Explainer: Why does Morocco not recognise the Amazigh new year, 'Idh Yennayer'?

Explainer: Why does Morocco not recognise the Amazigh new year, 'Idh Yennayer'?
The identity is heavily debated in Morocco, particularly during the World Cup after many Moroccan were angered by the international media reporting the Moroccan football team’s outstanding performance by referring to the Atlas Lions as only Arabs.

4 min read
11 January, 2023
"The recognition of "Idh Yennayer" is an essential step for Moroccans to reconcile with their history and cultural identity," said an Amazigh activist. [Getty]

Every year, Moroccans kick off the first day of January with a day off to enjoy the beginning of the new year.

On the first Muharram, shops and schools close as families gather to celebrate the start of the Islamic year. But the Amazigh new year "Idh Yennayer," 13 January, continues to be a working day in Morocco, which members of the Amazigh community say is a form of discrimination.

"The recognition of Idh Yennayer is an essential step for Moroccans to reconcile with their history and cultural identity (…) and end discrimination against the longly marginalised Amazigh community," Abdellah Badou, former head of the Executive Office of the Amazigh Network for Citizenship in Morocco, said to The New Arab.

Ahead of the Gregorian calendar by 950 years, the Amazigh calendar's first day falls on 13 January of each year. Other Amazigh communities in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt, start Yennayer celebrations on 12 January.

Historians are also divided about the origins of "Idh Yennayer". One group believe that the choice of 13 January symbolises the celebration of land and agriculture, while others say that the day commemorates the Berber king's 'Chachnak 'over Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II.

"Idh Ynnayer", "Idh Skas" or "Hakouzah," the names differ depending on each region and the celebratory plates too, which can include the "Orkemen" dish, "Takla" porridge, "Imshikhen" or "couscous with seven vegetables."

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Morocco only recognised Tamazight, the language of the indigenous people of the country, as an official language in 2011, as the palace vowed a better state-people relationship amid the Arab Spring wave.

Administering Idh Yennayer as a paid national holiday, a symbolic recognition of the presence of the Amazigh community in Morocco, was the next demand on the list of the indigenous population of the country.

Thirteen years later, a long-standing feeling of neglect continues to inhabit the Amazigh community, which counts for 20 million of the total population (37 million).

This Amazigh year 2973, the indigenous community in Morocco had higher hopes of finally winning the much-desired recognition after the appointment of the Amazigh politician Aziz Akhannouch, as head of the country's government, following his party National Rally of Independents (RNI) massive victory in the September elections.

Born in a small Moroccan Berber town near Agadir, the 61-year-old businessman built his political identity and his party's electoral programme on representing the Amazigh community's worries and issues, winning the indigenous people's endorsement in the country's last election.

With only two days left for the "Idh Yennayer," Akhannouch's cabinet seems once again not ready to commit to one of the main promises.

"We will all celebrate this day as it should and with strength," Mustapha Baitass, the official spokesman for the government, said during last week's press conference without answering the reporter's question on announcing "Idh Yennayer" as a paid national holiday.

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The country's previous government, led by the Islamist party of Justice and Development (PJD), stated on several occasions that the recognition of "Idh Ynnayer" is up to Moroccan King Mohammed VI.

"The government apparently has no power over that decision. The royal institution alone is capable of responding to the Amazigh demands," Boubacar Onguer, a Moroccan Amazigh activist, said to TNA.

Even though the 2011 constitution has widened the government's authority, the palace has kept the power of controlling the major decisions of the state.

The identity debate in Morocco stiffed amid the Qatar World Cup after many Moroccan were angered by the international media reports on the Moroccan football team's outstanding performance referring to the Atlas Lions as only Arabs.

The disappointment grew when the Atlas Lions toured Rabat in a bus labelled only in English and Arabic.

Despite recognising Tmazigh more than a decade ago, it is still limited to official public administrations and institutional signs.

"The weak policy of implementing Tamazight as an official language reveals to us that we are facing a collective 'manoeuvre,' in which all political parties, without exception, participated in varying degrees, to absorb the anger of the Moroccan street during February 2011," argued the Amazigh activist Abdellah Badou in his interview with TNA.