Wandering Thoughts, Vol.12
A couple of pieces of news worth commenting this week (or shall we say, the last 10 days)
The sideshow definitely settled in; at such serious times as these, the row just sprung on whether we should keep the Mawazine festival. Normally this anti-festival frenzy catches up only during the silly season -a pleonasm when it comes to Moroccan politics, but even more so during summer. This year, and under these quasi-historic circumstances, the frenzy started up earlier, and, there was a new element in the protesting crowd: it is no longer the socially-conservative, liberally-challenged crypto-islamist crowd that calls for scrapping the whole festival scheme, it’s also many of the pro-February 20th people, those with more progressive views, that is.
The row over Mawazine is not about the festival (although I suspect some have strong feelings about what they referred to as ‘orgies of debauchery’) but the symbolism it carries: when it started off, a decade ago, it was elitist (with, if I may say so, a much better musical offer) and it was directly attached to the Royal business. For a couple of years, Mawazine director was Mr. Abdeljalil Hjoumri, the very Collège Royal ‘s own headmaster. And step by step, perhaps due to a change in management, the festival turned more popular, more in line with other Summer festivals. As it is, Mawazine quickly turned to be very popular, a Rabat grander version of L’Boulevard -sometimes victim of its own success with the death of many attendants due to stampede to in 2009.
Now, Mawazine is identified with another sort of Palace insider (although I suspect the capital of Royal trust took a beating these days in his case) Mohamed Mounir -“M3”- Majidi is, up to now, the festival boss, so it is quite understandable Feb-20 protesters identify the Festival with its master and call for their removal; both. The conservative wing lept on the occasion; Some of them were humiliated last year with the Elton John case (allegedly because of his homosexuality and a concert he gave in Israel) and that could be a chance get back at the festival. I don’t position myself on this issue, because it suspiciously sounds very like a crafty counter-spin to avoid further popular attention (and pressure) on the constitutional reform. It happens sometimes: idle issues to act like smokescreen to much important ones.
As a matter of principle, I’m all for organizing festivals, as a temporary plug for a culture policy we need yet to define; I am however not in favour of organizing gigantic celebrations with the taxpayers’ money, especially when it involves a lot of foreign stars and the subsequent drain on our foreign reserves. At best, a privately-funded Mawazine without prejudice to the public finances is fine by me. The trouble is, it is not the case right now: indeed, the overall budget is MAD 27 Million, out of which public companies like CDG, OCP, Royal Air Maroc, ONE and Maroc Télécom are on the government balance sheet, either as integrated entities (thus usual beneficiaries of public subsidies) or as part of the government portfolio shareholding. Overall, there is about MAD 12.7 Million of (direct or indirect) public funding that needs to be scrutinized.
I have just got that book Ignace Dalle wrote on Hassan II. The first thing you need to know about Dalle is that he is a serious journalist; I am sure Gilles Perrault or Jean-Pierre Tuquoi are good journalists too, but the cardinal difference that makes Dalle’s books is the impressive bibliography references and the effort in keeping up with a dispassionate tone. Though contrary to the earliest “Les Trois Rois“, this “Hassan II: entre Tradition et Absolutisme“ is more of a psychological portrait; The book does not bring to light breaking news, I mean for any sensible observer, Hassan II set a standard of his own in absolutism, corruption and tyranny. Sure, circumstances were not in his favour, but then again, the anti-monarchy ‘mob’ were compelled to radicalise precisely because of his obnoxious behaviour.
One discovers some little-known anecdotes about him; I would be interested to read -or hear- about his groupies. Yes, there are still people -regrettably, young people- who believe we were blessed with his reign, a bulwark against the forces of anarchy, atheism and whatever doesn’t square with our ‘values’. Hopefully, when I finished reading the book, I immediately started re-reading the other one, the very book the late king wrote (or had written) in 1976 : “Le Défi”. And do let me tell you something: there lies the essential structure of our present propaganda, a basic clef-en-main module for Makhzenian argumentation.I personally enjoyed the way the late king exculpated Sultan Abdelhafid from his responsibility in signing the protectorate treaty:
[…] C’est dans ces conditions que le Maroc, contraint et forcé, dut céder à une double pression étrangère, qui s’exerçait de l’extérieur et de l’intérieur. Ainsi [fut signé] le Traité de Fès instituant le protectorat.
citing Moulay Hafid’s protest, […] Je représente un peuple qui n’a jamais été une colonie et qui n’a jamais été soumis ni asservi.
Funny, coming from someone who signed the treaty and got away with 40,000 pounds, a splendid villa in Tangier and a handsome pension from the French Résidence.
Even more interesting, the way independence was wrestled from France and Spain has been revisited to be in accordance with his taste; Then there’s the piece about agriculture, even though he fails to explain why agricultural output did not keep up with demographic growth – he prides himself with the 1966 Agrarian reform, and yet fails to explain why Habus, Guich and Makhzen estate have a lower return, nor does he explain why he did not take on these dubious status quo the way he did on French colonial farmers. He lists all the dams he had had built over the period, and yet fails to explain why the overall agricultural GDP still relies (even more so in the mid-1970) on raining season.
Education has been extensively discussed, with grand numbers that did not hide the truth; worse still, he prides himself on creating Arabic literature and Islamic sciences department in universities (perhaps to make up for the lack of achievement in core and social sciences, illiteracy and test results) Le Défi is definitely fun to read.
Overall the book (Dalle’s, not the king’s) reveals perhaps the more human side of Hassan II; by human (and not humane) I refer to how insecure the late monarch was about himself, his leadership, which might explain why he was at ease surrounding himself with spineless minions. It also shows that he was even prepared to go all the way, for the sake of his grip on power, to forgo corruption among his circle and within government. At times, I was even surprised how things were managed with a monarch set on enjoying himself and at the same time concentrating all powers. Overall, the book is really worth reading; I wonder whether it will not be censored in Morocco… I understand “Les Trois Rois” was no officially censored, but importers had very little incentive to order it (If they ever dare, what would happen to the importing license for instance?)
Can anyone remember an old TV Series “Fall Of Eagles” ? The story of three European imperial families: the Rumanovs, Habsburgs and Hohenzollern. absolutist rulers all of them, who eventually crumbled with the Great War, but never deemed necessary to reform in order to survive; Though it is a dramatized account of history, the blindness to disaster emperors and kings in Europe showed before 1914 came to the price of their thrones.
The parrallell is not, in my opinion too extreme: throughout the last half a century, the monarchy preferred to either temporize (Mohamed V) or to counter-react violently (Hassan II) or to alternate insidious arrests and generous largesses (Mohamed VI) but on all these instances, no one considers it a fruitful strategy to reform in order to remain in power.