King Mohammed VI of Morocco has recently signed a law that makes the Tifinagh script the official writing system for Tamazight. This script will be used in future teaching programs that will be developed by IRCAM (French acronym for Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture) in collaboration with the Ministry of education. This royal decision was based on a recommendation by IRCAM that was reached by a majority vote at its January 30-31 session held in Rabat.
Many regard this decision as a historical one. This is supported by the fact that a few decades ago, Tamazight and Amazigh culture in general virtually did not exist in Moroccan public life : Tamazight was not taught in schools and is still absent from the Moroccan school system. It was not possible for anyone to use Tamazight publicly, not even in court to defend oneself. There was not any public Amazigh expression of any kind except maybe when it came to tourism, where the indigenous aspects of Morocco are exploited. There were no newspapers, no television or radio in Tamazight. Tamazight was confined to the homes of those who still speak it. Being Amazigh in Morocco is, to a large extent, still considered inferior. It is regarded as uncivilized, backward and above all a threat to Arabic, the sacred language of the Qur’an, the vehicle of the Islamic culture as well as the basis of the Nation’s unity, which is defined and imposed as Arab. In this context, any favorable concession to the Amazigh community from the Moroccan authorities would be regarded as historical. The Amazigh people and their needs have not been of any concern to the Moroccan government or anyone else but the Amazigh themselves who are today fighting to keep what is very valuable and dear to them : their identity and language.
The IRCAM’s recommendation will have an impact on the teaching of the Amazigh language in Morocco as well as its future in all of North Africa. The importance of this impact will be measured by the extent of the areas covered by this law, and the level of its enforcement in the field. At this moment, it is not clear whether this decision will only apply to education and official documents or everything that is written in Tamazight. For example, it is not known if this decision would make it unlawful for anyone to use other characters in the transcription of Amazigh texts.
The Kabyls, the largest Amazigh population in Algeria, who use exclusively the Latin characters to write in Tamazight, now wonder what the future of Tamazight will be, as the larger Moroccan Amazigh population is set on a different path. In Morocco, where the Latin script is favored over other scripts by the Amazigh movement and the Amazigh associations, this decision caused many to express their opposition to it. Elsewhere, among the diaspora, many associations and noted scholars expressed their concern and opposition. This decision is stirring a debate throughout the Amazigh communities and many questions remain unanswered. This article reports on this important decision by the Moroccan authorities and gives the background information to help the reader understand the issues surrounding the choice of a writing system for Tamazight.
IRCAM, an institute established exclusively to promote the Amazigh culture and language was created by royal decree in October 2001. One of IRCAM’s goals is to introduce the Amazigh language in Moroccan school curricula. IRCAM’s board includes many known experts in the Amazigh field, artists and Amazigh activists.
As a parallel to the Algerian HCA (High Commission for Amazighity) and a response to the Amazigh demands, the creation of IRCAM does not even begin to fill the gap between the Amazigh demands and what the government is ready to offer. One of the Moroccan Amazighs’ key demands is a full recognition of their identity and culture, which would involve the inclusion of Tamazight as a national and official language in the Moroccan constitution.
In her article titled "Royal Amazigh Institute : Worries for Imazignen" , M. Demnati  states that the creation of the institute is the result of the Amazigh movement’s daily struggle. However, she notes that if the teaching of Tamazight remains as established in the current education charter, in other words, to serve Arabic , "it is our duty to fight this institute, which is nothing but an instrument in the hands of those who want to suffocate our language and culture." As mentioned above, the King appoints all IRCAM’s members. Therefore, IRCAM is not an Amazigh institution because it is not under Amazigh control in any form or fashion.
Although the creation of IRCAM does in fact prove some recognition of the Amazigh dimension, it is seen by many as just a small government concession. Furthermore, many Amazigh activists are in fact skeptical about it, fearing that IRCAM is just another way for the government to defer the real recognition, maybe even a way to regulate the Amazigh issue as well as neutralize the Amazigh movement. A certain dose of skepticism is expected, given the history of the North African governments position on this issue. As noted earlier, the government of Morocco has been traditionally opposed to any promotion of the Amazigh dimension. Worse, it has carried out a policy of annihilation in favor of an Arab definition of Morocco’s identity. It is therefore hard for anyone to believe that such policy has changed overnight. This cannot be viewed as a departure from past practices because the discriminating policies towards Tamazight are still in place. Case in point : following the declaration of Tifinagh as the official script for Tamazight in Morocco, the local authorities of the Riffian city of Nador installed road signs written in both Arabic and Tifinagh. These were quickly removed in the middle of the night by the security forces. Therefore, one can only say that the creation of IRCAM could be a step in the right direction, but the Amazigh people’s fight for their rights is certainly not over. One would have to wait and see what powers the institute actually has, and what its concrete actions in the field are. Most importantly, one has to observe how the Moroccan Tamazight policies will evolve.
Reactions to the Tifinagh Script Dahir 
Tada, a federation of close to twenty Moroccan Amazigh associations, stated its opposition to IRCAM’s decision in a press release following its February 15, 2003 meeting. It indicated that without the necessary political will to create an adapted Tifinagh system, the Latin script remains the most adequate means of transcription for Tamazight. It also referred to IRCAM as a Makhzenian  institution created with the sole goal of neutralizing the Amazigh movement.
Tamazgha, a prominent Amazigh association established in Paris, denounced the decision of the Monarchy and referred to it as a "strategy whose aims are to waste time and slow down the Amazigh movement through the use and manipulation of certain association leaders and intellectuals," i.e., the IRCAM’s board members. Tamazgha considers that Tifinagh cannot compete with the Latin script for the moment, therefore the decision’s aim is to ensure the failure of Tifinagh use as well as blame those Amazighs on the board of IRCAM for it. It views IRCAM and HCA as tools used by the governments to gain control over the Amazigh issue.
Prior to IRCAM’s December 2002 session, Dr A.H. Oussaden, a known Amazigh activist, published a letter in which he recognized that the decision that was going to be made by IRCAM’s board members was a tough one, and one which dealt with a sensitive subject. He argued that the Latin script is universal and has many advantages and warned against selecting the Aramean (Arabic) Arabic script, which would give satisfaction to those who would like to make it a sacred language. He further added that if one had to choose on the basis of authenticity, the Tifinagh script would be the only possible choice.
Dated February 20th 2003, a press release by the CMA (French acronym for World Amazigh Congress) hailed Mohammed VI’s decision to adopt the Tifinagh script and referred to it as a decision that would restore one of the foundations of the Amazigh identity. It expressed the hope that IRCAM has made this recommendation free from any outside pressure. It recalled, however, that the Amazigh movement in its vast majority was in favor of the Latin script. It added that the CMA itself has recommended the use of the Latin script at its 3rd congress in Roubaix (August 2002). It regrets the decision made by IRCAM to ignore the popular demand and goes on to question the real goals of IRCAM. It noted that the choice of the Latin script has already been made by the Amazighs of Algeria, and the choice made by the Monarchy will only hurt the Amazigh language standardization and impede the unity of the Amazigh movement.
Within the Amazigh movement, it is clear that the decision by the Moroccan authorities is not a welcome one. Following a meeting held in Meknes in 2002 by several Amazigh associations to discuss the script issue, a press release was issued in which the use of the Latin script was recommended for the teaching of Tamazight while the Tifinagh script should be developed. Among the associations involved were Tamaynut and AMREC.
This line of thinking follows closely the recommendations of CRB .
The position of the majority of the Amazighs may thus be summarized as : adoption of the Latin script in conjunction with the development of Tifinagh. However, there are a few voices that claim that young Amazighs prefer Tifinagh. Furthermore, an important aspect of this issue that is not expressed in the many press releases mentioned here is the long standing opposition to the Arabic script. The competition between the Latin and Tifinagh-based scripts is in a certain measure a standardization issue, since the Amazigh movement still recommends the development of Tifinagh. However, it is clear that the attempts to impose Arabic characters and their rejection by the Amazighs are politically motivated. Salem Chaker noted many years ago in his "Manuel de Linguistique Berbere"  that the issue of script is an ideological issue.
In the rest of this article we will look at the competition between the three different scripts, as well as the technical, standardization, and political reasons behind the different choices and thus try to understand IRCAM’s decision.
A Standardization Issue
When we consider the level of development of the different scripts used to write Tamazight, we cannot help but realize the lopsided situation in favor of the Latin script. The important work that has been done on the Latin script has not been done on the other two major scripts. The Arabic script at the moment appears as an abandoned choice. Only a handful of Amazigh activists still use it in Morocco. The Tifinagh script is the only alphabet that has a chance to compete against the Latin script.
There are three main character sets based on Tifinagh :
1) Tifinagh proper that is used by the various Twareg groups. This script includes at least a dozen varieties according to Aghali-Zakara .
2) The neo-Tifinagh script that was established by the Académie Berbère.
3) Salem Chaker’s proposition of a Tifinagh/Libyan based script. Tifinagh proper is not suited for the Tamazight idioms of the North, which is why the neo-Tifinagh came into existence. In fact in order to unify the Tamashaq languages (Tamazight spoken by the Twaregs), the Bamako international conference (1966 and 1984) established a Latin-based script while the Twaregs continue to use Tifinagh. The neo-Tifinagh is not considered a good script because first of all it is based exclusively on the Ahaggar variety. Secondly, it does not have the linguistic backing, and thirdly, it contains too many invented characters. Certain modifications have been made to it to render it usable by all Tamazight idioms of the North, and young people seem to be attracted to its "authenticity" and originality. Paradoxically, it is the lack of authenticity that makes most academics shy away from it.
The Tifinagh/Libyan script proposed by Chaker  is an attempt to make up for the pitfalls of the Académie Berbère’s neo-Tifinagh script. Chaker’s proposition has many advantages. It is entirely authentic since it uses only Tifinagh or Libyan characters and takes into account the advances made on the Latin-based script. However, it still needs some improvement  because it makes use of a lot of dot-based characters, which can lead to confusion. In general, this is one of the disadvantages of any Tifinagh-based script. Thus, both the Tifinagh and the Arabic scripts will need work before they become usable. In the event any one of these scripts becomes official, it may take advantage of the benefits derived from the work that has been done on the Latin script. That is not enough, however, to get them to the standardization level of the Latin-based script.
The Latin script has always been the choice of Amazigh linguists and researchers. It is considered the standard writing system for Tamazight and this is based on a tradition of Tamazight writing that goes back to the early work of pioneers such as Basset, Ammar Saïd Boulifa, the Pères Blancs of Kabylia, and of course the most revered Amazigh pioneer, writer and anthropologist Mouloud Mammeri. This tradition of using Latin characters constitutes the single and most important advantage that this system has over the other systems. In 1991, at an international colloquium on Tamazight held in Ghardaia (Algeria) , a linguistics commission was formed as part of the colloquium. This commission stated in its final report that the Latin based script is "the most appropriate to use for Tamazight because it is practical and scientifically adequate." "This choice would ensure a rapid development of Tamazight." The members of the commission, who stated this unanimously, added, "this option does not exclude other solutions based on Arabic or Tifinagh characters, as these are just as legitimate." The socio-linguistics and passage to written expression commissions at the same colloquium concluded their work with a number of recommendations that included encouraging "all written expression using any kind of script." This openness to scripts other than the one that they consider "most appropriate" indicates that the Amazigh scientists at this colloquium are aware that the ultimate choice had to be made by the users and producers, namely the Amazigh people !
Since the Ghardaia colloquium and probably prior to that, most of the standardization effort focused on the Latin script, and CRB must be credited for its leadership role in this matter. CRB’s researchers and students come from all over North Africa and France with a Kabyl dominance. It comes as no surprise then that in Algeria, the Latin script may be considered the defacto standard. In fact even the Algerian government appointed HCA has recommended the use of the Latin-based script.
The tradition mentioned earlier has given the Latin system a significant lead over the other systems. Amazigh scholars themselves have been and are being trained with this system. Finally, the majority of Amazighs of North Africa is using this system.
A Political Issue
As explained earlier, the choice of a script is largely political and ideological. The Amazighs have at their disposal three different scripts. The Latin script is relatively well developed and has the backing of the Amazigh elite (intellectuals, activists, students, etc.) but the pro-Arab governments and Islamic movements are opposed to it. Tifinagh seems to be preferred by the young generation, but the establishment also opposes it.
According to Demnati , the Moroccan pro-Arab establishment is fiercely opposed to the use of Latin characters and considers that Tifinagh is a Twareg script, therefore only Arabic characters may be used to transcribe Tamazight. A seminar on Tamazight was organized in Nador (Rif region) in August 2001, at the end of which it was decided that Tamazight should be written with Arabic characters. This seminar was sponsored by the BMCE (French acronym for Moroccan Bank for Exterior Commerce).
In Algeria, it is fairly well established that the political establishment, with the exception of the Amazigh-based parties (The Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD)) is opposed to the use of the Latin script, but is in favor of using the Arabic characters. They are also opposed to Tifinagh, considering it an archaic alphabet. These positions are explicitly expressed by many political leaders in Algeria, including former president Chadli Bendjedid and leaders of the Islamic parties (MSP and NAHDA). Recently at a colloquium titled "Tamazight and the challenges of modernity" organized by the HCA, three presentations were given on the subject of the writing system. In one of these, according to the magazine IZURAN , the author Abderrezak Dourari of the University of Algiers, defended the use of Arabic characters by emphasizing the historical relations between the Amazigh and the Arab people as well as the proximity of the two languages .
This is confirmed in an article by Cherif Sini   in which he discusses the results of a survey he conducted on this issue. Sini explains that "the partisans of an Arabic writing system for Tamazight justify their choice with an alleged genetic link between Arabic and Tamazight" for the following reason : according to linguists both languages belong to the large family of hamito-semitic languages. Based on this, "the Arabic characters would then suit Tamazight perfectly." Furthermore, "Algerians have to learn Arabic anyway, and this reinforces national unity." One of the reasons often cited for using Arabic characters is that it is the language of the Holy Qur’an and Islam is the religion of most Algerians.
But the survey’s  conclusions reject the use of the Arabic characters. These are listed below :
All the persons surveyed systematically reject Arabic characters.
The study showed that most people are in favor of the Latin script.
There is a strong desire for Tifinagh among young people.
Sini’s analysis of the results shows that the desire to impose Arabic characters by the Algerian political leaders and its rejection by the Amazigh people both have political and ideological motives. Sini finds that the unanimous and strong rejection of Arabic characters is not well substantiated by the respondents. The justification given for their choice is usually a technical one. When confronted with arguments that show that the technical difficulties are similar for all scripts, the respondents resort to clichés. Sini explains this position by the equally strong rejection of Tamazight by the Algerian establishment, particularly its policy of Arabization.
Sini concludes that the people surveyed favor the Latin script and see it as the symbol of modernity, openness and universality. However, this position is not an entirely rational one because, he explains, some people think that choosing the Latin script will make it possible to quickly learn Tamazight anywhere, and that Tamazight will become a language of the computers and the internet. Sini adds that the popularity of the Latin script is reinforced by the fact that it has already gone through a standardization process and its use is fairly well established.
This analysis is confirmed at least in part by the results of a survey conducted by the Revue Tifinagh . Fifty readers of Tifinagh responded to a survey to gather information on various aspects of identity and language in Morocco. They were all Amazigh from Morocco and most of them were highly educated, were from an Amazigh area and spoke at least Tamazight at home. The questions asked had multiple-choice answers :
To the question whether Tamazight should be written in Arabic characters, 54% of the respondents answered no because it has its own characters, and none were in favor of Arabic characters because they are the characters of the language of the Qur’an.
To the question whether Tamazight should be written in Latin characters, 38% picked the answer "no because Tamazight has its own alphabet", 18% picked "yes because they are universal characters."
While the Latin based script seems to be the most accepted one for the moment, the Amazigh youth favors Tifinagh, according to Sini’s article. This is also confirmed by the results of the Revue Tifinagh’s survey :
Fifty-four percent thought Tifinagh was a viable script, provided that it is modernized.
To the question on whether Tamazight should be written in Tifinagh, 41% of the respondents picked the answer "yes, because Tifinagh is a symbol of our identity," while 22% picked "yes, because it’s an alphabet like any other," and 7% picked "no, for personal reasons."
If we consider that this survey is representative of the entire Amazigh population of Morocco, then the choice of Tifinagh, and the opposition to Arabic characters are clear. Although, the Revue Tifinagh’s survey dates back to 1996, it has shown a certain tolerance towards the Latin script. This tolerance, as evidenced by the reaction to the Dahir, increased to the point where the Amazigh elite of Morocco practically demands the Latin script.
From the foregoing discussion and information gathered, it may be concluded that the Amazigh people largely prefer the Latin script, although there is some indication that the younger generation has an inclination towards Tifinagh, but they are certainly opposed to the Arabic script. The reasons for the Latin script preference and rejection of the Arabic one are definitely political and in a "marginal way" technical as stated by Chaker . The rejection of Arabic is mainly a reaction to the North African governments’ policy to make North Africa Arab and annihilate Tamazight. The passive, or sometimes supportive attitude of the Arabic-speaking population towards this policy removes any doubt that the Amazigh people have about the government’s long-term goal. The absence of the slightest political tolerance for Tamazight convinces the Amazigh people that accepting Arabic does not simply imply friendly coexistence between the two cultures (Arab and Amazigh). On the contrary this reinforces the idea that this is only a mean of achieving Arabization and Amazigh annihilation more quickly. More importantly, since the issue is about identity, it is only logical to choose a distinct script in order to have a distinct identity in countries that consider themselves Arab in their majority and where significant efforts are made to erase any Amazigh characteristics. Despite the fact that a script is only a graphical means of communication, by using a different script the Amazigh people express their desire and right to be different. This is also the reason why many Amazighs are in favor of Tifinagh, which is part of the Amazigh identity ; therefore it is only natural to choose it.
Sini claimed that the choice of the Latin script and rejection of Arabic one is political in the sense that the Amazigh people would like a script that symbolizes modernity and universality. It is true that choosing the Latin script means openness to western cultures and probably a desire to associate with the most modern countries and therefore their cultures. But on one hand, there is nothing wrong with opening up to the most modern societies and on the other if the Amazigh people and their culture were respected as they deserve to be in their own ancestral lands, the friendly coexistence between the two cultures as mentioned above can only thrive, regardless of the selected script. But perhaps this is not enough for the North African "ideologists," because it isn’t friendship and respect for the Amazighs that is sought but rather their domination and at the same time keeping out western influence.
IRCAM members decided on a script on their own. They have not consulted anyone outside IRCAM. There was no public debate on the issue prior to the decision and if there was an internal debate, it was not made public. Amazighs outside Morocco, who will be affected by their decision were not consulted. Technically speaking, not a single study was done to backup their decision. Not even a survey like the one conducted by the Revue Tifinagh. This clearly explains the Amazigh associations’ doubts and skepticism reported in this article. The reactions point to the possibility that the Amazigh members of IRCAM’s board may have come under a lot of pressure to choose the Arabic script or at least not to choose the Latin one. This is confirmed by Meryam Demnati’s interview to Revue Telquel . Demnati, who supports the Latin script, admits the choice of Tifinagh was a compromise between selecting the Latin script and facing a total gridlock. She reported that in the second round, the Latin script conceded five votes to Tifinagh. This implies that there may have been a vote in which the Latin script clearly had the majority. She added that this was a concerted and well-thought out decision among the members. Clearly put, whoever was pulling the strings inside IRCAM has exerted enough pressure to defeat the Latin script and leave only Tifinagh and Arabic as options. Faced with the possibility of endless obstructions and possibly the risk to end up with a non-functioning IRCAM, five Latin votes were given up to Tifinagh to allow it to win over Latin and Arabic.
IRCAM’s decision, although reached through coercion, is nonetheless legally valid because no one contested the vote. One may object to the fact that IRCAM is an educational institution. As such it cannot be an elected body. Its members are appointed based on their scientific qualifications and the nature of their work in IRCAM is indeed scientific. First of all the scientific qualifications of at least some of the members is definitely questionable. Second, the issue is political and ideological, and certainly, their decision was not based on any scientific work. IRCAM made a political decision and the least it could have done in its present status of a non-democratic body , was to consult the people and obtain the largest possible consensus. Prior to looking for consensus, the issue should have been publicized and largely debated. This could have been done whether IRCAM is an elected body or not. All possible solutions should have been considered before resorting to a vote. Instead, IRCAM jumped on this issue and voted on it almost as soon as it was created. Worse, its vote was manipulated and coerced.
The real issue is one of freedom. Choice implies freedom ! The Amazigh should be free to choose their script and no one should impose a language or a script on them. This should be the political and most meaningful justification the Amazigh people should offer when asked. The fact is, in the case of IRCAM, a political decision was made on their behalf without any representation. Worse, this right to choose was taken away by the very people who were supposed to defend them : the Amazigh activists inside IRCAM. When they revised their votes to allow Tifinagh to win over Latin and Arabic, they did not consider for one second that they have possibly become a tool in the hands of their foes. More importantly, they rushed on the issue and thus prevented their own people from familiarizing themselves with the issue and making up their mind and ultimately expressing themselves democratically. Finally, they did not realize that the Amazigh people have never mandated them to decide in their name.
What is the solution ?
Part of it lies in one of Sini’s conclusions : "the re-valorization and promotion of Tamazight to a national language are the result of the people’s cultural movement, so the choice of a script should be theirs." It is also implied in the recommendation of the linguistics commission at the Ghardaia colloquium in 1991. Today, the Latin script is dominant, and it should to be used todevelop Tamazight. If the desire for Tifinagh becomes strong among a larger segment of the Amazigh population, then it would naturally gain more acceptance and dominate over the other scripts. With time and use, the Amazigh people will either stay with the Latin script or switch to Tifinagh. It does not matter when that happens because whenever it does, it will be the right time because people chose it. And that is the right way to do it.
1. Demnati, Meriam, "Royal Amazigh Institute : Worries for Imazighen," The Amazigh Voice, Vol. 10, Nos. 3 and 4, Winter/Spring 2002.
2. Chaker, Salem, Manuel de Linguistique Berbère I, Editions Bouchène, Alger, 1990.
3. Aghali-Zakara, Mohamed, "Graphies Berbères et dilemma de diffusion, Intéraction des alphabets latin, ajami et tifinagh," Actes de la Table Ronde Internationale "Phonologie et notation usuelle dans le domaine berbère", Inalco, avril 1993, Etudes et Documents Berbères No. 11, La Boite à Documents/Edisud, 1994, pp. 107-121.
4. Chaker, Salem, "Pour une notation à base Tifinagh," Actes de la Table Ronde Internationale "Phonologie et notation usuelle dans le domaine berbère", Inalco, avril 1993, Eudes et Documents Berbères No. 11, La Boite à Documents/Edisud, 1994, pp. 31-42.
5. Actes du Colloque International "Unité et Diversité de Tamazight", Ghardaïa, 20-21 Avril 1991, Tome I, Agraw Adelsan Amazigh, Fedération Nationale des Associations Amazighes.
6. Tamazight face aux défis de la modernité, Colloque International sur Tamazight, Boumerdès 15-17 Juillet 2002, IZURAN No. 32 August 2002.
7. Sini, Cherif, "Les raisons d’un choix," IZURAN No. 33, September 2002.
8. Revue Tifinagh, Spring 1996.
9. Sini, Cherif, "Il y a une forte demande pour l’usage des caractères Tifinagh," Interview with IZURAN, IZURAN No. 32, August 2002.
10. Entretien avec Meriam Demnati : chercheur et membre du conseil d’administration à l’Institut Royal de la Culture Amazighe, Interview realisée par Driss Sikes, Revue Telquel du 08 au 14 Fevrier 2003. Also published in Kabyle.com.