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Morocco's Amazigh, the indigenous people of North Africa, hit hard deadly quake

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: The earthquake in Morocco killed thousands and demolished entire villages in the country's Atlas Mountains. This area that was hardest hit is home to the Amazigh, the indigenous people of North Africa. It's where Amazigh scholar Brahim el Guabli is from. He's an Arabic studies and comparative literature professor at Williams College, and he says the reason that Amazigh are in remote parts of the country to begin with was originally for protection.

BRAHIM EL GUABLI: Historically, Amazigh have lived in the mountains because of the invasions that happened in the past during the Roman times but also during the era of Muslim invasion of North Africa.

FADEL: Life in the mountains helped the Amazigh guard their language and culture, but today, their isolation makes recovery efforts more difficult.

EL GUABLI: You really see the territorial injustice that exists in Morocco because of the misdistribution of infrastructure in the country. A lot of focus went to larger cities like Marrakesh, Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, which benefited from a lot of resources to be the cities that they are. I mean, they are great cities. We're very proud of them. But at the expense of these areas which don't have paved roads, don't have bridges, and then all of this is compounded, of course, by the earthquake that damages everything that made the place accessible in the first place.

FADEL: So already, this area is dealing with a lack of infrastructure, a lack of roads. This has now destroyed even the minimum that these areas have had.

EL GUABLI: Exactly. So even the little that existed in the past to be able to access their villages, their schools, their hospitals is now gone.

FADEL: So really, this earthquake has devastated these regions and highlighted just the inequity that exists and the marginalization.

EL GUABLI: Yes. Very much so. And I hope - my hope is that the state will rethink its development strategy and its infrastructure building strategy and also to rethink the idea of citizenship, really.

FADEL: If you could just explain that to me when you say take citizenship seriously.

EL GUABLI: It seems like Moroccan citizens do not have the same access to state services. Like, some live in the 20th century with all its benefits and infrastructure and access, whereas those who were hit by the earthquake really live in a different time.

FADEL: So when you think about - I mean, maybe it's even too early to talk about 'cause you're talking about people who still haven't gotten any help yet, let alone thinking about reconstruction, but when you think about how to rebuild for the Amazigh people in these areas, what do you want to happen? What needs to happen?

EL GUABLI: I would really advise them to think about preserving the Amazigh eco-friendly type of building, making it earthquake resistant, helping people build strong homes. But if life is lost and then we also lose all the Amazigh heritage that is encapsulated in the way the homes are built - the adobe housing, the architectural style, the techniques and the knowhow that all went into making these homes that now are demolished, I think they can be built with new norms, but they should retain the spirit of the predominantly Amazigh area.

FADEL: Brahim el Guabli, associate professor at Williams College, thank you so much for your time.

EL GUABLI: Thank you for inviting me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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