Stepping on the other side of the blue mirror

Posted on 10. April 2014

by Maël Baseilhac

Mael BaseilhacWhen I arrived in Morocco two years ago, I had very little knowledge about the country and its people. I had never been there on vacation and could only imagine what the national culture was like based on my readings and encounters with Moroccan friends in France. As weeks went by and as I settled in my new life of expatriate here in Morocco’s capital Rabat, I was gradually able to run a sociological study on the French-Moroccan relationship from the other side of the Mediterranean.

The first striking element is evidently the fascination Europe still exerts on the local population. This region of the world is eloquent of the considerable attraction Europe still possesses and in a broader perspective the tremendous ability it has to influence social behaviors in Morocco. In 1990, Joseph Nye encompassed such residual influence in the term of soft power, now widely used in international affairs. Day-to day illustrations of this influence are visible. Perhaps the most uncanny is the following: Moroccans tend to add on the left-hand side of their license plate a European flag with the first letter of a European country thus pretending to own a vehicle registered in the EU. When asked for the reasons of such habit, they reply that it is very fashionable around here. When I come to think of it, no one in France would ever drive around with a registered car in Morocco just because it is trendy!

Another illustration is the fascination Spanish football teams exert on Moroccan fans. Football fans here are less divided over the national clásicothan on its Spanish equivalent. Indeed, a Spanish football encounter between the Real Madrid and the FC Barcelona drives more enthusiasm and division than the national equivalent between that two teams of Casablanca. Moreover, the influence Europe enjoys here is very easily noticeable at any cultural event organized in the country by for say the French Institute or any other international cultural institution. Concerts of European artists are packed, French singers are applauded widely and Moroccan artists are more than eager to collaborate with European cultural actors.

Yet, there are signs that the Moroccan youth has grown more skeptical towards Europe. We live in an open world and the new generation is perfectly connected to information. Young Moroccans are still aware of the French riots in 2005 involving suburbs largely inhabited by immigrant families. They hear of the constant stigmatization of the immigrant population in Europe. They read about the growing social and economic disparities and most importantly the soaring scores of the right-wing and national populist parties in France and Europe. A growing number of the Moroccan young elites are reconsidering their immediate urge to emigrate to Europe. The crisis, the nationalist signals sent by several European states are setting a whole new deal for the youth here. The booming Moroccan economy further adds to a new national self-confidence. The latest example of this tendency is the diplomatic crisis triggered in February when French security services tried to question the head of Rabat’s intelligence service during a visit to Paris over accusations of involvement in torture. Riots erupted in the streets of Rabat, diplomatic agreements were frozen and the French Ambassador was on the verge of repatriation.

Generally speaking, Europe still crystallizes the hopes and dreams of the new generation but their point of view is far more nuanced than their parents’ for instance. Nowadays, a growing number of Moroccans consider studying abroad as a means to return to their home country and participate in the development of their nation. A classical standpoint I hear is “Why move to France and stay unemployed when all the French come here to get a job ?! ”.Don’t let me be misunderstood, the unemployment rate in Morocco is still alarming and mainly the very restricted highly-educated elite can contemplate a more profitable life working in Morocco. Yet, such views are very new and are slowly finding a voice in society. Lastly, when thinking about emigration for professional purposes Moroccans are shifting their original object of desire from Europe towards the Middle-East and its two-figure growth rates. Which is also a novelty we, Europeans, ought to keep in mind.

Arguably, France cultivates a love-hate relationship with its Moroccan immigrants. Too often depicted as troublesome and unruly, the Moroccan community is suffering from bad publicity in France. Yet, Morocco is one of the most favorite touristic destinations for the French. My fellow countrymen just love the Moroccan way of life, its food, climate and culture. 44 years of French protectorate over the nation has considerably tied the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea. And a common language unites our peoples forever. It is important to mention that despite the rather cold attitude of the French towards Moroccan immigration, European expatriates enjoy a genuine and warm welcoming from the local population. This seems to be a special situation as not all immigrants are treated in such a kind way. The Moroccan state reproduces nationalistic schemes on Sub-Saharan immigrants sparking xenophobic feelings and racist behaviors. Some misbeliefs seem to inexorably recreate a situation their fellow countrymen have been suffering from and denouncing for decades in France. Although Moroccans are aware of how their fellow countrymen are treated in France, they seem to embrace occidental immigration with joy and curiosity. Respectful and thoughtful, there appears to be a mutual trust between the two cultures. Aside from the remains of colonization, it is a fact that Moroccans do not see themselves as Africans. When chatting with locals, they often refer to Africa as the Sub-Saharan area excluding the Maghreb region, which is a strong indicator of how Moroccans perceive themselves.

Anchored in the African continent, but definitely turned towards Europe, Morocco is at a cross-road of a multitude of cultures. And for those who are aware of it, the Moroccan society reflects a fascinating and complex image of Europe. By looking into the mirror of the Mediterranean Sea, European societies will learn a lot not only about Morocco and the future of Africa but also about themselves.

This article is part a part of a series of reflections by young Europeans, prepared in cooperation between FutureLab and Süddeutsche Zeitung Online. To read the original click here.