A Truth Commission for Morocco

The grim names Moroccans assign to the post-independence years — in Arabic, zaman al-rusas and al-sanawat al-sawda, in French les anneés de plomb and les années noires or in English “the years of lead” and “the black years” — evoke an era of grayness and lead bullets, fear and repression. During les années sombres, the “somber years” of forcible disappearances and farcical mass political trials, large numbers of people representing various political persuasions served long prison sentences for voicing opposition to the regime. By international standards, they were prisoners of conscience.

How Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan and Even Egypt Became IMF “Success Stories” in the 1990s

Just as European missionaries were the spiritual handmaidens of nineteenth-century colonialism, so has the International Monetary Fund (IMF) assumed a modern-day mission in support of world trade, finance and investment. The mission aims to convert the benighted heathen in developing countries to the enlightened religion of the free market, whose invisible hand guides self-interest toward the best possible outcome. Once expected to join world Christendom after their conversion, penitent countries today have structural adjustment programs (SAPs) to guide them to their place in the global economy.

Room to Breathe

Less than a block from the seventeenth-century walls that surround Rabat’s medina (old city) is the Association Tamaynut. Inside the three-room office one can attend meetings, listen to lectures and participate in passionate discussions. A young man, Ibrahim, is there every weekday from morning until night. One of Morocco’s many thousand unemployed college graduates, he spends his free time doing volunteer work that he finds gratifying.

UN Impasse in the Western Sahara

In his January 1996 report on the UN operation in the Western Sahara, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali expressed the Security Council’s “frustration…at the absence of even a reasonably clear indication of when the [referendum] process might come to an end.” This was one of Boutros-Ghali’s most candid official statements about an operation that, by most accounts, has gone awry. With a mandate to organize and conduct a referendum asking Sahrawis to choose either independence or integration into Morocco, the most important issue now confronting the UN mission is whether the referendum process, which began in September 1991, has already been so compromised that it no longer offers a realistic means for resolving the conflict.

Column: Own a Piece of Moroc?

For many ordinary investors, the dream of cashing in on the market revolution sweeping the globe turned sour following last year’s collapse of the Mexican peso. But if you have some capital to spare and are in search of the elusive next big boom, take a chance on Foreign and Colonial Emerging Middle East Fund. It trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EME. The fund has 60 percent of its total assets working hard in Turkey, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon and Oman. But its savvy, high-rolling managers are gambling the largest sums in Morocco.

Boom Box in Ouarzazate

In 1987, during one of my first visits to Morocco, I attended a series of rock concerts in Marrakesh with a group of friends who had been invited to the event to represent their youth group. The organizers of the concerts, the local Grand Atlas association, invited us to tour the medina. During one such walk, one of the Marrakeshis talked about how delicious steamed sheep’s head would be for lunch. In spite of the torrid July heat, most of our group agreed that a casual lunch in a small restaurant was a fine idea.

Demographic Change in the Arab World

Two of the most populous Arab countries, Egypt and Morocco, lie far apart in geography, in their histories and in the size of their populations. Egypt has 57 million inhabitants, more than twice as many as Morocco’s 25.5 million. [1] One thing they do share is a dramatic long-term rate of demographic growth. In the nine decades of this century, the populations of both countries have multiplied more than fivefold (from around 10 million in Egypt and less than 5 million in Morocco).

Basri et al, Revision de la constitution marocaine 1992

Driss Basri, Michel Rousset and Georges Vedel, eds., Revision de la constitution marocaine 1992: analyses et commentaires (Imprimerie Royale, 1992).

The Challenge of Population Growth in Morocco

About 30 years ago, a World Bank economic survey mission concluded that “Morocco will continually find itself having to run faster in order to stand still.” [1] A few years later, a Moroccan demographer warned that if the population were to continue to grow at current rates, “all efforts at development, no matter how grandiose, would be inevitably jeopardized.” [2]

Cartoon Commentary

A cartoon image is short and direct and does not move when you look at it. Condensing history, culture and social relationships within a single frame, a cartoon can recontextualize events and evoke reference points in ways that a photograph or even a film cannot. Like graffiti, jokes and other genres of popular culture, cartoons challenge the ways we accept official images as real and true.

For Another Kind of Morocco

On September 13, 1991, after nearly 17 years in the prisons of His Majesty Hassan II, Moroccan activist Abraham Serfaty was released and expelled to France. This was not, to be sure, out of human rights considerations, or a measure of royal clemency: According to the Ministry of the Interior, an “in-depth” — if belated — examination of Serfaty’s legal status had revealed that he was not entitled to Moroccan citizenship. His father had lived in Brazil for 17 years before returning to Morocco in 1923, three years before Serfaty himself was born. He was thus expelled as a “veritable impostor.”

Guarding Europe’s Gate

One of the events planned for 1992 is to “marry” the Statue of Liberty in New York to the statue of Christopher Columbus in Barcelona. Although they do share a similar aesthetic kitsch style, it will be a difficult union. Consider only the 300-year span between the ages of the groom and the bride, aside from all the ideological baggage that each one of them carries.

Andalusia’s Nostalgia for Progress and Harmonious Heresy

In southern Spain’s province of Andalusia 1992 is a year of controversy, not because it is the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, but because it commemorates the conquest of the Moorish kingdom of Granada by “foreign invaders from the North.” In other parts of Spain, and even more so in other parts of Europe and America, 1492 is also remembered as the year Spain’s Jews were expelled from that land. In Andalusia, people know it as part of a time when large numbers of Muslims were made to leave the country.

Human Rights Briefing

Since the regime of King Hassan is a long-time ally of the United States, what little attention Morocco’s human rights record receives in this country is usually hidden under a haze of comparisons with egregious violators like Iran and Iraq. Yet Morocco detains hundreds of political prisoners. Some have been held incommunicado since 1972. Arrests of student activists continue, and judicial and legal proceedings remain perfunctory at best.

Toward a World Literature?

The Prix Goncourt, always the biggest literary event of the year in France, became even more so in 1987, when the venerable Goncourt Academy named Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun as its eightieth laureate. In French literary circles, reaction to the selection of Ben Jelloun’s novel, La Nuit saerde, contained an unmistakable current of relief, as if to say that the situation of the Arab community in France really could not be so bad if a North African received the Prix Goncourt. Within that Arab community, the optimism was somewhat more guarded (about the book as well as the prize), but certainly no one regretted the increased visibility that the award brought to French-language North African literature.

Western Sahara Conflict Impedes Maghrib Unity

In early 1989, the movement toward Maghribi integration, coupled with signs of a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Western Sahara, generated a great deal of optimism. The reality a year later is far less rosy. The major factor is Morocco’s procrastination in moving forward with the UN peace plan which it, along with the Sahrawi independence movement, Polisario, agreed to in August 1988.

State and Gender in the Maghrib

Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco constitute a geocultural entity. They all went through a period of French colonization and they became independent during roughly the same period in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Despite the similarities, though, the three countries engaged in markedly different policies in regard to family law and women’s rights from the time of national independence to the mid-1980s. Tunisia adopted the most far-reaching changes whereas Morocco remained most faithful to the prevailing Islamic legislation and Algeria followed an ambivalent course.

North Africa Faces the 1990s

The startling changes that have transformed the political landscape of Eastern Europe in 1989 may have no equivalent in the Middle East exactly, but that region has seen some remarkable developments nonetheless. The Arab versions of perestroika, or restructuring, while less profound in comparison with those of Czechoslovakia or Poland, reflect certain realignments of political forces. No regimes have toppled — yet. But from Palestine and Jordan in the Arab east (the Mashriq) to Algeria in the west (the Maghrib), a phenomenon of intifada, or uprising, is challenging the static politics of repression that have prevailed for many years.

American Magic in a Moroccan Town

Fatna held up the knot of hair. It was a magic spell. “But what does it mean?” I asked, looking suspiciously at the neatly-tied brown square knot. “And whose hair is it?”

“Why do you think Khadija has been coming over every day? She wants me to marry her brother Muhammad. This is probably her mother’s hair. The mother’s hair is the most powerful.”

“You mean it's to make you fall in love with him?”

“Or to keep me from falling in love with anyone else.” Fatna took back the hair-knot and disappeared into the john, emerging a few minutes later smiling mysteriously. “I pissed on it," she told me.


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