventions in cultural, political, and socio-economic activism, Maddy-Weitzman adds much-needed nuance to the existing academic literature on the Arab uprisings of 2011. His thesis, that “the increasingly visible and assertive Amazigh movement shifted its emphasis from being primarily ethnocultural to one that was more explicitly political and socioeconomic,” captures the recent evolution of Amazigh activism and offers questions for the future of North African politics (Maddy-Weitzman, 4). 

In his introduction, Maddy-Weitzman contextualises the emergence of the Amazigh identity movement, which asserts the linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic rights of Imazighen, indigenous inhabitants of North Africa possessing their own distinct languages and cultures.[1] Tamazight-speaking peoples comprise 40-45% of Morocco’s population, 20-25% of Algeria’s population, 6-10% of Libya’s, and 1-2% of Tunisia’s; this is in addition to the millions of Amazigh Tuaregs in countries such as Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and the millions of Imazighen in the diaspora (6). Despite the French colonial “Berber myth” that considered Imazighen to be ethnically superior to Arabs, as well as divisional colonial politics that sought to divide and rule Arab and Amazigh populations, Imazighen contributed significantly to the independence struggles of Algeria and Morocco in particular (see article by Mohand Tilmatine). Yet post-independence Arabisation policies, influenced by Nasser’s pan-Arab current, oppressed Amazigh peoples both de facto and de jure. As a result, Amazigh activism–then called “Berberism”–began in France in the 1960s with immigrants from Algeria’s Kabyle region (see source by Abderrahman El Aissati). Despite repression and intimidation, distinct manifestations of Amazigh activism emerged and, indeed, continue to increase into the present day throughout much of the region in which Imazighen are found.

In his first case study, Maddy-Weitzman examines “the Amazigh factor” in previous iterations of regime contestation in Algeria (23). He focusses particularly on the history and participation of the Kabyle region in Amazigh identity activism–the region in which the 1980 “Berber Spring” (Tafsut Imazighen) began (10). The majority of the chapter, however, centres on the post-2011 period. Maddy-Weitzman discusses the political challenge posed by the Mouvement pour l’Autonomie de la Kabylie (MAK), a more radical wing of the Kabyle movement that advocated for Kabyle self-determination (32). Demands from the Amazigh movement resulted in limited constitutional gains, such as the 2016 officialisation of the Amazigh language alongside Arabic. Imazighen participated extensively in the 2019 Hirak anti-regime protests; though the pouvoir (regime) tried to paint Amazigh participants and their flags as separatist in nature, their political and socio-economic demands illustrate the potentially far-reaching national consequences of increasing Amazigh assertiveness (50). 

Subsequently, Maddy-Weitzman turns to a previously-ignored location in studies of Amazigh history and activism: Libya. This chapter is particularly illuminating given the dearth of scholarship on Libyan Amazighité; here, the author demonstrates the ways in which the rebellion against Qaddafi brought Libyan Imazighen into the fore, such that they were “obscure no longer” (65). Maddy-Weitzman writes, “In seven months’ time, the Libyan Amazigh community had gone from a peripheral, ignored minority to an assertive and relatively cohesive community demanding a share in the post-Qaddafi landscape” (69). Libyan entry into the pan-Amazigh universe is indeed a phenomenon to watch in the evolving Amazigh movement.

Maddy-Weitzman’s next chapter tackles both the establishment and collapse of Azawad as a breakaway state with a distinct Tuareg (Amazigh) dimension. Despite the success of the Mouvement National de Libération de l’Azawad (MNLA) in declaring independence from Mali in 2012, its inability to administer the territory and keep jihadi-Salafi elements at bay ultimately resulted in the organisation’s division and Azawad’s breakdown the following year. This case study is particularly interesting given the Tuaregs’ “special place in the Amazigh imaginaire” as a distinct and often “idyllic” subgroup of Imazighen (97; 104). The assertion of ethnonationalism by Tuaregs marks a recent but important development in Amazigh activism.

Image accessed via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Azawad_map-english.jpg.

In his fourth chapter, Maddy-Weitzman looks at the “singular success story of the Arab Spring uprisings”: Tunisia (105). The relatively small size of the Tunisian Amazigh population and the endangerment of Tunisian Amazigh languages by Arabisation has led to a neglect of Tunisian Imazighen in scholarship. Maddy-Weitzman seeks to rectify this oversight, demonstrating Amazigh participation in the revolution of 2011 and their increasing assertiveness in the more open post-2011 political space. He also illustrates recent manifestations of pan-Amazigh solidarity, including those with Amazigh refugees from Libya (116).

Finally, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman turns to Morocco, the nation with the highest relative percentage of Tamazight-speakers in the region. This chapter arguably requires the most nuance, given the need to portray, all at once, the uneasy nature of royal cooptation of the Amazigh movement, the regionalistic aims of protests in the Rif region, and the evolving socioeconomic and political nature of Amazigh activism in the country. Here, Maddy-Weitzman answers the call. Though Moroccan Amazigh activists achieved the most significant of their aims, including the constitutionalisation of Tamazight and the recognition of the Amazigh dimension of Morocco’s plural identity, the author argues that a certain “pessimism, even malaise” characterises Moroccan Amazigh activism in the current moment (154). This pessimism stems mainly from a lack of implementation of Tamazight linguistic education and continued socio-economic grievances from impoverished rural parts of the country.

Overall, Amazigh Politics in the Wake of the Arab Spring contributes new, much-needed scholarship on the evolution of recent currents in Amazigh activism throughout North Africa. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman takes a comprehensive look at developments where Amazigh activism was previously established, such as Algeria and Morocco. In such contexts, he exposes a salient division between parts of the Amazigh cause that prioritise cultural and linguistic gains, and those that embrace newer and sometimes more controversial tactics in the political sphere (155). Maddy-Weitzman also devotes significant attention to typically neglected or previously unasserted spheres of Amazigh identity activism, such as in Tunisia, Libya, and the Tuareg communities of Mali. This book is essential reading for all those interested not only in Amazigh activism, but also minority rights and indigeneity discourses, North African politics, and transnational identity movements. 

On a lesser note, Maddy-Weitzman’s Amazigh music recommendations sprinkled throughout his chapters are not to be missed! I delved into the music of Tinariwen, Nora Gharyéni, and others following my reading. Amazigh Politics in the Wake of the Arab Spring is available from University of Texas Press and Amazon pre-order.

[1] Amazigh peoples were once commonly referred to as “Berbers.” This term is now seen as pejorative, due to its roots in the Greek barbaroi, meaning “barbarian.” “Berber,” Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper, accessed January 10, 2022, https://www.etymonline.com/word/berber.

Review of “Lebanon: Explosion of Anger” by Krzysztof Dzięciołowski

By Charles Ough

Screened at the Middle East Centre (MEC), St Antony’s College, on February 24, 2022,  followed by a discussion between the director, Dr Michael Willis, and Dr Raphaël Lefèvre

This striking and emotionally impactful new documentary by the award-winning Polish journalist and film director Krzysztof Dzięciołowski is urgent viewing for all those who still need to improve their knowledge of this fascinating country and its people– beyond just the headlines of bombs, blasts and demonstrations. Its presentation as part of the Middle East Centre Seminar series provided an invaluable opportunity to explore the themes of Lebanon’s recent history even further in a lively and varied discussion between MEC Director Dr Michael Willis, Levant expert Dr Raphaël Lefèvre, the film’s director, and an engaged audience.

The film, originally made for Polish television and screened there in October of last year, begins with the story of the devastating explosion of 4th of August 2020 told through the eyes of the ordinary Lebanese people who were affected by it in varying ways. In all likelihood, viewers would probably identify this as the most moving aspect of the 52-minute run time. The experiences of people from Beirut to the Bekaa are told in their own words and gradually woven together apparently organically through the director’s selection of interviewees whose lives coalesced on that day and in its aftermath. The story of parents Abou Jawde and Mortaja Haidar and their devotion in travelling to visit their premature triplets in a Beirut Hospital was given a particular focus in this part and was effective in binding the viewer emotionally in their fear of what could happen next. The subsequent introduction of nurse Pamela Zeinoun’s narrative of that day provided almost unbearable tension to the film, as she rushed from hospital to hospital carrying the babies after the blast destroyed much of the neonatal facility where they were being cared for. Pamela’s eventual success in her task, and the triplet’s subsequent reunion with their parents, effected an almost audible sigh of relief among the gripped audience while also highlighting the extraordinary actions Beirutis performed on that day in the face of overwhelming shock and adversity.

From there, the film looks back at the roots of Lebanon’s modern political constitution and current crisis: the 1975-1990 civil war, its settlement in the Ta’if power sharing agreement between the various sectarian elites, and the protests organised since October 2019. At this point, it must be said that the story loses much of its urgency and poignance. The voices of ordinary Lebanese are replaced with detached voiceovers, authoritative historians espousing theories of Lebanon’s primordial confessional feuding, and stereotyped, mid-twentieth century newsreel footage advertising the sectarian “co-existence” and metropolitanism of the so-called “Paris of the Orient.” The discussion on the postwar period, by the narrator and the interviewees selected, also focuses exclusively on the role of Hezbollah in instituting the corrupt and violent contemporary status-quo, neglecting the role of other former militia leaders in instituting an electoral system based around sectarian affiliation. Furthermore, the assumption that the explosives stored at the port of Beirut were Hezbollah armaments destined for Syria is accentuated above the wider mismanagement involved in catalysing the explosion. Therefore, Hezbollah and its allies in Syria and Iran are, again, the only parties identified by name in causing this catastrophe.

The return of focus to the recent experiences of the people interviewed since the 2019 protests, however, restores some of the film’s emotional impact and highlights the reason for the choice of “Explosion of Anger” for the subtitle. Rather than lingering on the sadness of Lebanon’s failure to build an equitable postwar state, this shift towards the demands of Lebanese since 2019 accentuates their agency and defiant outrage to the elites’ selfish mismanagement pre- and post-explosion. Also highlighted is the rejection by many in the current generation of the sectarian divisions in Lebanon and their success in forging, through protest, a cross- or non-sectarian civil society. While the film correctly points out the limiting effect the COVID pandemic and subsequent economic crisis have had on people’s ability and willingness to organise against the system, it is careful to show that Lebanese have, of course, not forgotten about their demands. In particular, William Noun’s continuing struggle for accountability over the death of his brother Joe, a firefighter killed in the blast, demonstrates the survival of the non-sectarian opposition to the pernicious mismanagement and clientelism of the elites of all religious groups. Lebanese artist Hayat Nazer’s sculpture built from the blast wreckage and depicting a woman holding aloft the national flag then stands at the end of the film as a powerful statement to the pride people have in their country and of the hopeful future which could still be built from the wreckage.

Panel Discussion:

Once the audience and speakers managed to gather their thoughts from amongst the varied emotional responses that had been triggered, the film was followed by a productive discussion between the viewers, the director, and Dr Lefèvre. In particular, Dr Lefèvre’s decision to expand on the film’s mention of the birth of a strong civil society in Lebanon was interesting in illuminating the the roots of this cross-sectarian space in earlier movements such as 2015’s Beirut Madinati (“Beirut, my city”) echoing the work of director Dzięciołowski’s fellow Reuters Institute researcher Habib Battah on pre-2019 citizen-led collectives in Lebanon. More so than the documentary, Dr Lefèvre was also hopeful for the future of Lebanon and real political and social change after May’s upcoming general elections in which 26% of voters plan to opt for civil society groups rather than sectarian parties, according to a recent poll he cited. Though he raised fears that disagreement within the nonsectarian groups over the issue of Hezbollah’s arms could undermine the movement while the established political classes have long been adept at resisting change in the past, he expected that the advanced age of many of the former militia leaders, coupled with their inability to secure votes through patronage any longer as a result of the financial crisis, will limit their effectiveness in stymieing reform in the future.

When asked about whether he interviewed any supporters of Hezbollah for the film, director Krzysztof Dzięciołowski stated that he had but had also been forced to excise these clips from the final cut due to the strict time constraints for the television premiere. Though this is completely understandable, the director’s stated aim in the discussion was to hear from “different walks of life,” while the length of time spent on Hezbollah’s role in creating the current crises was considerable. Instead, the inclusion of the roles just some of the other internal and foreign actors, such as Israel as one audience member pointed out, have played would have created a more balanced picture. Dzięciołowski concluded, however, by reminding the viewers that this was the first film made in Poland since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990 and so had to be a short and general “introduction to Lebanon for Poland.” Despite its drawbacks and biases, his film certainly meets and, in fact, exceeds this aim in allowing the voices of many ordinary Lebanese to speak for themselves and demonstrate that, while not so prevalent in the news, their anger remains undimmed and the need, and hope, for change still pivotal for the future of the country.

Turkey or Türkiye? The Politics of a Name Change

By Ethan Dinçer

In early December 2021, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a series of communiqués that would begin to radically alter Turkey’s international image. Framed under the auspices of reforming and strengthening the Turkish brand, the policies set forth by Erdoğan would aim to shift domestic discourse on the country’s name by changing it from Turkey to Türkiye in all sectors. 

Beginning with a communiqué in early December 2021, Erdoğan suggested the country use Türkiye in all its official activities, including shifting its export slogan from ‘Made in Turkey’ to ‘Made in Türkiye.’[1] This move was just the first step in a larger project spearheaded by the presidency to strengthen Turkey’s brand, justified by claiming that “the phrase Türkiye represents and expresses the culture, civilisation and values of the Turkish nation in the best way.”[2] Yet, changing export branding isn’t new to Turkish producers: the Türkiye İhracatçılar Meclisi (TİM), the Turkish Exporters’ Assembly, recommended all exporters begin using the ‘Made in Türkiye’ slogan in 2000.[3] This strategy was concretized in a January 2020 decree by the Assembly that required all exports to include the ‘Made in Türkiye’ moniker.[4]

Erdoğan’s December push catalyzed an already growing movement of support for a nation-wide name change. The same December communiqué instructed all governmental communications to adopt ‘Türkiye’ when using non-Turkish languages, including changing their websites. The popular ‘GoTurkey’ Instagram account, run by the Turkish tourism ministry, immediately changed the account to ‘GoTürkiye’, adorned with the related #OnlyinTürkiye and #SafeTourismTürkiye to promote COVID-conscious tourism. 

At the beginning of the new year, Erdoğan pushed the scope of the communiqué beyond the domestic procedures of the nation and onto the international stage. In late January, Turkish officials began making official plans to register the name change at the United Nations, a move that would make the state’s internationally recognized name Türkiye.[5] Even though no official documents have been submitted to the UN, this consideration and preparation itself signifies a deeper intent behind this push to solidify the nation’s brand. 

At the time of writing, the most recent iteration of the name-change directive is the ‘Say Türkiye’ campaign launched by the Presidential Communications Directorate. The plan is the second step in the ‘Hello Türkiye’ campaign launched after the original December 2021 communiqué, and includes a letter to the Türkiye Esnaf ve Sanatkârları Konfederasyonu (TESK), the Turkish Confederation of Tradesmen and Craftsmen, to encourage all craftsmen in the nation to use Türkiye on their products.[6] In addition to businesses and governments, all public institutions will be using Türkiye on their websites and social media accounts, with the eventual goal of reaching global media platforms to change headlines and search engine results worldwide to Türkiye.[7] With the implementation of Türkiye into international spaces, it would be likely to see the changing of passports and identification cards in the coming years, in addition to official diplomatic documents. 

Yet, what are the reasons behind this name change? Erdoğan’s government has been considered by some as neo-Ottoman and pan-Islamist, polemic descriptions of Turkey’s larger drift away from historic secular, Western orientations. Why is it now deciding to solidify the nation’s brand?[8] While the official communiqué mentioned the strengthening of Turkey’s culture, civilization, and vision, many news outlets have expanded the governments’ central reasoning. TRT World, a state-run media outlet, names the turkey bird native to North America, usually served during holidays largely uncelebrated in Turkey as a reason for the change.[9] TRT also identifies the mixed search results that occur when one types ‘Turkey’ into Google and other search engines. They reference the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition of ‘turkey’ as “something that fails badly” or “a stupid or silly person.”[10]

Although troubling, the name mix-ups have occurred since the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. So, why now? Two reasons immediately emerge: the implementation of the name-change as a distraction-turned-morale booster for a fluctuating economy and in preparation for the 2023 elections. For the past few years, the Turkish economy has taken a free fall, hitting its lowest point in December 2021 when the lira fell to 16 to one US dollar, and national inflation reached a high of 36.1%.[11] Many of these economic failings can be directly tied to President Erdoğan’s unorthodox policies, including ordering the central bank to deeply cut interest rates to prioritize credit and exports over currency strength and price stability, in hopes of the inflation rate naturally relaxing.[12] While Erdoğan might believe in these actions, the Turkish people do not, especially when the currency lost 44% of its value in 2021 alone.[13] Introducing a name change in December 2021, during Turkey’s most turbulent economic period, can be interpreted as a nationalist distraction for an otherwise tumbling national image, at a time when many throughout the country struggle to afford food and basic necessities. In conjunction, some see the set of communiques as a thinly-veiled appeal to gain support for the presidency and his Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, AKP) in the face of the upcoming June 2023 elections. As Erdoğan increasingly loses support even from his most loyal bases due to his economic policies, the name change might be an attempt at gaining back followers under the guise of strengthening Turkey’s national image and brand.

These are only speculations in lieu of official governmental justification. However, there is a larger significance that can be drawn. The name change process highlights the sensitivity of Turkish sovereignty. Many note how xenophobic and Islamophobic attacks often liken Turkey to the bird, undermining the nation’s reputation. Yet, the Turkish word for turkey is hindi, the root word of Hindistan, which is India in Turkish. Since India was once a source of livestock production that was routed through Ottoman Turkey, it makes sense that the name became imbricated in the Turkish language, yet the Indian state has not made a big deal about the situation. While the likeness to a bird may be a sore point for many Turks–I felt similarly growing up with a variety of offhand jokes about Thanksgiving turkeys and the country of my origin–these associations have been occurring for generations. Why didn’t Turkey do anything about this generations ago? Some see the change in terms of a move past the normative English language in international political spaces–Anna Francesca Murphy argues that “the tweak in its formal spelling is a push for the English version [Turkey] to not be the given standard without question.” To Murphy, the name change revolves around questions of diplomatic self-representation and a move away from catering to the West, something she argues has been occurring in the diplomatic community since the founding of the Turkish Republic. 

While the name change may, at some abstract level, be reworking and reclaiming sovereign identities in international spaces, many states throughout the world have different names, such as Turkey’s immediate neighbor, Greece, which calls itself Hellas. There remains a variety of interpretations over this seemingly sudden decision for a national rebranding, many of which seem persuasive. However, during a time where Turkish domestic and foreign policy revolves around strengthening their national image–from greater involvement in Middle Eastern, Central Asian, and North African diplomatic affairs, including in Libya and Afghanistan, to a policy position that leans away from Western orientations–a separation from the anglicized spelling of the country aligns itself with the overall project of Erdoğan’s presidency. The economic argument is also salient, and the timing of the name change as a distraction from an increasingly unaffordable economy could likely be a part of Erdoğan’s nationalist rhetoric leading up to the 2023 elections. These two interpretations are complementary to each other, and it is reasonable to conclude that Erdoğan is pushing this change to save and strengthen his own image rather than the country’s brand. As his government continues to pressure a rebranding of Turkey, it is imperative to critique the state’s reliance on themes of sovereignty and nationalism and instead examine the AKP’s own failing policies and desperate actions to regain support. 

[1] “Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.” TRT World, Dec. 4, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-to-use-t%C3%BCrkiye-in-all-activities-to-strengthen-its-brand-52307
[2] “Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.”
[3] Clausing, Jeri. “​​What’s in a Name? Why Turkey Is Now Türkiye.” Afar, Jan. 11, 2022. https://www.afar.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye
[4] “Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.” TRT World, Dec. 13, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye-and-why-that-matters-52602
[5] Soylu, Ragip. “Turkey to register its new name Türkiye to UN in coming weeks.” Middle East Eye, Jan. 17, 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-turkiye-new-name-register-un-weeks
[6] “‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.” Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 17, 2022. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/say-turkiye-campaign-to-promote-changing-countrys-intl-name-starts-171561
[7] “‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.”
[8] See Maziad, Marwa and Sotiriadis, Jake. “Turkey’s Dangerous New Exports: Pan-Islamist, Neo-Ottoman Visions and Regional Instability.” Middle East Institute, April 21, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/turkeys-dangerous-new-exports-pan-islamist-neo-ottoman-visions-and-regional for a broader understanding of Erdogan’s alleged Neo-Ottomanism, a largely Western critique that gained popularity during the  crackdowns post-2016 coup d’etat attempt and the various political-military engagements in Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan.
[9] “Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.”
[10] Ibid.
[11] Kissel, Thomas. “Turkey No More: Erdogan Changes Country’s Name to ‘Turkiye’”. Greek Reporter, Jan. 19, 2022. https://greekreporter.com/2022/01/19/turkey-name-change-turkiye-erdogan/
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.

References

Clausing, Jeri. “​​What’s in a Name? Why Turkey Is Now Türkiye.” Afar, Jan. 11, 2022. https://www.afar.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye

Cupolo, Diego. “Turkey gambles on economic turnaround as cost of living skyrockets.” Politico, Dec. 22, 2021. https://www.politico.eu/article/turkey-gamble-economic-turnaround-cost-living-recep-tayyip-erdogan/

Kissel, Thomas. “Turkey No More: Erdogan Changes Country’s Name to ‘Turkiye’”. Greek Reporter, Jan. 19, 2022. https://greekreporter.com/2022/01/19/turkey-name-change-turkiye-erdogan/

Maziad, Marwa and Sotiriadis, Jake. “Turkey’s Dangerous New Exports: Pan-Islamist, Neo-Ottoman Visions and Regional Instability.” Middle East Institute, April 21, 2020. https://www.mei.edu/publications/turkeys-dangerous-new-exports-pan-islamist-neo-ottoman-visions-and-regional

Murphy, Anna Francesca. “Turkey’s name change to ‘Türkiye’ shows that the world is no longer trying to appease Britain.” I News, Jan. 21, 2022. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/turkey-name-change-turkiye-world-appease-uk-britain-1407716

“‘Say Türkiye’ campaign to promote changing country’s int’l name starts.” Hurriyet Daily News, Feb. 17, 2022. https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/say-turkiye-campaign-to-promote-changing-countrys-intl-name-starts-171561

Soylu, Ragip. “Turkey to register its new name Türkiye to UN in coming weeks.” Middle East Eye, Jan. 17, 2022. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-turkiye-new-name-register-un-weeks

“Turkey to use ‘Türkiye’ in all activities to strengthen its brand.” TRT World, Dec. 4, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/turkey/turkey-to-use-t%C3%BCrkiye-in-all-activities-to-strengthen-its-brand-52307

“Why Turkey is now ‘Turkiye’, and why that matters.” TRT World, Dec. 13, 2021. https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/why-turkey-is-now-turkiye-and-why-that-matters-52602