Minorities are always more important than their numbers might seem to merit for, if nothing more, they are society’s bellwethers. Changes in their legal status and social roles reveal broader changes in a society. In North Africa the shrinking role of the Jewish communities and the new assertiveness of Berbers suggests that even as Islamist movements attempt to stem the tide, a profound shift is taking place in popular conceptions of politics and rights. No longer are minority status and rights defined simply by the patrimonially based protections embedded in religion, particularly Islam, or personal relationships. North African governments in the twenty-first century will have to face questions of cultural rights and linguistic recognition for which neither Islam nor secular Western liberalism have clear-cut answers.
The vast majority of North Africans are Muslim Arabs. For nearly a thousand years, the only significant indigenous minorities have been non-Arabic speakin...
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