The Moorish Wanderer

Cry, O My Beloved Country. My Day at the Police Station

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on December 28, 2010

I just emerged from a nap. Yes, at this hour and on this side of the hemisphere, it looks like over-laziness. I am recovering from a 6 hours stand as part of my application for the new ID card. I have successfully completed the third and penultimate step before I can be granted my new ID card.

It’s not like I did that for the first time. I already had mine this summer (and I would have written about it, but some considerations prevailed) but the dumb-witted, incompetent, and careless police services mis-transcribed my family name. Both in Arabic and French. So in my ID card, I sound like I do not belong to the Baghough family (although my family name is not Baghough. but you get the gist, right ?). Spooky. And because of that, I had to go round the application process all over again; Common sense would be for me to present the police services with a paper stating they made a mistake, then print a new card.Common sense, or indeed the most straightforward, rational and inexpensive course of action. But no! You will have to start all over again, Mister, and make sure you stop by every potential police centre before they showed you the one you are supposed to go to to get your fingerprints done. And [drum rolls] that was the same one I was in for this summer.

I am middle class, with some working class background, with which I have nothing to be ashamed of. My neighbourhood however, is part of an aggregate of  heterogeneous districts. Bad luck, the constabulary overseeing the borough is located right in the outskirts of a shanty town. So there I was, having the incommensurate pleasure to deal with policemen whose regular day involves shoving delinquents for mugshots, with a more than acceptable amount of verbal abuse, and some occasional physical one as well. How could a mild-manner, cosmopolitan and liberal Moroccan like me be possibly at ease in such place? By the way, most regular applicants there were good-mannered, partly because they came from similar neighbourhoods to mine, or because of this gut-feeling fear for the police uniform. There was little difference between what I lived through last summer and today. I have now the opportunity to report on these matters.

Civil services can err sometimes. As far as Morocco is concerned, they do that a lot. But in my case, they most certainly are in a striking form: first my baccalaureate degree, then my passport, my first ID card, my second ID card, my first Scholarship application, you name it. I understand the civil service in Morocco is not some sort of coalesced conglomerate administrations, but rather a motley of departments, each one ambushed with a missing paper, a mistyped name, an uncompleted application form on their behalf. Each department made mistakes, but I am the one paying for them.

Today, or rather, the couple of days before, the sole institution I had every motive to believe to be doing its job right, admitted, -explicitly- its own carelessness. Because I tend to write some carping pieces about Morocco, more specifically on some influential spheres on Morocco, and because of some much-prided family history, I thought I had my own entry with the intelligence services. I still think it to be so. I have no problem with that, they are after all doing their job in monitoring potentially troublesome elements. I now realize they might not be getting my name right, a revelation that strikes a fatal blow to the image I had of police and security services, as a juggernaut of ‘can-do’ attitude. I mean, the guys have all the papers, all the records, my family records, my dates of entry and exit from the country, possibly some tapes and recordings of phone conversations with the family, my internet history for all I know. How can they miss such a thing?

I wrote a post for Talk Morocco about the need and benefits for a civil service. I still stand by it, but the extent of time wasting and the ferociously contemptuous attitude the policemen affected there was a bit of bewilderment: ‘how can they hold the country together if they keep on being like so?’. Things started at 7 a.m, where about 70-ish people already were waiting by, their names on that piece of paper the policeman in charge of lining (applicants, not suspects) collects at 8.30 am. There’s at least one commendable thing on allowing elderly and disabled people to go through the fast lane. But for others, hellish waiting list. at 9.a.m. the shout-y lining constable came in, and started barking his orders: ‘get in line’, ‘check your papers’, ‘women on the left-hand side of barrier, men on the other side’, ‘shut up, I’m talking’… Just regular morning talk.

At the station. Today was apparently a light day. 100 applicants.

I don’t need to bother the readers with trivial details during the waiting bit, unless you might be interested that the police is cracking down on sub-Saharan immigrants: loads and loads of them were boarded out of the Police vans and hurled onto the gates, sometimes with helps of forceful shoving and contemptuous ‘happy slaps’. This unexpected encounter triggered some racist comments from my fellow applicants about their skin colour, and the usual array of stereotypes about our fellow Africans. At that moment, I wish I’d brought my earphones. I would have gladly argued with them, but when it comes to Cartesian arguments with Moroccan average Joe, I tire rapidly. Women looked more disciplined, in the sense they kept on to the line, and displayed some surprising solidarity, like this young lass cadging her fellow liners to let her in first, because time was running out, and she was due to go back to the factory. Or indeed that young mother who lost sight of her child (who brings children to police station? She might have circumstances, though). Mixing backgrounds give surprising results: I unfortunately eavesdropped on a conversation between a fair-skin middle-aged woman (which, by my account, looked and sounded like a native Rbati) and a darker, more humble-background young woman, on the benefits of education, and how they dealt with their respective offspring.

I held off reasonably well till noon. My patience started to run out. I felt I was actually looking for a trifle to start off a riot-y shout against the police station. I thought the poor guard was going to bear the brunt of my angst, even though he had little direct responsibility for it. I cooled down with a gum, but soon after I started wondering: ‘what was I doing here?’ I even considered walking out. Come what may, I thought I should be content I had my ID card, albeit with a small typo. Who cares? That’s what happens: within a brief amount of time, I radicalised to the point of looking for a brawl with the hateful representative of the oppressive regime, and the moment after, I was down in the troughs, just wishing to go back home. The humiliation of being reduced to a number, waiting for the good graces of a fifth-rate constable are unbearable, even to the coolest.

1.30 p.m, I was finally let in the vestibule leading to the fingerprints room. staff computing the data on computers are dressed in civilian clothes. They look young, and some of them are indeed young graduate from Police institute. They smell poor: they had a rise a couple of months ago, so they started buying new clothes, with a profound lack of harmony in their choices.They frankly looked bedizen, gaudy, and for some of the female staff, openly bawdy even without make-up. I assume they work with the Renseignements Généraux. they looked down on the constables, giving them orders with obvious sneering. Some offensive jokes flew around about what they thought were comical names. No ethics, no respect for the applicants.

20 minutes later, I was called in. The young female staff in front of me was dyed-hair blonde, garish-clad, with a soupçon of ill-educated tone when she addressed me. She had a look to my ID card, then, without looking at me, uttered: ‘something’s wrong with the card?’. I surprised myself into answering ironically, but I was even more surprised to note she did not response to my pique.

– ‘My family name was mis-typed. You people made a mistake and I had a hard time trying to correct it’

– ‘It can’t be helped. Oh wait… (She compares papers and card) there’s nothing wrong with your card.’

– ‘If I may. there’s a space here that should not be there. Someone was being incompetent at the central, or here when I applied last July. You people should check your paperwork more carefully’

At that point, I felt I my nudge was unbearable to her. She had to assert her authority back. She had to rebalance things up, to show who’s the boss. But I had the taste of open rebellion in my mouth, and I was not ready to give it up.

-‘What do you mean, incompetence?’

-‘I mean some of your colleagues were sloppy in transcribing my family name. My parents and others pay for your wages, you know. And you just had a pay rise, so please do make sure you do not screw up this time’

My line must have had an effect on her, because she retreated carefully into her redoubt of papers, while her co-workers looked me up in an estranged manner: ‘who’s that young lad ?’ I had crossed a line in confronting the staff with their own incompetence. But right now, they had so much work they did not pay much time to my calculated insolence.  Fingerprints went down fairly quickly. In ten days, I will have to go to the central station to claim my ID back, and resume my dignity as a would-be citizen of this country.