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The Economics of Berberism: the Material Basis of the Kabyle Question in Contemporary Algeria

Abstract

THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MAJOR ‘KABYLE QUESTION’ IN Contemporary Algerian politics was made manifest in the spectacular events of the spring of 1980. In an earlier article I suggested that the reason why most observers did not anticipate this development was because of their failure, on the one hand, to appreciate the specificity of the Kabyle case – the extent to which it departs from the sociologists' stereotype of Berber societies – and, on the other hand, to recognize the leading role played by the Kabyles in the national revolution and, in consequence, the significance of their subsequent eviction from commanding positions in the Algerian political elite. The practical substance of the Kabyle question itself was referred to only in passing and remains to be dealt with. Why is Kabyle particularism, which in itself is nothing new, now taking the form of ‘Berberism’, that is, not only opposition to the Arabization policy of the Algerian government but also the demand for official recognition of the Berber language? Why, moreover, has ‘Berberism’ become a popular force in Kabylia, capable of mobilizing, on occasion, support throughout Kabylia and from all classes of the population, when it was previously confined to an unrepresentative coterie of intellectuals and remains so confined in respect of the other Berberophone populations of Algeria and Morocco? The answer to these questions lies in the singular economic history of the Kabyle population.

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Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
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