Berber Policy

   This policy refers to a series of measures taken by the French in Algeria from 1890 to 1930 and in the Protectorate of Morocco from 1913 to 1934 to implement the system of education, the organization of justice, and the reform of the jama`a (council) traditions and infrastructures. It is also known as native policy. In Algeria, it took the form of the Kabyle myth, which highlighted the distinctive historical features of Berber society, and it was based on attempts to abolish Muslim institutions. Based on the Kabyle myth, French native policymakers played up the notion that the Kabyles were superficially Islamized and were viewed as descendants of the Gauls, the Romans, and Christian Berbers of the Roman era or the German Vandals. Some even called Kabylia the "Auvergne of Africa." Kabyles were believed to be more open to assimilation and amenable to French laws than Muslim Arabs. Education in French schools was encouraged, and Quranic schools were shut down. But despite the attempts to introduce French cultural ways among the Kabyles, the French invested considerable energy to defend customary laws, or qanoun, against the shari`a (Islamic law) and to preserve the jama`a, or village councils. In 1898, the Kabyles were given separate status in the délégations financières to remove contact between them and Arabs. However, with the development of better communications, this policy, ironically and much to the chagrin of its originators and defenders, exposed Kabylia to intensive streams of Arabization.
   Similarly in Morocco, the French practiced a policy of divide and rule where Berbers were concerned. In opposition to Arab identity, the policy was framed within the racist notion of a Berber race with different racial and cultural attributes, such as democracy, light and superficial practices of Islam, lack of fanaticism, superior physical traits, entrepreneurship, bravery, and honesty. The major goal was to preserve Berber customs and religious practices in the hope of nurturing the future acculturation and education of Berbers as colonial assistants distinct from the "deceitful" Arabs. In the initial stages, Catholic missionaries (especially Cardinal Lavigerie) were encouraged to preach the gospel in the Berber areas and sought to foster French culture and language through the revitalization of Berber Christianity. The core of the policy stressed separate educational and judicial systems for Berbers. Franco-Berber schools were established in the Middle Atlas; six schools were built in 1923, growing to 20 schools with an enrollment of 600 by 1930. In 1926, an advanced school called Collège d'Azrou (today Lycée Tariq Ibn Ziyad) was created that soon, much to the dismay of the supporters of the Berber Policy, provided an ideal environment where assimilated Berbers learned Arabic and adopted pan-Arab and Islamic attitudes and sentiments.
   The reform of the indigenous system of justice began with a circular of 22 September 1915 (no. 7041) recognizing the legal importance of Berber customary law, or azerf, and the role of the jama`a as sources of arbitration and conflict resolution in Berber areas. In 1924, legal mechanisms were put in place to define the legal functions of the jama`a as well as those of appointed arbitrators and to make the Berber judicial system different from the standards legal norms prevailing in the rest of Morocco. By 1929, there were 72 judicial jama`a dispensing legal services to about a third of all Muslim Moroccans. This new system caused problems for Arabs living in Berber areas, and it angered the sultan, who maintained that all areas should be subject to the shari`a.
   Further, on 16 May 1930, the French put forward the Berber Dahir to revamp the Berber legal system in Berber regions. Its most alarming article (number 6 of 8) withdrew legal jurisdiction over crimes committed in Berber areas from the High Sharifian Tribunal and thus placed them outside the purview of the shari`a. This attempt led to protests in North Africa and the Middle East and was interpreted as a trick to cut off the Berbers from their Muslim brothers and sisters and convert them to Christianity. The protests were orchestrated by urban nationalists (mostly Arabs), but the overall impact of the Dahir was to provide a context for the cultivation of a nationalist movement and, ironically, to force the French to abolish their Berber Dahir. A Dahir of 8 April 1934 abandoned the goals of the Berber Dahir and placed Berbers under the shari`a for all except civil matters, where customary law and the jama'a were maintained. With independence, schools were reorganized, and the so-called Berber Dahir was abolished.

Historical Dictionary of the Berbers (Imazighen) . . 2014.

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