With the increasing presence of sub-Saharan African migrants in North Africa over the past decade, public discussions of race and prejudice are losing their taboo. Moroccan writers are encouraging a broader awareness of structural racism by including more Black characters in their novels and by depicting them as complex individuals struggling against inequality.
This issue of Middle East Report on “Maghreb From the Margins” addresses the evolving challenges that the peripheries are posing to power structures in Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia and the Western Sahara.
With the increasing presence of sub-Saharan African migrants in North Africa over the past decade, public discussions of race and prejudice are losing their taboo. Moroccan writers are encouraging a broader awareness of structural racism by including more Black characters in their novels and by depicting them as complex individuals struggling against inequality. This article is from the forthcoming MER issue 298 “Maghreb From the Margins.”
George Trumbull’s recent blog entry about Middle Eastern outposts in other parts of the world rightly mentioned Marseille and the Italian islet of Lampedusa, with its now closed migrant detention camp, as two “Middle Easternized” spaces of the European Mediterranean. I want to briefly revisit the two sites and suggest other possible ways of reading them.
Bill Lawrence is director of the North Africa Project for the International Crisis Group. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer (Morocco), Fulbright scholar (Tunisia), development consultant (Egypt), State Department official, Arabic translator and filmmaker (Marrakech Inshallah, Moroccans in Boston). He has also participated in the production of 14 albums of North African music, including co-production of the first internationally released Arabic rap song. He has lived in North Africa for 12 years, six of them in Morocco. I spoke with him in Rabat on March 15. (Part one of the interview is here.)
Bill Lawrence is director of the North Africa Project for the International Crisis Group. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer (Morocco), Fulbright scholar (Tunisia), development consultant (Egypt), State Department official, Arabic translator and filmmaker (Marrakech Inshallah, Moroccans in Boston). He has also participated in the production of 14 albums of North African music, including co-production of the first internationally released Arabic rap song. He has lived in North Africa for 12 years, six of them in Morocco. I spoke with him in Rabat on March 15.
Can you talk about the problems in Libya caused by the proliferation of militias and arms?
In February 1993, the Arab Maghrib Union (AMU) marked its fourth anniversary. Despite the great hopes that were vested in this regional economic organization, it has not thrived.  There have been five summit meetings since the Treaty of Marrakesh was signed to great fanfare, but the heads of state have been sorely distracted by issues other than building an economic union in North Africa: the unresolved matter of Western Sahara, the Islamist movement in Algeria, the international sanctions against Libya, the pressure for democratization in Mauritania and Tunisia, even the Persian Gulf war.
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.
Two Algerian rai tunes make the top ten of the Village Voice music critics’s poll in 1989. Rai is now heard daily on college radio from the University of Pennsylvania to Oregon State. Urban dance clubs with “world music” nights feature rai discs along with their usual mix of reggae, salsa, zouk and ju-ju. Tower Records stocks rai cassettes and CDs in its nationwide outlets. What, in the words of Marvin Gaye, is goin’ on? Why are post-liberation Algerian pop singers winning a wide Western audience while an earlier generation of popular Arab singers like Umm Kulthoum, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Wahhab and Fairouz never did?
More than a quarter of a century after independence, the Maghrib’s Francophone literary output is flourishing. If one adds to this the Beur literature produced by second and third generation immigrants of North African heritage, Maghribi literature in French appears to be the single most important literary and aesthetic phenomenon permeating French culture today. One of the most important exponents of this literature is Tahar Ben Jelloun, the Moroccan recipient of the prestigious Goncourt Prize in 1987. The warm critical reception of his two novels, The Sand Child and The Sacred Night (translated by Alan Sheridan, published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch, 1987 and 1989), epitomizes the increasing popularity and success of Maghribi literature in French.
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.
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.
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.
Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “Reproduction and Emigration,” Zerowork 3 (1984).
Jean Guyot, Ruth Padrun, et al, Des Femmes Immigres Parlent (Paris: L’Harmattan-CETIM, 1977).
Michel Oriol, “Sur la dynamique des relations communautaires chez les immigres d’origine Nord-Africaine,” Peuples Mediterraneens 18 (January-March 1982).
Richard Lawless and Allan Findlay, eds., North Africa: Contemporary Politics and Economic Development (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984).
More than fifteen years have passed since the appearance of Samir Amin’s excellent book on the Maghreb. None of the dozen or so books on the subject that have appeared since then have come close to Amin’s clarity and analytical power. So much has happened in the intervening years that a new book on the topic is now sorely needed. Lawless and Findlay’s North Africa is a welcome arrival, but unfortunately it fails to meet this need.
"Femmes de la Mediterranée," Peuples Mediterraneens/Mediterranean Peoples 22-23 (January-June 1983).