The Moorish Wanderer


Posted in Dismal Economics, Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on August 19, 2012

Last day of the fasting month. Can’t find anything spiritual about it, other than a sharp increase of overt religious behaviour. Incidentally:

عيد فطر سعيد للجميع

I was browsing through the New Statesman twitter feed (great newspaper by the way) when I stumbled upon a great article on Ramadan and its impact on productivity, GDP and other macroeconomic aggregates.

You see, one of the big ideas about Islam as a major monotheist religion, is its supposedly ready-made “الإسلام دين الفطرة، صالح لكل زمان ومكان” its fitness is timeless, omniscient and ubiquitous ; in economics, in particular, Islamic banking, with the big money it raises annually, seems to point to a revival of some Islamic Capitalism. I remain however much more sceptical, because the basic model (for academics anyway) in Arrow & Debreu provides a general setting for risk sharing and market completeness, which means all the trouble Hallal financial products go through to avoid paying interest end up useless: in technical terms, the stochastic discounting factor is still there. Enf of story. As for the supposedly eminent benefits of Ramadan, it seems our Moroccan society, through its behaviour during daylight and after sunset, points to an unhealthy cross-over between mass consumption keynesianism and an over-indulging economy. Hardly the stuff of austere Muslims.

Back to The New Statesman story, I wonder how Ramadan affects the national economy, not just market volatility. The trouble is, monthly – or even quarterly- GDP data is usually hard, if not impossible to find. We have to find a device to generate it; but for the time being, let us just focus on the immediately available daily data, the stock market, and then work our way up the economy to assess the ‘Ramadan effect’. Let us before just list some (obvious ?) assumptions about it:

– Sharp increase in household and public sector consumption and low productivity: variations in household consumption are understandable, the public sector on the other hand, has a different set of dynamics to it, since public servants are paid the same for fewer worked hours; finally, lower productivity can be observed everywhere.

– Contrary to the article on the Egyptian Stock Market, I posit market volatility decreases, simply because volume and price turnouts are low.

– Balance deficit is higher than usual: we would tend to import a lot more than usual during or before Ramadan.

MASI Stock Index tends to perform little growth during the Ramadan Month: annual growth is .03%, while it grows .05% in normal days.

Let us start with the stock market from the early 1990s (available data from the Casablanca Stock Exchange trace it as far back as 1992) with 5,140 days, including about 599 Ramadan days. We first observe daily trades tend to generate a modest profit in non-Radman days, up to .11%. On the other hand, Ramadan days observe either quasi-stable index value, or more often than not, small index decreases, as high as .03% in absolute value.

Overall, the differences in daily growth between Ramadan and Non Ramadan trades is statistically significant, and because of the sample size, it would be safe to validate the earlier assumption. On the other hand, we should state that respective standard deviations are not statistically different from one and another, which further buttress the claim not only the stock exchange does not do as well as normal day as during Ramadan, but more importantly, volatility does not increase – contrary to the findings of the New Statesman article on the Egyptian stock exchange. as far as the MASI goes, Ramadan is just a set of 30-odd slow days, with less money to make, and thus higher risk to run into losses.

What about the real economy? Though daily or monthly data is unavailable, we can use quarterly data to proceed with similar analysis: if the assumption holds, we should expect quarters including Ramadan to be significantly different from the remaining 3 others: differences need to be accounted for in GDP, Consumption and Government Expenditure (Inflation could be included as well).

(Note: Statistical results are either t-tested or sample-based variance comparison tests, and these can be found further down the post)

We consider hard data from 1989:I to 2011:IV to check these assumptions: because of the 11-days rule-of-thumb to match Christian and Islamic calendars, we assume Ramadan belongs to the quarter were most of its days are located; alternatively, we could also look at two quarters instead of one, but that would dilute an already blurry picture (it might also explain why the second graph does not provide equal distances between quarter)

Two observations can made:

1/ Inflation increases during or shortly after Ramadan:over the observed 92 quarters, Ramadan-linked inflation tends to be significantly higher than either aggregate or non-Ramadan-linked quarters. Quarterly inflation during Ramadan tends to increase 2.5 times that of normal days, and about twice as much as the aggregate CPI; furthermore, because Ramadan and Non-Ramadan inflation exhibit essentially the same levels of volatility, the Ramadan effect on CPI is undeniable: it contributes on average .77 percentage point to regular inflation. This is robust evidence for price increases during Ramadan. The second point deals with the source of this CPI-related inflation, in this case household and public sector consumption.

Keynesian month indeed: CPI inflation and Consumer-led growth are stronger during Ramadan (dark Blue for GDP, light blue 1989 base year CPI)

2/ Consumption-based GDP components do a lot better than overall output: Government expenditure tends to be a lot more volatile than (and grows at higher pace) GDP. Contrary to other aggregates, there is a pitfall to be aware of; government expenditure tends to increase at the end of the year (departmental budgets need to be fully used to get the next annual budget) but even with that bias, we observed government expenditure increases during the Ramadan month, although at a steadier pace, when compared to aggregate and non-Ramadan quarters.

As for Household Consumption, results are similar to those of GDP, with an additional effect: Consumption typically increases a couple of months before the Ramadan quarter, and is a lot more significant when both compared to aggregate and non-Ramadan household consumption. Though there is need to provide an adequate framework model to link them, we can at least assert Ramadan inflation is tightly linked to a higher than usual levels of consumption for both public and private agents.

I quipped early Ramadan it was a Keynesian month, turns out I was right on the Consumption and Price Level:

So there goes the statistical evidence Ramadan in Morocco is no spiritual month: productivity is low in the economy as a whole, consumption is high (aren’t we supposed to fast out of sympathy for the hungry?) and if anything, we are losing anything between 3.1% and 3.2% in annual productivity per effective worker. In the aggregate economy, Ramadan means productivity takes a (roughly) 28% to 40% dive. Well, the figure seems a little far-fetched, and computed on quarterly basis, but it would be fair if we posit the overly optimistic assumption of productivity as a linear combination of worked hours. Either way, the Moroccan economy is brought to a productivity near stand-still every quarter.

The last assumption has to do with the trade balance: over the past decade (2005-2010) in theory, monthly imports are supposed to be more or less uniformly distributed, i.e. Morocco receives about 8.3% of its annual import each month. We observe however this is not the case; in fact, we tend to import less than monthly average on Ramadan, but more than make up for it in the month before, up to 20% of annual imports are concentrated on two months (Ramadan and the month before).

Variance ratio test MASI
Variable |     Obs        Mean    Std. Err.   Std. Dev.   [95% Conf. Interval]
g_rama~n |     437    .0003361    .0003469     .007251   -.0003456    .0010179
 g_non_r |    4702    .0004557    .0000995      .00682    .0002608    .0006507
combined |    5139    .0004456    .0000957     .006857     .000258    .0006331
    ratio = sd(g_ramadan) / sd(g_non_r)                           f =   1.1304
Ho: ratio = 1                                   degrees of freedom = 436, 4701
    Ha: ratio < 1               Ha: ratio != 1                 Ha: ratio > 1
  Pr(F < f) = 0.9625         2*Pr(F > f) = 0.0751           Pr(F > f) = 0.0375

Variance ratio test IPC/CPI
Variable |     Obs        Mean    Std. Err.   Std. Dev.   [95% Conf. Interval]
icv_nonr |      69    .0052085    .0012316    .0102307    .0027508    .0076661
icv_Ra~n |      23    .0129398    .0021269    .0102004    .0085289    .0173508
combined |      92    .0071413    .0011166    .0107097    .0049234    .0093592
    ratio = sd(icv_nonr) / sd(icv_Ramadan)                        f =   1.0060
Ho: ratio = 1                                    degrees of freedom =   68, 22
    Ha: ratio < 1               Ha: ratio != 1                 Ha: ratio > 1
  Pr(F < f) = 0.4831         2*Pr(F < f) = 0.9662           Pr(F > f) = 0.5169

“Do you think she’s deeply and importantly talented?” – “No, but amusingly and superficially talented, yes”

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan History & Sociology, Moroccanology, Morocco, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on September 1, 2011

in times of low readership, there is nothing like Neo-burlesque to pick up some traffic, and of course it also provides leisure cover for serious issues. Whatever is needed to entertain the crowd.

Neo-burlesque has -and still is- been disparaged by too many people (including feminists by the way) as demeaning to women, the sign of reactionary longing for the days when women were more “feminine” i.e. more submissive. The discourse does not find its place in Morocco, however, for many reasons: our social relationship to sexuality is not only a taboo, but it has grown to be so for a majority of our fellow citizens. It is no wonder, since Moroccan households have been literally indoctrinated to embrace a viciously conservative stance, and develop a hostile reaction to all things ‘alien’ to our ‘national and Islamic identity’. Even a debate on mainstream sexuality would be followed by the deafening outcry of the bigots brigade (usually quartered in the Attajdid newspaper’s column) let alone a debate on sophisticated (er…) sexuality. In addition, this could be dismissed as a luxury: we do have some more urgent needs to attend to – and I suspect many lefties would agree and dismiss the whole things as Petit-bourgeois considerations- Still an all, sexuality remains one of the basic human needs, and does need to be attended too (got the pun there?)

Demeaning femininity? No, Glorifying it.

The golden age of burlesque -somewhere around the 1920s and 1940s- is paradoxically -when time adjusted for- the golden age of Moroccan women and their liberation. The garter might have been construed as a symbol of gender oppression in the United States or Europe, but it surely has been an instrument of liberation rather, at least on our shores. And let us not be mistaken, for men have freed themselves too from the outdated distribution of gender roles in sexuality. But then again, this does not mean Moroccans did not enjoy sexy before 1950, does it?

How about Hajja Hamdaoui? or the sensual Mal’houn poems? or our very own plump, gaudy, bawdy pin-ups, Cheikhates? These are all good pieces of evidence that some urban dwellers and the upper class did enjoy themselves thoroughly, a great deal of which involved what made up the bulk of Oriental fantasy: harem, slaves,… what have you. As for the remaining 95% other people, the leisure part took little or no place in their lives, and sex was basically there for reproductive needs only, to basically ensure the existence of a labour force large enough to make up for the mortality rate and provide a retirement insurance scheme.

And again, isn’t Burlesque just as exclusive as those items described above? isn’t it elitist, with that flavour of sexual leisure very few of us can or would enjoy? Yes! but so are education, literature, arts, etc…. these are not always at the disposal of everyone, while they should. Regardless, the mere allusion to sex as a “normal” social function is enough to belittle proponents of such claim and label them as out of touch or deviants, or both; The truth is, that selective list of items to be improved and others to be left for a while is a foolish exercise of populist conservative ideology.

The claim that the libertarian flavour of Burlesque reminds Moroccan women of a golden age when they rushed through to claim their rights and gender equality; that period embodies female empowerment through vibrant sexuality and liberation from a certain type of clothing: 1947, I suppose, is a good date to mark that change for Women in Morocco, indeed:

In the Moroccan coastal city of Tangier, frenzied crowds cheered hoarsely as a majestically robed figure on a white horse rode past to receive their homage.[…]

The man on horseback was His Majesty Sultan Sidi Mohammed ben Youssef, and the purpose of his visit that hot, sunny April day in 1947 was to give sustenance to a dream that has since become reality: freedom and independence for his country.

The next night, in the patio of Tangier’s casbah, a lissome girl in a shimmering blue silk Lanvin gown, milk-white turban and evening slippers gracefully ascended a dais piled high with priceless Oriental carpets, and turned to face her audience. Younger men in the audience eyed appreciatively the girl’s dark eyes, her rich red-brown hair and café au lait complexion. But many orthodox Moslem traditionalists just stared wide-eyed, stunned and aghast at the appearance in public of Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Aisha, eldest daughter of His Majesty the Sultan—17 years old, unveiled and unashamed. (Times, November 1957)

Princess Royal Aisha, TIME Nov.57: "a call to shake off an age-old bondage fastened on them"

By showing dressed like a movie star, Princess Royal Aisha was indeed at the vanguard of sexual liberation; the immediate years following independence only exacerbated the yearning for gender equality: if men could wear western clothes, why wouldn’t women too? And so the battle for gender equality started off, with women working outside and claiming equal pay too, while they were carrying their rights as individuals.

The 1960s, in the minds of the greatest generation Morocco ever had yet, -and that is not an overstatement- is associated to a sense of freedom – the late 1960s in fact, as reported by Paul Pascon in his comprehensive survey with young rural dwellers. And unless some other survey comes to contradict this and confirm that Moroccans have all lilly white morality, then the ad hominem argument about opposition between morality and fitness for government should be dropped altogether.

The conservative side of Moroccans cannot be denied, but it has been pointed out that generally speaking, there are specific items young Moroccans tend to gainsay; indeed:

Au Maroc, l’attachement à la tradition est généralement valorisé. Ce qui est des fois remis en cause, ce n’est pas la tradition en tant que telle mais tel ou tel élément traditionnel. L’évaluation se fait selon divers critères. Certaines traditions sont bannies parce que jugées hétérodoxes, d’autres sont rejetées au nom de la science et du progrès.

(50-years report – Values annex, page 35)

The conservative variable can definitely be put aside, save for activists who tend to bully public opinion into endorsing them, the current state of mind is rather that of “individualistic conservatism” where each individual comes up with a customized interpretation of what they consider ‘true traditions’, which is not precisely what tradition is about…

In any case, and even though stripping falls into the category of ‘vice’ -per the Moroccan law, anyway- conservatives would do well to heed Bernard Mandeville‘s advice in the “Fable of the Bees“:

THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive

To make a Great an Honest Hive.

T’ enjoy the World’s Conveniences,

Be fam’d in War, yet live in Ease,

Without great Vices, is a vain

Eutopia seated in the Brain.

(Fable of the Bees, 1732)

Bottom line: Dita Von Teese rocks, and what she stands for should mean a lot to Moroccan women.

PS: Post is dedicated to Shiftybox, may she take the bait.

Funny Zemzami, The Necrophile Scholar

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH on May 10, 2011

Yes, we do have a freak show going on these days. But none of our Monstres Sacrés can match the latest Fatwa published by the (respected) Islamic Scholar and member of the religious establishment, Abdelbari Zemzami. He basically allows sexual intercourse with a corpse. Yes. Necrophilia is now Halal in Morocco by the grace of Alem Zemzami.

I should perhaps be more specific in Zemzami’s Fatwa: he allows the widowed husband to have sexual intercourse with the corpse of his deceased wife. The Fatwa does not say whether it reciprocates for a woman (although I suspect even with rigor mortis, it will not do) nor does it specify how many hours after the wife’s death a man can still, you know… perform their marital duties. If it was not for the scholar’s level of seniority, I would dismiss this fatwa as yet another deranged, lonely individual who did not get some for a while. But this is Zemzami. And it is a Fatwa from an official of the Habousministry. If indeed such Fatwa is genuine.

Abdelbari Zemzami, the Man who brings sunshine to the Nihilists' dreary lives. (Picture ALM)

But the issue goes beyond our funny Zemzami – please follow the hashtags #FunnyZemzami and #ZemzamiFatwa, you will get a kicking out of the twittoma’s imagination and acerbic witticism- and strikes at the very heart of individual freedom and the rule of positive law; Zemzami is empowered to produce Islamic rulings that can easily be considered an obligation on the Muslim community in Morocco; As a Alem, an Islamic Scholar, his Fatwas are norms. He can claim to actually dictate what we, as members of the Ummah, should do or not do. We are thus submitted to the double fetter of God’s law, and Man’s law.  We individual citizens have no grip on such legislation, an infringement on our democratic rights, and perhaps the most straightforward argument in favour of the criticism that Morocco is no democracy.

Zemzami justifies his ruling by means of analogy: Since a good Muslim couple will meet again in Heaven, and since death does not alter the marital contract (in his opinion) it is not a hindrance to the husband’s desire to have sexual intercourse with the corpse of his (freshly) deceased wife. A deranged mind and flawed logical thinking seem not to be part of the position of Senior Alem’s requirements. I am no Islamic Scholar (thank God) but I remember from my (compulsory and utterly boring) High School Islamic courses that there is a minimum amount of logical thinking when the Imam (or Alem) makes their Ijtihad, or investigations. And quite frankly, I really don’t see how he managed to find a ruling for the deceased; The Islamic literature is very extensive on the living (as it normally should be) but Zemzami’s ruling tops them all. He seemed to overlook the procreating objective of marital mating (this is why concepts such as “نكاح المتعة” are forbidden)

Indeed, Zemzami’s ruling is funny. It is so, because if one wants to think of it otherwise, the first thing to spring to mind is something like: “what goes on the man’s life to take such a keen interest in such an obscure issue to devote time and resources and come up with a an even stranger ruling”? I mean, perhaps the Habous officials do bore themselves to death in their offices, but still, they are civil servants and receive their salaries (comfortable salaries in Zemzami’s case) on the taxpayer’s dime. It is only just to question the man’s competence (never mind sanity) and legitimacy to dream up rulings regulating our lives.

Abdelbari Zemzami, again, is no ordinary scholar: he is formally a الخبير في فقه النوازل which means an Expert in Exceptional Matters, issues that have not been delineated in the Quran, the Hadith, or anywhere in Sharia law. Zemzami actually did his job: such a bizarre occurrence never happened before, and was never discussed in past scholarly work or in the original Islamic laws, so it is up to him, the expert, to come up with something. Yes, Zemzami is the chief scholar at the vanguard of new Islamic rulings designed to make life more harmonious within the Islamic community. Frightening.

The whole idea of a Ulema corps is at odds with democracy. First because it is another infringement on individual rights; Indeed, we are living in a society, and because of it, individuals need to sacrifice some of their rights for the sake of the collective freedom. The democratic setting minimizes these fetters to the necessary rules required for a peaceful  coexistence. This means that no restrictions should be put on intimate issues -which religions, especially Islam, want to regulate in accordance to their teachings, so as to achieve their Holy City utopia. In view of these elements, positive law is sufficient an infringement on individual freedom to indulge in adding yet another restriction. And even though there is no direct link between the Penal sanction of non-marital sexual relationships and Zemzami’s fatwa, I suspect frustrations due to the repressive sexual policy, as it were, do lead to such Vaudevillian situations; Opening up to sexual tolerance and essential the breaking of ‘wedlock monopoly‘ could help stem dangerous behaviour (rather than encourage them, as the conservative theory goes)

Zemzami’s ruling is a blessing in disguise: it furthers the cause of secularists; It is the proof that dogmatic and conservative policies are a failure, and frustrations and social deviances arising from such fettering rules are a blatant rebuttal to those who believe all Moroccans will be moral knights and dames. Subsequently, instead of treating everyone as a devout Muslim (and punishing anyone who does not care about it) it is easier, and nicer, to scrap these pieces of legislation. It also have the courage to do away with hypocrisy (the penal code punishes non-observant of Ramadan but not those who do not go to the Mosque, even though prayers have seniority as an Islamic pillar)

Oh, and one last thing. Zemzami really should be put in some asylum. Or allowed to set up a One Man Show; that way he will do no harm to the saner people. And it seems he stands by his ruling: necrophilia is Halal. Looking forward to the next ruling on f**king goats.

Open Society Project. Part II: The Social Fabric

Part of the Open Society project is to achieve a secular, tolerant and individual-oriented society for Morocco. There are ways to achieve these objectives by means of designing adequate social engineering programs, but the essential feature of this project is that it needs to rip out the pungent effects of a policy implemented some 40 years ago.

It is true Morocco stands out as ‘Moderate’ in terms of religious observance, and many well-documented commentators do consider our country to be much more liberal -in its laws or its tolerance to social deviance– and, up to a point, this is true. But the trouble is, Morocco cannot be reduced to the Kenitra-Casablanca axis and a few urban centres around. There are parts of our country were fellow citizens are living miles and centuries away from Morocco Mall. And as it happens, talking about sexual freedom and de-penalising homosexuality might appear insulting to villagers in the Middle Atlas who die of frostbites whenever heavy snow blocks the roads up there.

I take the argument that we need economic development before we start addressing issues like gender equality or other items of individual rights and freedoms. A seemingly sound argument, but it betrays a static view of society. Humans living within organized communities do not mute their social background, nor do they shed away their education as soon as their material status improves; Though there is no distinguishable pattern to have a definite statement, it can be argued that, as far as Moroccan households are concerned, there is a certain amount of decorrelation between social status (and ensuing wealth) and professed social values. I always stand amazed at the way socially conservative acquaintances of mine can justify some of their own deviant behaviours (deviant with respect to the values they pretend to uphold, and frequently derail me for my own straightforward deviance) that, I guess, might be one of the numerous features of Moroccan genius, or sheer schizophrenia.

First off, and however thick it was laid, the veneer of national unity should not abuse the observer: the Moroccan society is deeply divided, and it will not heal it any time soon. It is divided on matters of race and ethnicity, on wealth distribution, on values and norms, it is divided, in my opinion, because it has been robbed of its history, and constrained with a straitjacket alien to all that made it what it is. We need to go beyond the dividing lines, and create a symbol of strength out of these differences, not perceived weaknesses.

Indeed, with 1956, we have been first robbed of Amazigh heritage when Istiqlal and UNFP nationalism decreed Morocco to be solely an Arabic-speaking country, and embraced Pan-arabism regardless of a substantial population’s own roots. Such pan-Arabist nationalism was marshalled by the monarchy too to enforce its hegemony and later on, to stifle Amazigh dissent. The current outcome is now a mess: yes, there is some official effort to rehabilitate Amazigh heritage, but there is political cowardice, or plain hostility in pushing further, and there are many who perceive this rehabilitation as a threat to our Arabic heritage.
The unbearable pressure for Arabic hegemony built up an equally radical Amazigh activism, and both sides settled on a cold war that heats up from time to time; In good times, such entrenched positions would have feed a passionate debate on our identities, but it seems not to be the case, each side refers to the other as the enemy: the invader or the traitor, make your pick.

We have been robbed of our present history: the Islamist lobby wants to impose on us an ideological version of Islam alien to the ‘local version’ that mixed up with pre-Islamic pageantry. A double curse as it is, Nasserist pan-Arabism gave way to the Islamist Internationale with a clear totalitarian agenda for the Apostate and the Unfaithful. ويل to whoever tries not to strictly observe the Islamic dogma. Begone the Jewish heritage, begone the numerous instances of gender equality in many of the Moroccan mountains, enter Wahhabi-style Islam.

The Moroccan society is ailing from the dividing lines because it has been deprived of its intrinsic wealth; Diversity has been stifled in the name of social cohesion and the ‘5th column’-style conspiracy theory. It is high time we addressed these wrongs.
The Social Project might be referred to as Grand Design, and it might be, by nature at least, but it is no burning vision of a holy city, nor is it a megalomaniac project for Übermenschen. Its primary internal logic is simple: put the individual as the nexus of social interactions, and abolish all intermediary entities between them and the State. Ambitious indeed, but not a contre-courant of the long-run trend as observed and recorded by various studies.

Let us first be clear about one thing: in its broad range, the Moroccan society is not ideologically conservative. If, and When the proposed policies below are implemented, the vast majority might feel hostile towards them, but actually a few activists will take to the street. And in any case, when the values of democracy, free speech and reasoned debate are upheld, there isn’t much to worry about, is there? Let us go forward and explore opportunities that would arise from an Open Society.

1) Ethnics: whether we like it or not, and whatever the level of mix-ethnicity in Morocco, there are strong self-identification patterns to be observed: It is almost impossible -and a bit racist- to claim, or to prove it, that such and such are pure ‘Aroubis, or Chleuhs or an Imperial City’s denizens. And yet, there is regionalist pride among say, young Riffis just as self-centred as that professed by inhabitants of Fes. Obviously, we cannot overrun these differences (it was the case for the last half a century, and it did nothing by to exacerbate the mutual defiance and transform them into open hostility) and any attempt to do so will at best weigh in hegemony from one side over the other, if not outright totalitarianism.
Why not recognize these differences as they are? Why is it such a perceived threat that moving from a ‘One Identity, One Nation’ would lead to the destruction of national unity? Is our society that fragile to constantly re-assure itself?

Let us consider the language issue: It would only make sense to cast aside Arabic as the Official Language, and put all three national idioms (plus Arabic because many Moroccans do speak the language) and elevate them to the position of National Languages? The argument of administrative cost is idle (and can be addressed by accelerating education reform and changing curriculum in local administrative school, if it is not already done. The Ecole des Cadres teaches local administrators an idiom, which can be useful when a Caid is posted in some remote Rif village) When human resources do master the language material, administrative procedures do not suffer from this hypothetical burden; Both arguments are shallow in fact, because they use the traditional bureaucratic inertia to block a legitimate aspiration, that of carrying everyday administrative procedures in one’s mother tongue. Is it such a onerous shore to print up forms in Soussi or use in the Agadir region?
Diversity comes first from ways to express it; in this case, languages are the main vehicle to consolidate this diversity the Open Society is set on protecting and nurturing.

We are De Facto living in a divided society, and the younger generations are no better than their elders in picking their choices; A constitutionally recognized diversity takes away the hegemonic position some ethnicities (or, to be more precise, some few families from a few Imperial cities) have abusively held for too long a time; It also defuses any future tensions between communities; By abandoning a monolithic norm, Morocco finally makes the right steps toward the essential feature of a democracy: diversity in all its forms.

2) Social Deviance: The word deviance here is used in its Durkheimian sense, i.e. behaviour that deviate from the perceived set of norms the majority of members identify as theirs. A refusal to observe Ramadan is considered to be a deviant behaviour, and it is highly disapproved of. Walking the street hand in hand with one’s significant other is frown upon. And yet, the Moroccan society acts as though these things do not exist, a bizarre enforcement of a rules that goes by : “What I don’t see doesn’t exist”. So there it is; as a whole, the Moroccan society, as noted on the Values’ Survey (50th Independence Anniversary Report) is not ideologically conservative, though elements of past policies have left a durable influence on the ambient conservatism, the essential feature of it is mainly due to a loss of ‘anchor values’; the Weltanschauung no longer fits the real world, thus the withdrawal to the safer and more secure conservatism, a behaviour indiscriminate of demographics or social classes.

So a couple of youngsters went on a picnic and started eating during Ramadan. Big Deal. Others did so some decades ago and none was arrested or heckled for their behaviour; Though the word might be too strong, such frenzy over the MALI operation is very close to fascistic behaviour. Indeed, a majority of Moroccans is Muslim, but how many of those are observing ALL of the Islamic pillars? How many would still be observing Ramadan if Article 222 was abolished? How many are already infringing on all articles outlawing non-marital intimate relationship?

In an Open Society scheme, individuals’ intimate behaviour cannot be subject to administrative or legislative constraints. A couple of leafs from the Code Penal will show examples of provisions that need to be abolished.

It seems the invoked legislative argument, ‘trouble a l’ordre public‘ is not because a particular behaviour contradicts the commonly-held values, but because there is fear some religious fanatic would carry out themselves punitive sentence. In effect, the Code Penal protects the liberally-challenged from modernity, thus comforting them in the idea that ‘these are our values’. The rule of law, in this case, abdicates before religious and bigoted lobby so as to avoid any confrontation with them. And yet here they are, terrorizing, censoring, excommunicating and declaring  anathemas in the name of religion on whoever tries to practise their freedom. religious Fascism at its rawest.

The Open Society project therefore seeks the abolition of the following articles:

Art 222. “Celui qui, notoirement connu pour son appartenance à la religion musulmane, rompt ostensiblement le jeûne dans un lieu public pendant le temps du ramadan, sans motif admis par cette religion, est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à six mois et d’une amende de 12 à 120 dirhams”.
Art 489. “Est puni de l’emprisonnement de six mois à trois ans et d’une amende de 200 à 1.000 dirhams, à moins que le fait ne constitue une infraction plus grave, quiconque commet un acte impudique ou contre nature avec un individu de son sexe”.
Art 490. “Sont punies de l’emprisonnement d’un mois à un an, toutes personnes de sexe différent qui, n’étant pas unies par les liens du mariage, ont entre elles des relations sexuelles”. (Penal Code)

And an amendment is required  on Articles 497, 498 and 501 so as to de-penalize prostitution, while increasing deterrent punishment on child prostitution and pornography. De penalization should encompass abortion (Articles 66, 446, and 449 to 458) and propose a fully-fledged law detailing recess and cooling-off periods, deadlines and medical conditions to be met, as well as the recognition of  principles of anonymity and free access to teenagers and rape victims.

Furthermore, mediaeval punishments, like death sentence should be abolished and replaced with perpetual imprisonment (Article 19) just like the tolerance of castration as an expeditious punishment  (Article 419) [Yes, the penal code allows for special circumstances, no pun intended…]

In addition, discriminatory dispositions should be lifted on married women (as they contradict the constitutional principle of gender equality) in this spirit, articles 495 to 496 assume married women to be submitted to their husband’s will, in flagrant contradiction with the principle of the status of co-head of household as specified in the 2003 Moudawana reform.

One of the characteristics of a democratic society is its tolerance to social deviance when it comes to contradiction with its census values. We need not be coy on these principles, and a radical shake-up of legislative texts like the Penal Code are more than needed to achieve this aim.

3) Protecting and Shielding the Weak and the Misfit: even though more and more women are contributing to society outside their homes, and whatever achievements the official line can boast about the reformed Moudawana, the fact remains, there is some resistance from influential lobbies, even within the administration itself; The tragic example of Fadwa Laroui should not delude us on the hardships that lay ahead.

There are conservative pundits that warned against a (relatively modest) increase of divorce court suit, and yet do not express similar outcry and turn the blind eye when judges indulge in generous dispensations for under-age marriage (but when Feminists care about the issue, it is swiftly dismissed as ‘typical feminist razzmatazz’ . As mentioned before, women are increasingly (and future projections are unequivocal on that issue) becoming breadwinners in their households, but those who do not fit within the social norms and are unfortunate to sustain themselves financially are cast aside. There are, following official figures, about 500.000 single mothers and divorcées, many of whom cannot sustain themselves or the children they are left with to care. The introduction of a Universal Benefit, for this population and for many others, is the most direct contribution of society to sustain them and help them to re-insert themselves in society.

This, in my opinion, is the difference between the social conservative and the radical reformer: the former couldn’t care less about the underdog, the latter tries to find ways to help them get through the rough patch. A radical social planner cares about society and individuals, a conservative one only about values and façades of social decorum.

I referred in another post to the idea of introducing Unemployment Benefits. I would like to devote the next ‘Open Society’ post to try and make up an comprehensive scheme that would go beyond that: a Universal Benefits scheme targeting the 5 to 10% of the less well-off of our citizens with enough resources to get them rolling before they join back in their productive contribution to society.

Religious Policy: Revamping the Habous

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan Politics & Economics, Moroccanology, Polfiction by Zouhair ABH on November 15, 2010

My Contribution to the November Issue of Talk Morocco. The topic is quite interesting, but also potentially explosive: “State & Religion” From the initial feedbacks, my proposals were not met with hostility, though they were quick to point out that the present incumbents are certainly not going to tip-toe away obligingly.

What would be the impact of a policy that would ensure state neutrality in matters of religious nature? Apart from the deafening clamour of Al Adl and their moderate pals of PJD, nothing much. Apart from their activists’ ranting -which are not that numerous, or shall we say not that influential- there will certainly not be roadblocks, barricades and certainly no civil war over one of the so-called “fundamentals of our country”.

We have to assume beforehand that the monarchy no longer holds extra-constitutional powers from the spiritual title of our monarch -Commander of the Faithful-. It does not necessarily mean its abolition, but whatever powers that can be derived from it and that contradict positive law are no more. Indeed, an executive authority that wields such power is sheer contradiction with the essential axioms of democratic proceedings. In facts, It has to comply with one course of action: either the monarchy keeps the spiritual title but loses any direct authority over everyday politics, anything that can be derived from that title that is, or the Command of Faithful title is to be abolished so that the Monarchy can be a fully-fledged constitutional monarchy with dynastic continuity as the main -if not the sole- source of legitimacy, nothing more. I’ll elaborate later on why the first course is first-best option.

We also assume some sort of a constitutional shake-up that does away with the Sharia-based laws, mainly in the Penal Code: Art 220 on religious liberties, Art 222 on Ramada non-fasters, Art 483, 489, 490 and 496 on public behaviour -specifically on pre/non marital or homosexual intimate relationships, as well as the list of Sharia-based articles -and at the same time, effectively squeezing out  individual and  collective liberties to very narrow margins, nothing that fits the official claim of democracy. This, again, falls into the proposed set of strategies. Furthermore, these assumptions need to be buttressed by the idea of a Federal kingdom, where local democracies are given maximum levels of autonomy and self-government.

These are rooted in a two-fold strategy:

– First, one has to bear in mind the constraint any policy-maker has to keep constantly under watch. A previous policy of long-term islamization of our society since the late 1970’s has produced such stubborn results, and encouraged such rooted political movements that it is foolish not to take into account the possible pressure on public opinion they could put on, effectively describing the policies described below as a charge against Islam, or the fearful victory of islamophobics over what is perceived as the essential cornerstone of Morocco’s identity. Keeping the Command of the Faithful, as well as neutralizing the religious influence over public duties and institutions merely confines religion to an individual sphere and well out of politics.

My Scheme would turn the Hassan II Mosque in a profitable scheme to the brand new Interfaith department.

– Second, if one is to implement policies on effective secular Morocco, one needs the proper institutions to oversee the process of putting these policies into practise. For instance, abolishing the Habous is counter-productive, while a substantial upgrade of its missions can be so much more promising, and provides the liberal government with a useful tool to make sure not to be too remote from the Moroccan people. Because let’s face it, occult lobbies in Morocco and outside are going to market the change as a “Rrida” (Apostate) as the work of patient heathens trying to sell Muslim souls to the devil. And it is the duty of that government to make sure the message gets through as clear as possible: a secularist Moroccan recognizes to all Moroccans the choice of religion (as well as non-belief) and provides institutional safeguards to make sure individual enjoy their rights responsibly without submitting others to their will. Private opinions are not a matter of majority rule, and certainly the fact that Moroccans are in their large majority Muslim (firm believers or not does not come to the point) is certainly not an argument to crush the dissident voices.

I. The Habous Ministry

There goes one of the less known albeit most powerful ministries in the post-1956 Moroccan governments. Why is it, alongside the interior office, no “partisan” politician can be in charge of it? (I refer to the classic dividing line of sovereignty ministries that no political party can pretend to get as a portfolio). My advice is to turn the Habous Ministry into an Interfaith and Religious Matters department: that is, the islamic nature of its dealings would be merged with other religion proceedings. The matter of Habous real estate and other donations is to be transferred to the Finance Ministry, where there already is a specific department that can oversee the bequests and donated wealth with equal if not superior efficiency. This Ministry has, among other things, the upper hand on all matters relating to Fatwas (thus absorbing or abolishing the autonomous Ulema councils) as well as Christian, Jewish and other religious representatives or regulations. Other tasks that are already devoted to the ministry include the investment, restoring and up keeping of religious buildings and their respective staffs. Finally the Ministry takes over religious education, as the Education ministry no longer offers the course as seen below.

In addition to that, the interfaith office acts as a joint-venture with the regal authority in Islamic matters. Indeed, since one has deferred to the option of keeping the title of Commander of the Faithful to His Majesty, the First Imam is therefore the only one qualified to direct the Muslim community, within the constitutional boundaries of such position. The government therefore enacts Islamic policy on behalf of His Majesty’s recommendations via a King’s Council on religious matters. Apart from that, Hebraic and Christians representatives have their own say on their respective communities. As for the non-believers, they have one less worry, and therefore observe only the positive law of the land.

II. Education.

Intolerance grows among Moroccans ever since primary school. One way of preventing Moroccan citizens from turning into reactionaries and narrow minded conservatives (as well as winning some long-term base voters for the liberals and radicals in the process) is simply to suppress the Islamic education course. That is, for state schools. If Moroccan households are not happy with it, all they have to do is to enrol their children into private schools that provide the service. (One does keep the private schools curriculum in religious matters well within the purview of the interfaith department, you never know…) After all, if they believe it to be paramount to any other taught subject, they will pay for it. If not, a child is not likely to turn into a godless freak if they are not taught right from the start about religion. Starting from secondary and high school however, the interfaith department’s special schools can offer, on voluntary basis, religious course (in the three broad monotheistic religions, as the need for those is the most important) while there is always a choice to double or chose instead philosophy and ethics course at high school.

Furthermore, the so-called “Chou’ab Al Assila” (as well as the Hebraic local school) are going to be abolished and changed into a higher education degrees. To be a good Islamic/Jewish scholar does not require one to start very early. A High education degree can do just as fine. The Islamic studies post-baccalaureate degrees are to be centralized into centres for religious students, alongside the other Monotheist religions at the same level as Christian and Jewish studies, and part of the Humanities curriculum. Indeed, one each university will therefore have a Humanities Department that encompasses Philosophy, Anthropology, Sociology, Religious Studies, etc… with no subject given a pre-eminence over the others (as it is the practise nowadays) Dar Al Hadit Al Hassannia will be merged with Institutes of Hebraic and Christian studies into a structure similar to the French EHESS (a Grande Ecole-like that will produce social scientists rather than sole narrow-minded scholars)

III. Law

Since I am no lawyer, I should defer the matter to my much competent colleague on the matter. But I would like beforehand to state some broad principles on how secular laws can be implemented. Obviously a lot of people will be upset about the changes, and they should be given a chance to express their grieves, within the boundaries of freedom of religion as the new constitution guarantees. The federal option is, in that sense, a good compromise in the sensitive balance between rule by majority and cornerstone individual liberty of belief. The federal constitutions can state broad –but sufficiently well defined- principles on the need to keep religion and religious matters out of politics, and will guarantee so by means of federal court enforcement of the constitutional rule, but regional parliament, following the political tides, can implement laws and regulations –within their own competence- that can be religiously-inspired: they could allow for Islamic Banks for instance, or introduce longer breaks at school to allow for prayer time. They can even issue specific legislation on how discreet restaurant and food-serving businesses can be during Ramadan, but they cannot enforce laws that would undermine the constitutional freedom of individual belief. As far as their attributions are concerned, regional parliaments have a certain say in financial and legislative matters, and if they are controlled by “religious” parties, they can introduce some measures of moral-oriented laws in their own affairs. The essential axiom behind it all is that every one is treated as a grown-up, and is given a chance to prove themselves to be so when managing the public welfare.

Can these measures be implemented? They can, to the extent that the present conservatism among Moroccans is mainly due to economic and material conditions. Indeed, it has been the effect of an explicit policy to turn Moroccans into fanatics, and some are sensible enough to try and reverse these effects with well-meaning policies, yet ineffective and very feeble. But it also has to do with the fact that in troubled and difficult times, religion is the main exit route and is considered to bring hope, comfort and belief in better days –better after-life, one might say-. These policies are contingent on how good this government will manage to bring welfare, good standards of livings and equality among the denizens of this country.