Morocco’s Unhappy Marriage with Arabness

Tuesday 29 June 202111:57 am

How many Arabs know the story of the two enclaves still under Spanish occupation today Ceuta and Melilla? How many even bother that a western power continues to colonize portions of a legitimately Arab land? Now, how many of you marched in solidarity with the kingdom, waved the crimson and green flag or wore the traditional Fez hat while chanting “Free Morocco”? The evident answers summarize how Moroccan citizens feel let down by their extended family whenever their territorial sovereignty is at stake.

After the-million-man march in solidarity with Palestine a few weeks ago in Casablanca and Rabat, and the spontaneous popular camaraderie, online hashtag fever, and generous donations, you would expect someone to say something when the North African country faces its most momentous crisis yet with its Iberian neighbor. Still, it looks like pan Arab sentimentalism dilutes as you distance yourself from the Middle East center and move towards marginal peripheries like Yemen or Morocco.

It looks like pan Arab sentimentalism dilutes as you distance yourself from the Middle East and move towards marginal peripheries like Yemen or Morocco

The Temptation of the Israeli Lover

Nonetheless, the rest of the dysfunctional Arab family will bluntly guilt-shame any subversive Moroccan who dares to publicly detach from the mob and pragmatically promote new unpopular alliances with countries like Israel. Although, we may all agree that normalizing with an apartheid state is morally twisted regardless of any nationalistic ideals, one can understand easily why a country like Morocco would throw itself in the arms of the enemy after decades of peer disappointment.

We may all agree that normalizing with Israel, an apartheid state, is morally twisted, but one can understand why Morocco could throw itself in the arms of the enemy after decades of peer disappointment

With no immediate borders with conflict zone in the levant and so many disputed lands inherited from the colonial era, including the Sahara, the enclaves, and tens of micro-islands in the Mediterranean, Morocco faces the delicate dilemma of either staying faithful to the flagship causes of the Umma or focusing on liberating its own territories at any cost. I often imagine Morocco as a female who endured a centuries long unhappy arranged marriage, and finally is breaking free, to embrace a forbidden lover it secretly courted for years, but due to societal pressure and shaming, the woman can never own her faith nor officially divorce mister Arabhood.

I repeatedly hear colleagues, supposedly la crème de la crème of Arab intellectuals, nonchalantly repeat “just give the Sahara to the Polisario front” or “people in Ceuta and Melilla are happier with European Union passports” without any consideration of the historical, geopolitical, or imperialist contexts surrounding these disputed territories. Not to mention, how dehumanizing and reductionist it is for my own person and family that has roots deep in the sands of the Sahara along with other Hassani tribes. Imagine if I tell an Egyptian “just give the Nile to Ethiopia” or to a Palestinian “Haifa and Akka are better off under a developed country like Israel”!

This arrogant attitude towards Morocco emanates from the legacy of Nassiri pan Arabist discourse that attempted to export military putsches to neighboring countries and disdains monarchies as necessarily “backward authoritarian regimes”. The rift was widened further during the cold war when Rabat sided with the western camp against the USSR-adoring Nasser, Saddam, Assad, and company. These cumulative factors and Morocco’s geographical location at the extreme edge of the Arab world, transformed Morocco in the imaginations into a remote exotic land with people who speak an abstruse dialect, kiss the hand of their monarch out of subjugation, and ride tiny mountain donkeys to school.

The Prostitute and the Sorcerer

Morocco might share some of the blame like in any broken marriage. Under Hassan II the country adopted an islander mentality, even if it is not one by any means. It chose to capitalize on its extended Atlantic and Mediterranean shores and pretend as if it was severed from its African and Middle Eastern roots, floating solo towards the EU and the US. King Mohamed VI tried to rectify that policy by reinforcing economic and political ties with western Africa, gradually rejoining the African Union, and reaching out to the rest of the Arab monarchy club in the Gulf. All too late!

Generally, the average Ahmad in Jordan or Oman knows so little about Morocco. Even the meager cultural production it attempts to export to the east only perpetuates a certain orientalist fantasy of a Saad Lamjarad singing in the middle of palm trees wearing a scarlet hat, or a certain female singer wearing the traditional embroidered Kaftan in the middle of a sumptuous traditional Riad house.

Other than this stereotypical image, the most common questions I get asked by other Arabs are about two surprising topics: Prostitution and Magic. Listening to taxi drivers in Cairo or militia men in Mosul describe the wonders of voluptuous Moroccan women and their powers to mesmerize men and the miracles performed by our Sheikhs who presumably daunt mighty Djinns and cherubim angels, I feel they are referring to an enchanted kingdom in a parallel universe and not the Morocco I know with its vibrant youth and socio-economic struggles.


An Epistemological Rupture

History undeniably carries its weight and leaves its traces in human memories and behavior. What most people don’t know is that the Maghreb used to be a prosperous nation ruled by the Jewish queen Dihya, nicknamed Al Kahina “the priestess”. Arab conquistadors didn’t miraculously convince Amazigh natives to convert to Islam without a fair fight. A certain cultural openness regarding women’s roles in society and traces of Judaic, Andalusian, and African traditions persist in the Moroccan national identity today and tries desperately to coexist with Arabness and Islam. It is unfair to force Rabat to reject all its other influences in favor of a conflict thousands of miles away or to deny 1 million Moroccan Jews in Israel the right to travel back to the land of their forefathers and visit their shrines.

Renown philosopher Mohamed Al Jabri went further by calling for an epistemological rupture between the Mashreq and the Maghreb. Influenced by Gaston Bachelard’s reasoning, he argues that while the Mashreq preserved a “mystical” and “rhetorical” intellectual tradition inherited from exoteric thinkers like Ibn Sina, Suhrawardi, and Farabi, the Maghreb came up with “empirical” intellectual references with the North African and Andalusian rationalism of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Hazm, and Ibn Baja. According to him, the two are doomed to clash and need to break in order to progress and produce knowledge.

Morocco and the Arab world need to understand and acknowledge each other’s hybrid identities and national priorities. Instead of a categorical and pricey divorce, Morocco and mister Arabness need extensive couples’ therapy and a lot of self-reflection!

Al Jabri’s theory is largely debatable, and we do not need a rupture to advance and flourish. All we need is to understand and acknowledge each other’s hybrid identities and national priorities. Instead of a categorical and pricey divorce, Morocco and mister Arabness need extensive couples’ therapy and a lot of self-reflection!

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