Military Wiki
Berber separatism in North Africa
Date1920 (1920)present
LocationNorth Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Mali, Libya)


  • 1921 failed attempt to establish the Berber Rif Republic
  • Failed political struggle in the Rif in 1950s
  • Political Berber struggle in Algeria in 1980s and early 2000s
  • Armed Tuareg separatism in 21st century in Mali
    • Failed attempt to form the state of Azawad
  • Resurgence of Berber separatism in Morocco since 2013

Spain Spanish protectorate of Morocco (1920−26)

 Morocco (1958)

 Algeria (1980s-present)

 Mali (2012)

Libya Tobruk Government

 Morocco (2013-present)

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Rif Republic (1921-26)

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Rif nationalists (1958)

File:Kabylia vlag.jpg Berber Spring leadership (1980)
File:Kabylia vlag.jpg Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie[1] (2001-present)

 Azawad (2012)

Berber flag.svg Tuareg militias of Ghat (2014-16)

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Rif Independence Movement (2013-present)
Commanders and leaders
Spain Manuel Silvestre
Spain Dámaso Berenguer
Spain José Millán Astray  (WIA)
Spain Miguel Primo de Rivera
Spain José Sanjurjo
France Philippe Pétain
France Hubert Lyautey
Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni  (POW)

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Muhammad Ibn 'Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi  Surrendered

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg Nasser Zefzafi (2017)
Casualties and losses

Flag of the Republic of the Rif.svg 10,000 dead[2])

File:Kabylia vlag.jpg 90-126 killed (2001)[3]

Berber separatism in North Africa refers to a century-long independence struggle of ethnic Berber groups in the areas of modern Morocco, Algeria, Mali and Libya. The first chapter of this modern separatism was embodied in the Rif War,[4][5] which led to the creation of short-lived Rif Republic (1920–1926). Despite the disintegration of this Berber state, the independence movement continued during the 20th century in Algeria and in 21st century was led by Tuareg tribes in Mali and Libya (the failed attempt to form the Azawad state within Mali in 2012 and de facto formation of Tuareg autonomy of Ghat within Libya since 2014), and last resurging in Morocco in 2013,[6] escalating into a Berber protest movement in 2016–17.


Rif War

The Rif War was an armed conflict fought during the first half of the 1920s between the colonial power Spain (later joined by France) and the Berber tribes of the Rif mountainous region. Led by Abd al-Karim, the Riffians at first inflicted several defeats on the Spanish forces by using guerrilla tactics and captured European weapons. After France's entry into the conflict and the major landing of Spanish troops at Al Hoceima, considered the first amphibious landing in history to involve the use of tanks and aircraft, Abd el-Karim surrendered to the French and was taken into exile.[7]

The nature of the Rif War is still controversial among historians today. Some see in it a harbinger of the decolonization process in North Africa, while others, on the contrary, see it as one of the last colonial wars, given that it is the decision of the Spaniards to conquer the Rif — nominally part of their Moroccan protectorate but still independent de facto — that launched the conflict in 1921.[8]

1958 Rif disturbances

In 1958, Moroccan King Hassan II ordered thousands of troops to the Rif region to quell a civil disobedience movement that had called for social and political rights.[9] As a result, many left the Rif for Europe in search of a better life, returning to their ancestral towns only to build homes that they lived in during vacations or after retirement. This, along with the diversion of much of the region's arable land for cannabis planting, has decimated the local economy and environment.

Kabylie movement

Berber Spring (1980)

The Berber Spring was a period of political protest and civil activism in 1980 claiming recognition of the Berber identity and language in Algeria, with events mainly taking place in Kabylie and Algiers. The background was marked by two decades of harsh Arabization measures instituted by the Arab nationalist FLN dictatorship government, which refused to recognize Algeria's Berber identity and banned the Berber language altogether.

The Berber Spring is traditionally dated as beginning on March 10, 1980, with the banning of a conference due to be held by the Kabyle intellectual Mouloud Mammeri at Hasnaoua University in Tizi-Ouzou. A critical point was the coordinated arrest of hundreds of Berber activists, students and doctors on April 20, sparking a general strike.

While the Berber Spring was in the end violently suppressed by the Algerian authorities, it created a lasting legacy for Kabylie and the Berbers across North Africa. Many of today's prominent Kabyle politicians and activists made their name during the Berber Spring events, and organizations such as the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Berber Cultural Movement (Mouvement Culturel Berbère – MCB) were later created by activists of the Spring. The Spring was also an important event for Algeria's nascent human rights community, including outside Berber circles.

Since the dismantling of the one-party FLN system in 1989—followed by abortive democratization and civil war—a few of the demands of the Berber Spring have been met by the state, and the Berber language is now a national language of Algeria. However, this is still distinct from Arabic, which remains the official language, and many other points of contention remain.

2014–15 ethnic clashes

In 2014 and 2015 a number of ethnic riot incidents plagued Algeria, with a dozen mortal casualties in violence between ethnic Arabs and Berbers.

2017 protests

In February 2017, protests erupted in Algeria, with some 500 protesters marching.[10] The protest was organized by human rights groups, some trade unionists and a small opposition party. Algeria's main opposition forces were not taking part. Large numbers of police had been mobilized to try to prevent the protest from going ahead. Police at the protest detained Belaid Abrika, a prominent opposition figure and campaigner for the rights of Algeria's large Berber minority.


Libyan Civil War

Berber protests in Morocco

Since 2013 the Rif Independence Movement resurged in Morocco.[6] Rif Independence Movement is a charter member of the Organization of Emerging African States.[6]

Since late 2016, massive riots have spread across Moroccan Berber communities in the Rif region, initiated after a death of a fishmonger in Al-Hoceima in October 2016. On 31 October, massive demonstrations took place across Morocco, staged by the Berber minority.[11] During January and February 2017, the riots intensified and were marked by unemployment concerns, with around thirty police officers injured in the north Moroccan town of al-Hoceima, after tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed against thousands of mostly young protesters.[12] Another escalation took place in May 2017.[13] The protests were led by Nasser Zefzafi, founder of the Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, or the Popular Movement.[14] Zefzafi was arrested by Moroccan Police in late May 2017. Thousands took to the streets in Al-Hoceima since Zefzafi’s arrest, and demonstrations have also spread to the capital Rabat and Casablanca. Demonstrators proclaimed “We are all Zefzafi” and waved Berber flags, with around 40 people arrested.[14] By 30 May, the number of arrested protesters reached 70.[15]

See also


  1. Adam Shatz (2003-06-08). "The other intifada" (PDF)., republished article from Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  2. Meredith Reid Sarkees, Frank Whelon Wayman: Resort to war: a data guide to inter-state, extra-state, intra-state, and non-state wars, 1816–2007, CQ Press, 2010, ISBN 0-87289-434-7, page 303.
  3. Jonathan Oakes. Algeria. p112. [1]
  4. White Gypsies: Race and Stardom in Spanish Musical Films - Eva Woods Peiró. p. 46.
  5. What the Arabs think - William Roe Polk. p. 52.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "The Rif Independence Movement Joins OEAS". 
  7. Douglas Porch, "Spain's African Nightmare," MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History (2006) 18#2 pp 28–37.
  8. Jan Pascal, L’Armée française face à Abdelkrim ou la tentation de mener une guerre conventionnelle dans une guerre irrégulière 1924-1927, Cairn.Info, 2009, p. 732.
  9. "Morocco: What is fuelling unrest in the Rif?". 
  10. "Hundreds of protesters defy police in Algeria". 19 February 2011. 
  11. Press, Associated (31 October 2016). "Morocco protests after fisherman crushed to death in a garbage truck". 
  12. Cusack, Robert. "Berber nationalist protests break out in al-Hoceima, north Morocco". 
  13. "Morocco police hunt Rif region protest leader". 
  14. 14.0 14.1 ""We are all Zefzafi"—who is the Morocco protest leader causing problems for the king?" (in en). Newsweek. 2017-06-01. 
  15. "Scores arrested in connection with Morocco Rif protests". 

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