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The Amazigh  (plural Imazighen ) are the native population of North Africa conquered by the Muslim Arabs. They are often referred to as "Berber" but do like this appellation. Different subpopulations may use other names. In North African countries, their language and culture are generally suppressed. In Morocco, they may constitute a majority of the population, though other estimates claim they are about 30% of the inhabitants. In Algeria, they are perhaps 15%. They are descendants of Numidians, Carthaginians and others who are native to North Africa, and whose culture was successively oppressed by Roman imperialism and by the Arab conquest.

The ancestors of the Amazigh lived in North Africa between western Egypt and the Atlantic Ocean for all of recorded history.  References to them are frequent in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman sources. North African peoples are first mentioned in ancient Egyptian records during the Predynastic Period, and during the New Kingdom the Egyptians later fought against the Meshwesh and Libu tribes on their western borders. From about 945 BC these North African natives ruled Egypt for a time.  The Amazigh long remained the main population of the Western Desert. Byzantine chroniclers often noted the raids  of the "Mazikes" (Amazigh) .

These  regions of North Africa were subject to successive invasion and colonization by Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Alans etc. The Amazigh absorbed all of these peoples and some others apparently, but eventually succumbed to Arab rule. Amazigh and other native North African traditions are generally retained only in inaccessible areas such as the Atlas mountains of Morocco and the Kabylie highlands in Algeria.     

Synonyms and alternate spellings: "Berber." Some native North African groups prefer to be called Kabyle or Chaoui, depending on location. The word "Berber" is often considered derogatory. 

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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