Everything about Kabylia
By: Anna Mahjar-Barducci
August 7, 2013 marked the end of this year’s Islamic month of Ramadan, during which Muslims, with few exceptions, may not eat or drink from dawn to dusk. During this Ramadan, several North African activists, from Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, launched campaigns demanding the removal of all restrictions on eating in public during the month-long holiday, and calling on the central governments to respect freedom of conscience, religion and opinion.
A previous MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis, published July 30, 2013, In Tunisia And Morocco, Campaigns For Freedom From Religion During The Month Of Ramadan, reported on two such campaigns. The Tunisia campaign took the form of a backlash against a self-appointed religious leader, Adel Almi, who demanded enforcement of the religious restrictions and threatened to photograph and shame those who violate them, while in Morocco, the Masayminch/We Won’t Fast movement defends the right of those who choose not to fast.
This paper focuses on Ramadan rallies in the region promoting freedom of conscience and freedom from religion. At a rally, held August 3, 2013 in the city of Tizi Ouzou, Kabylia, a region in the north of Algeria, over 500 Kabyle participated in a public lunch, held to promote “freedom of conscience.” Another rally, in the Kabylia coastal town of Aokas, demanded freedom from religion and that restaurants and cafes open for business in the daytime during Ramadan.
Kabylia Feels Algerian Government Is Not Committed To Respecting Individual Liberties
In Algeria, no law prohibits eating during Ramadan, but in years past some people who have not fasted have been prosecuted, and some non-Muslims have been arrested for that offense. In these cases, the judges invoked Article 144, bis 2 of Algeria’s Penal Code, which states that “anyone offending the Prophet and the messengers of God or denigrating the dogmas or precepts of Islam can be punished with imprisonment.” The Algerian Constitution declares in Article 2 that Islam is the state religion, but also declares in Article 36 that “freedom of creed and opinion is inviolable”; Article 29 also states that “all citizens are equal before the law” and that “no discrimination shall prevail because of birth, race, sex, opinion, or any other personal or social condition or circumstance.”
However, people in Kabylia feel that in practice, the Algerian government is not committed to respecting individual liberties; since Algeria’s independence in 1962, the population there has been demanding freedom of and from religion. The Kabyle people are not Arabs, but Imazighen (meaning “free people”; the singular form is amazigh, and they are better known in the West as Berbers). The Imazighen are the indigenous people of North Africa, and their presence in the region predates the eighth-century Arab invasion. Today, they are scattered across Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and the Sahel region.
Imazighen Subjected To Discrimination, Especially In Algeria
Although they are the region’s original inhabitants, the Imazighen have been subjected to humiliation and discrimination, especially in Algeria, where the regime has systematically pursued policies of de-Imazighenization and Arabization, and have excluded Imazighen from equal access to government services and political power. Many Imazighen in Algeria consider that the central power is using Islam as another further tool to Arabize the Amazigh community, by erasing its identity, culture, language and tradition. The Imazighen, a majority of whom are Muslims, traditionally practice a tolerant form of Islam.
Political Amazigh movements in Kabylia, such as the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylia (MAK), which was among the main organizers of the rallies in Tizi Ouzou and Aokas, promote a secular state in which religion is separated from politics. The MAK, led by Bouaziz Ait Chebib, is a non-violent autonomist political organization seeking self-government for Kabylia and fighting against the Arabization of the Amazigh people. The MAK has also established an interim government of Kabylia in exile, led by Ferhat Mehenni, who resides in France.
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