Mohamed Chtatou
Mohamed Chtatou

The Silent Revolution of the Moroccan Millennials

The digital revolution has brought to the Arab world the dream of democracy and personal freedom and is certainly changing totally the Arab mind and culture, in spite of the strong tug of tradition and religion, a combination of two important elements that have always, in many ways, prevented progress towards societal change and cultural revival. However, as this revolution is wreaking havoc on Arab societies, creating new realities and new narratives, many observers, of this part of the world, are duly asking the question: how will the Islamic religion react to this challenging situation: adapt to it or reject it?

Flexible Islam

In the 7th century, when Islam extended east and west from the Arabian Peninsula, conquering new lands and converting different peoples; speaking different languages, and practicing different cultures, the conquerors were met with fierce resistance in both directions. In North Africa, the native Amazigh people repulsed the Arab conquerors under the leadership of the able and beautiful Jewish princess Kahina and General Kousseila. Realizing that they were preaching an austere religion that wants to practice an act of tabula rasa on the culture, they adopted a different approach geared towards accepting the cultural substratum and giving it Islamic names.

Thus, in Morocco, in the Northern village of Tatoft, there existed a pagan rite dating back to the God Pan and his fertilization act of the land through sexual intercourse with rural women. This practice, within an agricultural society, had a strong significance and impact on the popular belief of the population. Islam could not get rid of it; instead, it incorporated it within Islamic folklore. So, instead of the lascivious God Pan, half-goat, half-man, with strong sexual desire and libido, a man dressed in skins took the part.  The celebration rather than happening at the beginning of the new agricultural cycle was anchored to Aid Lkbir, the Islamic feast of sacrifice, which would provide the skins to be worn by a man in the cave. Then, he would come out running and dancing to the music of oboes of the world-famous Master Musicians of Jajhouka and flailing women that are sterile to inseminate them. Thus, any form of copulation, unacceptable to Islam, is scratched out of the rite, but the essence of the tradition is kept.

The Islamic coloring of the celebration is further strengthened by the introduction, in the rite, of a useless character dressed in white, called Lhaj, the man who went to Mecca for pilgrimage. This celebration initiated in the north is now practiced all over the country; it is known as boujloudiyya in Arabic and bou-irmawen in Tamazight.

The silent revolution is in full swing

The millennials are those children born at the turn of the millennium (a period of time extending from 1990 to 2005.) They came to life at the height of the digital revolution, spreading the ideals of globalization and freedom. The net is their arena for political activism and social intercourse. Their ideals center around: democracy, freedom, respect of human rights, preservation of the environment, and the bashing of devious political and cultural practices and dogmatic religious beliefs.

In America, the millennials have stood by the Palestinians against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, a move that is unheard of in the annals of American politics. In the Arab World, the millennials successfully bashed dictatorships during the Arab Spring and are busy changing how politics is conducted. The millennials’ spring of democracy may be momentarily faltering, but it is not dying, it is just picking up steam for future rounds, more fruitful, hopefully.

In Morocco, the millennials are busy attacking the foundations of traditional culture and pushing further the frontiers of freedom. They all have new tools for expressing themselves openly: PCs, phablets, smartphones, and tablets. They can get Wi-Fi free connection in most cafés, restaurants, and public places, and even one city, El Jadida, is apparently offering free internet services within the municipality limits. Anyway, most cell phones are smartphones nowadays and have 4G technology.

Because the state media has always been in the service of the political and religious establishments, glorifying obsequiously the conservative and absolute monarchy and chanting the praise of a traditional and austere Islam that refuses to adapt to the realities of modern times. Sick of the fact that this media hardly ever treats subjects that are close to their hearts, the youth representing almost 40% of the population, in Morocco, created their own exclusive world on the Internet bashing the red lines of both politics and religion, forever.

This unprecedented silent revolution is taking place in Morocco and many Arab countries at the same time. It is true that the West and the rest of the world have been charmed by this Arab unprecedented awakening nicknamed « The Arab Spring », writing hundreds of books and articles about it and making documentaries about its various manifestations, but nobody is paying any attention, whatsoever, to the quiet cultural revolution taking place instantly. The difference between the two phenomena being, that while the Arab  Spring has been hijacked by the more absolutist Islamists pushing back societies to the Middle Ages, the cultural revolution is thriving because nobody is paying attention to it, at least for the time being.

However, one of the good things about Morocco is the fact that the officials did not impose filters on the Internet as is the case in many Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc.

What are the various manifestations of this silent cultural revolution in Morocco?

Political arena

Monarchy: In the 2011 constitution, as in all the ones before it is stated clearly that the person of the king is respected i.e. above any form of criticism, whatsoever. As such, all political parties from left or right adhere to this law, instead, they criticize and vilify the government, to be understood as an indirect way of questioning the king’s governance politely. The youth, however, point out that the establishment is going back on its promise of incremental democracy and incremental devolution of power, through a massive co-optation of politicians from left and right. But in spite of all this criticism, they yet adhere to the monarchy as a symbol of arbitration and stability due to its historical and religious legitimacy, which has remained unscathed.

Political establishment: The millennials criticize openly the self-perpetuating political parties, who never defend the interests of the electorate, but instead are subservient to the monarchy to further their interests by partaking unabashedly in the massive plunder of national wealth. So, for the youth whether they are from the left or they are from the right, politicians are all co-opted by the regime and indulge in corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, and abuse of power openly. So, the political elite is patriarchal and tribal, in essence, though they preach modernity and democracy in their political discourse and narrative.

Political traditions: The youth openly reject the traditional form of the monarchy and government, known as Makhzen, which is obsolete, in format, and archaic, in essence. As such, they reject the bay’a, which is the traditional expression of allegiance that takes place on the second day of the Throne Day in July, whereby thousands of state employees and elites and local and national representatives, dressed in white djellabas (Moroccan traditional robes), bow to the king on his horse, an action which almost goes back to 13 centuries ago, when the monarchy was first set up in Morocco. This act may be seen as a perpetuation of tradition but these traditions, in the eyes of the youth, also entrench the concept of the subject, an individual who has only obligations, instead of that of the citizen who has equally obligations and rights.

The youth are calling for a revamping of the monarchy, indeed the « Mouvement du 20 Février » that came in the heels of the Arab uprisings called for the establishment of constitutional monarchy instead of the present executive monarchy.

Social arena 

Patriarchal and tribal obedience bashing: The Moroccan youth have always been silenced by the patriarchal and tribal concept of respect of seniority. In presence of the seniors, the youth are taught to keep silent and listen to the elders who have more experience. So, actually, the youth never get a chance neither to express their opinions nor become political elite. Indeed, the whole political and social arena is off-limits to them, while the elder dinosaurs dominate every walk of life to the extent that the political arena looks like it is a true Jurassic park and that is, undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the advent of the Arab Spring.

In the West, the youth are encouraged to form political elites, in Morocco and the Arab world, they are stifled and repressed and any rebellion on their part is considered as a rejection of tradition and religion.

Female freedom: Since the adoption of a new family code in Morocco known as Moudawana in 2004, Moroccan women are enjoying more freedom than in the past. Indeed, they can get married without the permission of a family guardian, refuse polygamy for their husbands and enjoy a better deal in inheritance. This new family code has indeed empowered women and helped them break the chains of traditional slavery, once for all, in spite of the resistance of the Islamists by imposing Hijab and drastic dress code on their females.

Religious arena

Sexual revolution: Men and women are joining forces to fight sexual religious taboos by open dating with partners inside and outside the country ending up either in marriage with non-Muslims or illicit haram relationships. Islamic religion allows men to marry non-Muslims freely but disallows females unless the would-be partner converts to Islam. Nowadays, women are not sticking anymore to this religious constraint.

Sex workers: Many Moroccan women are exhibiting their naked bodies on the net to find work in the Gulf States as sex workers, something which has always been outlawed by religion. Worse many fathers and families are encouraging their female offspring to migrate to the Gulf countries to make money as prostitutes. In many ways, this has become accepted practice within society. In addition hundred of Gulf youth and adults come to Morocco for sexual tourism in such cities as Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Agadir.

Gay practice: Gay culture has existed in Morocco since the dawn of history and was always tolerated by society, as long as it is kept secret. However, thanks to the digital revolution, gays, and lesbians are coming out of the closet to display openly their sexual identity, without the fear of any retribution. Also, Tangier, Marrakesh, Essaouira, and Agadir have become gay nests alongside the traditional Tangier gay community which thrived thanks to foreigners, some of them very prominent on the public scene such as the late French writer Jean Genet and the late American writer Paul Bowles. Moroccan gays are not only coming out of the closet, but they are also writing about their « deviant » sexual identity, such as the Moroccan French Abdellah Taia, who published a book on his sexual orientation.

Public Show of affection: In 2013 two youngsters, from the conservative northern city of Nador, on leaving their school, kissed publicly and the video of their embrace was posted on YouTube. Their unusual act triggered various reactions nationwide: those who applauded the act and asked for the strengthening of personal freedom and those religiously-minded people who asked the state to punish the kids, who were, supposedly, under the subliminal influence of the western media.

In compliance with its conservative nature, the state arrested the couple, but this act triggered a worldwide campaign for their release, and couples of youngsters organized a kiss-in in front of the parliament in Rabat, in defiance of religious conservatism. Under the pressure of the public worldwide, the government released the kids and dropped charges.

The Amazigh befriend Israel: Since the revival of the Amazigh nationalism in North Africa, the Amazigh militants in Morocco have been denouncing the official line on Islam and calling for the rewriting of history by stating clearly that the Arabs in the 7th century conquered North Africa by the sword and not by the act of peaceful conversion of the population to Islam known as futuHat.

They reject Islamic presence in the area as the worst form of colonialism experienced by the Amazigh people of this region in history. In their resistance to the Arab obliterating culture, they called for making Tamazight an official language, which was achieved in the constitution of 2011. However, their most abrasive move is to call for friendship with Israel by setting up Israeli-Amazigh associations, arguing that there are many Jewish Amazigh people, who have made a notable contribution to the culture and that Israel likes the Amazigh are victims of pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism.

Besides, films were made about the painful departure of the Jewish Amazigh to Israel such as Kamal Hachkar’s film: « Tinghir-Jerusalem: Les échos du Mellah .» For many Moroccan Arab nationalists, these Amazigh people are traitors of Morocco and Islam and should be arrested and put in jail, by all means.

Conclusion

Many people are arguing, quite strongly, that the Arab Spring is gone to the dogs, it might seem so, but the truth of the matter is that it is not. It is just picking up steam, redefining the route, and straightening up priorities, to resume progression, stronger than ever. The big change will happen in the Arab world, come what may, maybe not all at once, as many people would want, but in an incremental fashion because Arab minds are all framed in a traditional way and all constrained by religious dogmatism and determinism.

But, while the political change is happening slowly, the cultural revolution is bulldozing its way ahead, with much determination, and Moroccans millennials, in particular, and Arab millennials, in general, are busting taboos with much strength, be they cultural or religious, and creating a new reality on the ground. They want to create a future of their liking, responding to their real needs and not to the expectations of a religion or a culture, imposed on them. Actually, all they are doing is exercising their right to choose and decide for themselves.

About the Author
Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of “MENA region area studies” at Université Internationale de Rabat -UIR- and of “Education” at Université Mohammed V in Rabat, as well. Besides, he is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, American, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islamism and religious terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism. During 2015 he worked as Program Director with the USAID/CHEMONICS educational project entitled: “Reading for Success: A Small Scale Experimentation” in cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP). He recently taught cultural studies to Semester abroad students with AMIDEAST, IES and CIEE study abroad programs in Morocco insuring such courses as: “Introduction to Moroccan Culture,” “Contemporary North African History,” “Arab Spring,” “Amazigh Culture,” “Moroccan Jewish Legacy,” “Community-Based Learning” (internship with civil society organizations). He is, also, currently teaching “Communication Skills” and “Translation and Interpreting” to master students at The Institute for Leadership and Communication Studies –ILCS- in Rabat, Morocco and supervising several Fulbright students in areas of religion and culture in Morocco. He has taught in the past some courses in universities in the USA, Spain, France, Italy, England and Greece.
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