Moroccan Foreign Minister Incites Debate

The Moroccan Foreign Minister, Saad Eddine El Othmani’s, unexpected proposal to rename the “Arab Maghreb Union” as “”the Maghreb Union”  has re-energized the debate over the social, linguistic and political status of the Amazigh people in “post-Arab Spring” North Africa. Currently five nations make up the Arab Maghreb Union: Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Mauritania. Delegates from Tunisian and Algerian immediately rebuked the Moroccan Foreign Minister’s proposal.

Saad Eddine El Othmani's current proposal to rename the Arab Maghreb Union has sparked debate across the Maghreb

El Othmani believes that the removal of the word “Arab” from the name will better reflect the populations of five union states where a sizable number of citizens are not of Arab descent.  The Amazigh language and culture has been seriously diminished in North Africa countries. These countries have long been identified as Arab and Arabic speaking. El Othmani and the Amazign people believe that dropping Arab from the name will better reflect the Amazigh character and personality of North Africa. Algerian and Tunisian Foreign ministers oppose El Othmani’s proposal and argue that the word Arab refers to the geographical location of the five nations that compose the Union rather than describe the racial makeup of its inhabitants. Amazigh groups consider the Algerian refusal to change the name an attempt by the Algerians to keep the demands of its sizable local Amazigh populations at bay.

Emblem of the Arab Maghreb Union

Emblem of the Arab Maghreb Union

Even though it was the Moroccan Foreign Minister who proposed dropping the term Arab, there is still a great deal of opposition among Moroccans. Moroccan religious organizations are not in favor of the move as they believe the current name accurately reflects the Muslim heritage of the North African societies. In addition, some Moroccans are weary of the mounting activism of  Amazigh groups in Morocco. These groups are especially prevalent in the North and have been displaying anti-Moroccan slogans and sentiments.
I believe that having Maghred in the name of the trade organization illustrates the Arab influence in the region. I agree with El Othmani that dropping Arab from the name will make it more inclusive and acceptable to both Arabs and non-Arabs in North Africa. I believe it is a good compromise between the Arab elite who desire to cling to their beloved Mashreq and radical Berbers who want to return to pre-Arab Tamazgha.
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