Sunday, November 27, 2011

Life in Rabat: A year and a half later

I thought that coming back here would be filled with familiarities. The smell of diesel engines, cigarettes, and the warm air of the dusty road jogged my memory within minutes of landing in Casablanca. Arriving in Rabat and wandering around the city a year and a half since being here as a study abroad student felt much different: the train station had been renovated into this glamorous building that is now the focal point of the city, the tramway that was under construction when I was last here is now up and running, the cars seem larger, and the city feels more cosmopolitan. Of course, these are all superficial developments. What truly matters is the people. I wondered if they had changed? In light of the February 20th Movement and more generally speaking the Arab Spring, had it altered the way people thought? Do Moroccans really think things have changed? Do they believe something profound is happening beneath their feet?

This summer I had the opportunity to take part in a paid research position at Amherst College where I researched the development of human rights policy in Morocco. I looked at the reformation of the Moudawana (family code) and the new Constitution in depth. While I wasn’t able to arrive at any conclusive argument as to whether reforming these two documents would actually improve Moroccan society, I did realize that there is one commonality between the opinions of majority of academics and the general Moroccan public: the problem of implementing and proliferating the content of these two documents throughout the country. While the urban upper and middle class (ie: educated, more liberal, etc.) is well aware of these changes and has no difficulty implementing them in their daily lives, the predominantly illiterate rural communities are unaware of them. Ironically, it is this demographic that all of these policy changes are allegedly targeting - greater women’s rights, educational reform, etc. And thus, the problem is circular: the privileged urban class is educated enough to understand what they deserve and therefore fight on behalf of all Moroccans while the underprivileged rural population who require these reforms the most lack the education to realize that they deserve more than what they are getting. In reality, nothing seems to change.

Coming back to Morocco "post-Arab Spring" has been a very interesting experience. I am trying to remain conscious of my unique position as a foreigner that has the ability to simultaneously view the developing sociopolitical situation from the point of view as an American female as well as a "local". So far, here are the two major positions that I have seen demonstrating in the last few months:
Mamfakinch is a predominantly youth-led website/forum that shares this outlook. Their name translates to, “we won’t stand for it” or “we’re not satisfied”. They argue that the efforts towards reform are anemic at best and they demand a greater overhaul of the Moroccan political system that welcomes democracy by giving more rights to the citizens and Parliament and fewer to the King.

On the other side of the coin are the Royalistes, which is a group that stands for just what its name suggests: power to the Monarchy. While the February 20th Movement and Mamfakinch are mostly youth and the disenchanted educated Moroccans who despite holding advanced degrees from highly esteemed universities are unable to find work, the Royalistes are primarily of the older generation who are employed by the state.

I apologize for the disjointedness of this post and hope that despite its inconclusiveness, it paints a picture of what is going on in my head so far.

Stay tuned.