El Guabli (Brahim)

Brahim El Guabli (Williams College), Debating ‘Amazigh Deliberative Democracy’ in Morocco

Ljmāt or al-jamā‘a, and taqbilt refer to the collective or community as well as the council that represents the tribe, the village, or the households of a community in Amazigh/Berber areas in Morocco (Rachikd, 2016). The existence of these structures, which make limited decisions on behalf of the collective, has been at the heart of some intense discussions about democracy and democratization in North Africa in recent years. Amazigh activists have particularly insisted on the democratic nature of these proto-institutions and characterize them as an embodiment of an inherently Amazigh democracy. Those who argue that deliberative democracy is “endemic” to Amazighity draw on azerf (customary law) and littifāq (consensus-seeking) to defend their positions. ‘Umar Amarīr (2013), a researcher in Amazigh studies, talks about a “local participative direct democracy.” Lawyer Ahmed Dgharni, the former general secretary of the now dissolved Democratic Amazigh Party, was known for his propagation of the notion of Amazigh consensual democracy. However, these debates tend to overlook the colonial and post-colonial uses of the Amazigh ljmāt to advance and anchor interests of the Protectorate or the independence Moroccan state (Hammoudi, 1997, 120). Although colonial literature does recognize ljmāt’s democratic and egalitarian potential, colonial administrators instrumentalized ljmāt to quell resistance and establish their administrative domination over Morocco (Koller, 1954; Gellner, 1985). My analysis of  discussions of Amazigh democracy will contextualize them within the broader clash between Arabists’ and Amazigh nationalists’ imaginaries over Tamazgha (North Africa). I argue that while Amazigh communities have mostly enjoyed the existence of endogenous institutions that allowed them to function and resolve their differences through indigenous mechanisms, the political context in which Amazigh activists deploy the existence of these mechanisms pushes them to exaggerate their democratic nature and, oftentimes, to be oblivious to forms of exclusion that exist within Amazigh communities (Gellner, 1969, 28). Drawing on written sources and interviews, I highlight both ljmāt’s democratic potential and underline the limitations of equity within its boundaries for those who are marked as not being indigenous. I will specifically examine race, gender, and land distribution to demonstrate that there is a crucial gap between the Amazigh activists’ discursive practice of defending Amazigh rights and the actual practice of what they call Amazigh democracy as a universal good for the entire members of the community. Land distribution has particularly been a site of contestation in which Gellner’s notion of a “monarchic” tribal model is at work (29) through the distinctions between lbarrānī (strangers/nonindigenous) and imṣlīyn (the originals/autochthonous) (El Guabli, 2017). In bringing these threads together, the chapter will demonstrate that the supposed Amazigh democracy has become, more than anything else,  a discursive tool for Amazigh activists to distinguish their movement from the predominant Arab nationalist and Islamist notions of the state and its identity. By anchoring Amazigh political theory in a supposed inherited secular and democratic past, Amazigh activists provide an alternative to a political situation in which they feel excluded.  

Tentative Bibliography

‘Adallāh Būshṭart. Al-Amāzīghīyya wa-al-ḥizb: Dirāsāt siyāsīyya, qānūnīyya wa wathā’iq ḥawla al-man‘ (Rabat: Dār al-Salām lil-Nashr, 2019)

Abdellah Hammoudi. Master and Disciple (Chicago : Chicago University Press, 1997)

Brahim El Guabli, “From Lalla Batoul to Oum Hamza: New Trends in Moroccan Women’s Fight for Citizenship,” Arab Women’s Activism and Socio-Political Transformation  Unfinished Gendered Revolutions, ed.Sahar Khamis and Amel Mili. Palgrave, New York, 219-240

David M. Hart. Tribe and Society in Rural Morocco (London: Frank Cass, 2000)

Ernest Gellner. Saints of the Atlas (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969)

Hassan Rachik. L’esprit du terrain : Études anthropologiques au Maroc (Rabat : Centre Jacques Berque, 2016)

Robert Montagne. Les Berbères et le Makhzen dans le sud du Maroc (Casablanca: Afrique Orient, 1989)

‘Umar Amarīr. Judhūr al-dīmuqrāṭīyya al-tashārukīyya bi-al-maghrib:Dīmuqrāṭīyyat qabīlat ait ‘abdallah namūdhajan, 1914-1934 (Rabat: Dār al-Salām li-al-Ṭibā‘a wa al-Nashr, 2013). 

Brahim El Guabli is Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies and Comparative Literature at Williams College, MA. El Guabli’s scholarly work straddles historiography, literature, and memory studies through the lens of political violence during Morocco’s Years of Lead (1956-1999) and legacies of colonialism in Africa. El Guabli’s forthcoming book is entitled Moroccan Other-Archives: Berbers, Jews, and Political Prisoners Rewrite the Post-1956 Moroccan Nation (Fordham University Press). The book theorizes other-archives and examines the various ways in which Morocco’s postcolonial history is being written and rewritten in cultural production in Amazigh/Berber, Arabic, and French

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