• Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    Indigenous peoples in Morocco

    The Amazigh peoples are the indigenous peoples of Morocco. Morocco has not adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples nor ratified ILO Convention 169.

The Indigenous World 2024: Morocco

The Amazigh (Berber) peoples are the Indigenous Peoples of North Africa. The last census in Morocco (2016) estimated the number of Tamazight speakers at 28% of the population. However, Amazigh associations strongly contest this and instead claim a rate of 85%. This means that the Amazigh-speaking population could well number around 29.6 million out of a total population of 37 million in Morocco in 2023.[1]

Today there are more than 900 Amazigh associations established throughout Morocco. The Amazigh Movement is the political continuation of the armed resistance led by Amazigh tribes, mainly in the Atlas region, against France, its trailblazers being the late Abdelmalek Oussaden (1st Amazigh university graduate) and Mohamed Chafik (1st rector of the Royal Institute of Amazigh Culture (IRCAM)[2]).

However, under the impact of events in the early 1970s[3] and the virulent repression that targeted the Amazigh, the movement was forced to proclaim itself the Amazigh Cultural Movement. The Amazigh Movement is also an identitary movement that rejects the predominant pan-Arab and Islamist ideologies because they are incompatible with universal Amazigh values based on human rights. The demands of the Amazigh Movement have evolved in recent years and are no longer limited to the cultural sphere. Following their demands for identity in the late 1990s, they now champion the demands of Indigenous Peoples generally and are calling for all of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), starting with rights to land, territory and natural resources.[4]

The administrative and legal system of Morocco has been strongly Arabized, and the Amazigh culture and way of life are under constant pressure to assimilate. Morocco has for many years been a unitary state with centralized authority, a single religion, a single language and systematic marginalization of all aspects of the Amazigh identity. The 2011 Constitution officially recognizes the Amazigh identity and language. This could be a very positive and encouraging step for the Amazigh people of Morocco. Parliament finally adopted an organic law for the implementation of Article 5 of the Constitution in 2019, after several years of waiting. Twelve years on from the Constitution and four years after the organic law was passed in Parliament, however, nothing has really changed: Tamazight language teaching is still at the same stage and will have to wait until 2030 to be extended to all primary schools; and linguistic discrimination is still the order of the day, since the Tifinagh script is absent from national identity cards, passports and the new Moroccan banknotes that went into circulation on 24 November 2023.[5]

Morocco has not ratified ILO Convention 169 and has not adopted UNDRIP.

General situation of the Amazigh in 2023

The situation of Morocco's Amazigh saw no palpable progress in 2023, and issues such as education, the rejection of Amazigh first names and land dispossession continue to weigh heavily on the daily lives of the people. The Moroccan government's policy towards the Amazigh people is not born of a genuine desire to effectively recognize the country's Indigenous people but instead forms part of a logic of “action-reaction” aimed at giving the impression that there is progress in the handling of certain issues.

Morocco was reviewed, for the 4th time in its history, by the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism during its 41st session held on 8 November 2022.[6] This examination was the most significant in the country's history as far as the Amazigh are concerned. The UN compilation of information highlighted all the inequalities and irregularities that Amazigh face in relation to their living conditions, the socioeconomic and cultural marginalization they face, and the denial of their rights to their lands, territories and natural resources. It should be noted that this is the first time that the case of the Amazigh has been cited and highlighted in the UPR reports. In response to the UPR report, Morocco symbolically recognized Amazigh New Year (“Yennayer”) as a national (paid) holiday. A press release from the Royal Cabinet made the announcement on 3 May 2023.[7]

In contrast, one month later, on 1 June 2023, the Minister for National Education, Preschool and Sports, Chakib Benmoussa, declared that the teaching of Tamazight could not be rolled out across the primary level before 2030. This is dismaying given that we are 12 years on from the 2011 Constitution and its extension to secondary education has not even been considered. A lack of human and financial resources, budgetary allocations, training and, above all, the lack of a sincere desire to make this national language official are all obstacles in the path of an action that the country’s policy of Arabization is constantly undermining.[8]

Amazigh associations, for their part, continue to face refusals to renew or grant permits from the Ministry of the Interior unless their demands relate to purely folkloric activities, thus limiting the Amazigh’s right of association.

Right to land

The debate over language and the introduction of the Amazigh New Year are merely issues obscuring the bigger picture, however, since the fundamental problem of the Amazigh people is still not on the agenda: their right to land, territory and natural resources. Without access to these fundamental rights, the forced assimilation, impoverishment and devaluation of the Amazigh population is and will remain an obstacle to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), as the state sets itself up as the uncontested guardian of the Amazigh.

Since 2019, the collective lands of the ethnic communities, held in undivided ownership, are no longer protected by the principle of inalienability, even though they account for a majority of the country's land mass. They are now at the mercy of national and foreign investors, even though only a public interest prerogative has permitted the state access to a tiny part of them[9] for the last 100 years (1919- 2019).[10]

2023 was designated the year of melkization.[11] Melkization is an operation that consists of the privatization of the collectively owned lands of the ethnic communities[12] and will result in watering down and fragmentation, threatening the break-up of the communal and social structures of the Amazigh people.[13] Framed within the context of Law 64/17, adopted in 2019, melkization lies at the heart of the “Rural Land” component of the “Compact II” cooperation programme, funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the Generation Green 2020-2030 project launched in application of the partnership agreement concluded on 7 November 2019 between Agence MCA-Morocco and the Office National du Conseil Agricole (National Office of the Agricultural Councill/ONCA).[14] With a total budget of 20.5 million dirhams (approx. EUR 1.9 million), 76% of which has been provided through support from Compact II (15.6 million dirhams (approx. EUR 1.45 million)), these projects affect the provinces of Kenitra (4 projects), Sidi Slimane and Sidi Kacem (3 projects each) and El Kelâa des Sraghnas (5 projects). The melkization of collective lands in the Kenitra region was launched on 14 March 2023. It should be recalled that, according to its terms of reference,[15] this Moroccan-American project aims to “boost the land market”, and this includes the liberalization and commercialization of the ancestral lands that form the basis of the Amazigh people’s identity.

The grabbing of Amazigh lands and territories not only affects irrigated land but forests, too, along with water, grazing lands and mines. There are no fewer than seven mining operations located in the regions of Haouz, Taroudant, Azilal and Ouarzazate, offering no benefit either to the Amazigh people or to their communities’ development.[16] The gold, silver, uranium, cobalt, molybdenum and other riches of these territories belong to the state, which makes them available to private companies, both national and international, without any need to respect FPIC. On 8 September 2023, a powerful 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook these Amazigh-speaking mountain regions, which had been the landlocked stronghold of the struggle for independence since 1956. Far from the limelight, cut off from everything, they suffer from cumulative socioeconomic discrimination and are considered the “useless element” of a country that prefers its land to its inhabitants. Instead of allowing the Amazigh to exploit and grow their land and territory together, practising their ancestral knowledge and know-how (such as the Agdal, the Tiwiza), they therefore suffer dispossession, the grabbing of most of their land, changes to their lifestyles, and mass displacement.[17]

In conclusion, the state's hold on land, territories and natural resources is enforced by laws with colonial connotations, while the intention to make Tamazight an official language of Morocco remains dependent on hypothetical timetables that run counter to the country's Constitution. Today, instead of engaging in a policy of recognition, reparation and reconciliation with the Amazigh, the state is simply trying to appropriate their claims by devaluing them and reducing them to mere empty shells: it talks about teaching Tamazight when the Amazigh Movement calls for teaching in Tamazight; it talks about Soulaliyate Lands[18] for women when neither women[19] nor men nor young people have access to the rights to land; it talks about investment and development but without creating job opportunities for those entitled to them and excluding the Amazigh from any development process; it talks of “Green Morocco” and “Generation Green” and encourages water-intensive agriculture [20] for export while the Amazigh are cruelly short of water and suffering the effects of climate change, which is threatening their health as a whole: water scarcity, extractive pollution, ecosystem destruction and biodiversity degradation.



Amina Amharech was born in El Hajeb, in the Moroccan Middle Atlas. She is a teacher, artist, poet and committed Amazigh activist. A fellow of the OHCHR Indigenous Representatives Programme in 2018, she defends the land, cultural, identity and linguistic rights of the Amazigh and Indigenous Peoples generally. She is a founding member and president of the association ACAL (Terre en amazigh) created in 2014 in El Hajeb, a founding member of the Amazigh community network AZUL, created in 2013, which she represented on the Global Council of the International Land Coalition from 2018 to 2021, and a founding member of the Feminist Platform for FLP Land since 2019. She is currently co-chair of the ILC Indigenous Caucus for the EMENA region, where she is a member of the Steering Committee and the Governance Committee. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] Albayane Press. “M. Lhoucine Aït Bahcine : ‘La terre marocaine parle amazighe du point de vue toponymie’.” 17 October 2010. https://albayane.press.ma/m-lhoucine-ait-bahcine-lla-terre-marocaine-parle-amazighe-du-point-de-vue-toponymiern.html; Le360. “Vidéo. À la rencontre de l’un de nos ancêtres, découvert à Tafoghalt.” 17 November 2019. https://fr.le360.ma/societe/video-a-la-rencontre-de-lun-de-nos-ancetres-decouvert-a-tafoghalt-202626/; SudEstMaroc. ”Le patrimoine rupestre du Sud Est Maroc”.  

https://sudestmaroc.com/le-patrimoine-rupestre-du-sud-est-maroc/; Culture Cherifienne. ”Célébration de Yennayer, le nouvel an Amazigh au Maroc.” 11 January 2023.

https://www.culturecherifienne.com/celebration-de-yennayer-le-nouvel-an-amazigh-au-maroc/; and My Heritage. “Maroc - principales origines ethniques”. https://www.myheritage.fr/ethnicities/morocco/country-ethnicity-distribution

[2] Baida, Tachfine. “Amazigh Identity Discourse in Postcolonial Morocco.” ResearchGate, December 2013. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/366275320_Amazigh_Identity_Discourse_in_Postcolonial_Morocco?channel=doi&linkId=639a12ca11e9f00cda452f2d&showFulltext=true

[3] Aujord’hui Le Maroc. “Mars 1973 : Le mois de toutes les infractions.” 4 February 2005. https://aujourdhui.ma/societe/mars-1973-le-mois-de-toutes-les-infractions-25189

[4] Agraw Amadlan Amazigh. “Recommandations de la conférence internationale sur les droits à la terre et aux ressources dans les pays de Tamazgha.” 26 February 2018. https://www.congres-mondial-amazigh.org/2018/02/26/recommandations-de-la-conf%C3%A9rence-internationale-sur-les-droits-%C3%A0-la-terre-et-aux-ressources-dans-les-pays-de-tamazgha/

[5] Ahdani, Jassim. “Polémique au Maroc : l’alphabet amazigh absent des nouveaux billets de banque.” Jeune Afrique , 5 December 2023. https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1510802/politique/polemique-au-maroc-lalphabet-amazigh-absent-des-nouveaux-billets-de-banque/


[6] UN Human Rights Council. “Universal Periodic Review – Morocco.” https://www.ohchr.org/fr/hr-bodies/upr/ma-index

[7] Le Parisien. “Berbères du Maroc : le Nouvel an amazigh désormais jour férié officiel.” 3 May 2023. https://www.leparisien.fr/societe/berberes-du-maroc-le-nouvel-an-amazigh-desormais-jour-ferie-officiel-03-05-2023-DO7EXOYBLZEZPFC33XS566SDQ4.php

[8] CEFAN. “Maroc.” https://www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca/afrique/maroc-3Politique_arabe.htm

[9] Amharech, Amina and Mahdi, Mohamed. “MEDPA : Droits à la terre, territoire et ressources naturelles Amazigh du Maroc.” UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 15 January 2020. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/EMRIP/RightToLand/AMHARECHMAHDIMaroc.pdf

[10] Gazettes Africa. “Protectorat de la République Française au Maroc Bulletin Office.” 28 April 1919. https://gazettes.africa/archive/ma/1919/ma-bulletin-officiel-dated-1919-04-28-no-340.pdf

[11] Le Matin. “Valorisation et melkisation des terres collectives : 2023, l’année d’accélération.” 28 February 2023. https://lematin.ma/express/2023/valorisation-terres-collectives-2023-lannee-dacceleration/387193.html

[12] Finances News. “Melkisation: le programme commence à prendre forme progressivement.” 2 May 2022. https://fnh.ma/article/actualite-economique/melkisation-le-programme-commence-a-prendre-forme-progressivement#:~:text=Consistant%20en%20la%20transformation%20de,d%C3%A9lais%20et%20de%20co%C3%BBts%2C%20qui

[13] Chaudier, Julie. “Les tribus marocaines se dissolvent dans la privatisation de leurs terres ancestrales.” La Libre, 3 August 2023. https://www.lalibre.be/international/afrique/2023/08/03/les-tribus-marocaines-se-dissolvent-dans-la-privatisation-de-leurs-terres-ancestrales-6Z2JSRFE25AMPLIEPELTWROEJE/?_gl=1*1a16b2k*_ga*a2JrZ29zdnllTGRyQUl5RjcxaWtlY3ZtbHB5OHVMTjFHQ28xdWhXMGRqb1pqSGRUVnM4ckRuSFpJekdTN0YzZA

[14] L’Agence Millennium Challenge Account-Morocco. “Opération pilote de melkisation des terres collectives situées dans les périmètres d’irrigation du Gharb et du Haouz : Une délégation maroco-américaine de haut niveau rencontre les bénéficiaires dans la Province de Kénitra.” 14 March 2023. https://www.mcamorocco.ma/fr/cloture-du-compact-ii-maroc-4

[15] [15] L’Agence Millennium Challenge Account-Morocco. “Section V. Termes de référence.” November 2018. Pp 97. https://www.mcamorocco.ma/sites/default/files/appels_doffre/Termes%20de%20re%CC%81fe%CC%81rences.pdf

[16] Africa Intelligence. “Séisme marocain : les miniers épargnés mais mobilisés.” 15 September 2023. https://www.africaintelligence.fr/afrique-du-nord/2023/09/15/seisme-marocain--les-miniers-epargnes-mais-mobilises,110043111-art

[17] AIDECO. “Les Tribus Du Grand SOUSS Se Soulèvent Et Disent : Non À La Spoliation Des Terres Ancestrales.” 20 November 2021. https://aideco.ma/les-tribus-du-grand-souss-se-soulevent-et-disent-non-a-la-spoliation-des-terres-ancestrales/

[18] IWGIA. 2022. The Indigenous World 2022: Morocco. https://www.iwgia.org/en/morocco/4639-iw-2022-morocco.html

[19] CEDAW para mujeres y niñas indígenas. “De leur terre à leur propre corps: les différentes formes de violence et de discrimination subies par les Femmes autochtones.” 11 August 2022. https://cedaw.fimi-iiwf.org/fr/2022/08/

[20] Le Matin. “Hydrovore, l’agriculture marocain pèse pour 87% de la consommation annuelle en eau.” 21 September 2020. https://lematin.ma/express/2020/hydrovore-lagriculture-marocain-pese-87-consommation-annuelle-eau/344779.html

Tags: Land rights, Human rights, Cultural Integrity



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

For media inquiries click here

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Contact IWGIA

Prinsessegade 29 B, 3rd floor
DK 1422 Copenhagen
Phone: (+45) 53 73 28 30
E-mail: iwgia@iwgia.org
CVR: 81294410

Report possible misconduct, fraud, or corruption

 instagram social icon facebook_social_icon.png   youtuble_logo_icon.png  linkedin_social_icon.png twitter-x-icon.png 

NOTE! This site uses cookies and similar technologies.

If you do not change browser settings, you agree to it. Learn more

I understand