The Point of View of a “Zmagriya”

The call to prayer sounds in the city, countless voices of the muezzins mingle with the din of daily life. That’s it, I’m back in Morroco – the “bled”, as they say, after two years of absence. They call me little “Zmagriya,” literally translated as “those who have fled poverty,” which is not my case. I was born in France, which provides me with the opportunity to see the changes that shape the country; and by change, I mean both positive and negative changes, perceived through the prism of my  Moroccan and French origins. And according to my childhood memories, these changes are significant and dazzling.

It’s important to remark that I do not impose any truth because, as we affirm in People of Change, there is not one story but a multiplicity of stories.

It is often said that Morocco is a country “in transition.” First of all, this is a country that is getting exponentially wealthier. With easy access to consumer credit, a middle class considerably emerged within a decade. Just to give an idea, during the 90s ( and I recall this from my childhood memories) there was only one model of car circulating: the Fiat Uno – usually white (or red, for fancier models). Fastforward to present times and households have several vehicles; in urban areas, Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Kias are all common. The road network and the rail network have been largely expanded. I am always amazed by the brand new tram passing through Rabat and Casablanca.

Despite the physicial changes, two things remain unaltered in the life of Moroccans: Islam and the throne, both sacred in the Moroccan constitution, and represented by King Mohammed VI, absolute ruler of Morocco and “commander of the faithful.” His portrait is present in restaurants, coffee shops and even inside homes. But ever since the reign of Hassan II finished, the ruling has changed. King Mohammed VI, his son, is called the businessman king – quite justifiable. He is the first private trader in the kingdom through its various holdings. Royalty retains a strong grip on the economy; yet, this is far from shocking the public. The prices charged by royalty in respect of properties are unbeatable, for example, due to reuse of land in the kingdom. Therefore, this allowed many Moroccans to access a secondary residence.

Although the power remains in the hands of the King, he has been concieving more things upon his people. Criticizing the King in disrespectful terms is still risky. I will always remember the disapproving gaze of my father when I made a dubious joke about the death of Hassan II and the accession of his son, right in front of two officers at the airport . “At home , you can say things like that but not here!”

Journalists could still be arrested because of disrespectful words towards the monarchy. However, there has been a real change, which at first, surprised me: the rise of Moroccan people that engulfed the country in June to challenge the release of a Spanish pedophile, following the Day Throne celebration, as a direct challenge to a royal decision. I even attended many demonstrations outside Parliament in Rabat, with partisans of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, as well as students who require a deep reform of a weak and outdated public education or demonstrations due to the rising cost of living without wage indexation.

Youth seem to be geting more involved in socio-politcal stakes throgh social media, probably because of increasing internet access in towns and villages. The youth no longer dream about Europe or the West; it redraws its Moroccan identity. The documentary “I Love Hip Hop In Morocco” shows that in the souks, an alternative hip hop movement has been developing – not always seen in a positive light from a country that does not really produce any hip hop, and which can be considered a musical genre  that opposes Islam. For a long time, state radios that broadcasted traditional styles of music, like Chaabi, were the only alternatives. Since 2006, a radio for young audiences has been created and reveals new Moroccan talents from diverse musical backgrounds.

Morocco is clearly reshaping its identity, not only through music.

The harshest critics towards the Moroccan King, however, are focused on the Mudawana, the new family code which was brought into effect since 2004, and has made Moroccan women equal to men, except in the case of inheritance. They no longer need a (legal) guardian to get married, they can apply for divorce (which was exclusively given/restricted to men thus far). Moreover, practicing polygamy is made impossible now thanks to the law.

While you are walking down the street, you can see many women wearing the full veil as well as women outrageously made up, holding a cigarette in their hand, wearing the veil or not. This illustrate the paradox behind the current Moroccan reality. The country is changing but it seems to be the prey of tensions between contradictory dynamics. While some areas are in the forefront of progress, others are in a catastrophic slump. This has shaped an image of Morocco rather mixed. Some say “there are several Morocco.” A Morocco a little schizophrenic at times, but which advances at its own pace.