The Moorish Wanderer

Gaming Election Day, November 25th.

For all the razzmatazz going on about the election, it is safe to say that little is likely to change when it comes to actual electoral campaigning. The truth is, the only political power with complete mastery of the demographics, gender and income distribution is, and remains, the MI (Ministry of the Interior) first because it is near impossible to get hold of precise data, and second, and unless it can be proven indeed, there is little incentive on behalf of MI officials to release it on public outlets (if not outright withholding intent) and how could a modern political party conduct a modern electoral campaign if even the basic data is lacking, or needs to be extracted from its reluctant source? Knowledge is power they say, and that holds particularly true for Morocco.

Fortunately, paper sources do make up for the shortfall in electronic references (and I really do wish that Open Data initiative championed by minister A.R.Chami was carried out to deliver some genuinely relevant information, instead of providing chicken pea…) and B.L. Garcia’s exhaustive survey of Moroccan elections since 1960 does provide those tables necessary to paint a picture of the various constituencies and swing voters that have shaped -and most likely continue to this day- elections, whether local or general.

I had the opportunity earlier to point out that never in the history of Morocco, has one single party managed to secure absolute majority in one or both houses: 1963 was the closest thing to a majority coalition -and only by 49%, hardly a landslide and to the tune of an independent MP (Member of Parliament, not to be confused with FDIC component Mouvement Populaire) who joined in out of opportunism. Form then on, never did a party take full control of parliament (as we shall have the opportunity to observe later on) And so goes the prediction for the next election: there will be no PJD or PAM landslides; Front de Défense des Institutions Constitutionnelles (FDIC) coalition, failed to secure even absolute majority, only 69 seats out of 141 and 32.4% of votes, a result only topped by the independent surge in 1977. Constituencies were designed so as to favour FDIC candidates over Istiqlal-UNFP opposition, with the former allocated about 16,000 large constituencies per seat, while the latter had to compete for approximately 25,000 large ones. That explains the outrageous discrepancies between percentage of popular votes and allotted seats. Nonetheless, opposition parties had a strong showing, considering the awful electoral campaign and the aftermath of showdown over the constitution a couple of months earlier (December 1962)

An average of 16,414 votes per seat for FDIC, 24,353 for Istiqlal and 25,393 for UNFP. Hardly "free and fair elections"

The demographics tell their tales too: FDIC base constituency was at 85.7% made up of farmers (60.7%) and private-sector small employees (25%). Rémy Leveau coined the expression “The Moroccan Fellah (farmer), defender of the throne” to refer to the exceptionally high, exceptionally stable and staunch turnout and vote in favour of ‘administrative’ parties (FDIC, RNI, PND, etc…) Of all parties, UNFP was the one with the most diverse constituency, a balanced sample across all professions; but because rural areas made up about half the total electoral corps, and because its share of rural voters did not go beyond 15%, UNFP could not perform better, certainly when compared to the stronger Istiqlal showing in the rural constituencies. Overall, candidates were expected to win with large margins in smaller, rural constituencies than when competing in urban ones. That explains why independents enjoyed an over-representation:  rural voters in Tetuan, Fez and Casablanca made up half their of their larger, more rural constituencies than nationwide mean.

the geographical pattern vindicates the claim that rural areas are either coerced or bribed into voting for pro-regime candidates: out of the 18 administrative provinces (including Rabat and Casablanca districts) at the time, 4 were carried by FDIC with strong margins (including a 100% vote in Terfaya) in the North (Nador and Alhuceimas) the Eastern desert (Warzazate) and the rural regions of Hauz, Gharb and Chrarda – amalgamated in the Marrakesh and Casablanca provinces. Conversely, UNFP-Istiqlal opposition made a very strong showing by carrying cities -Casablanca and Rabat districts- as well as the Tangiers province. These have come out in favour of UNFP by an average of 46.3% of popular votes, while Istiqlal carried Meknes, Rabat and Oujda provinces with similar margins, and UNFP candidates also fared much better in Agadir with a 49% of popular votes.

The claim that key voters in Morocco are the rural population is vindicated by the first general elections, because their registration rate is higher than that of urban dwellers -even higher than national average- and their voting pattern is remarkably stable across time, even with fluctuating boundary changes; They remain a significant bloc of votes ‘dissident’ parties (UNFP, Istiqlal, or even PJD) have failed to control for many reasons that are to be discussed later on.

Mapping the 1963 Elections results shows the deadlock of regionalism, and explain why "winner takes all" landslide cannot prevail in Morocco (click for better resolution)

After King Hassan II has lifted the state of emergency in 1970 – with the promulgation of a new constitution the 1977 and 1984 elections rather confirmed what will become the trademark of any general election: local notabilities, whether in urban or semi-urban areas are swing voters and can deliver super-majorities (usually to pro-regime candidates) whenever needed: in 1977, USFP Premier Abderrahim Bouabid lost to Ahmed Ramzi, an independent candidate (who went on to be a Habus Minister in the Osman government) with a landslide 83.44% victory to the latter in Agadir district – a socialist stronghold at the time.

Though administrative interference had a lot to do with the systematic majorities independent or pro-regime party candidates had recorded during these elections, the critical variables to take into account is rather how well did local notabilities control constituents, and how they channelled these votes to support a candidate over another. This explains the independents’ landslide in 1977, and the momentum PND party (a rural breakaway from RNI in April 1981) gained in the 1980s. Both had a strong showing in rural constituencies: in 1977, the independents (later on, RNI representatives) carried constituencies such as Settat (6/7) Casablanca (7/20) Jedida (5/6) Taza (5/6) and Tiznit (all 4 seats) these constituencies are mainly rural. The same applies to MP party with its rural constituencies in Khemissat (2/4) and Nador (3/5).

1977 was also the election of Western Sahara constituencies, one seat each for Smara and Bojdor (Istiqlal carried both of them, but the Sahrawi representatives it had endorsed eventually defected in 1979 and joined Polisario) The Sahrawi constituency shared with the rural ones all the hallmarks of notabilities’ electioneering: the program matters very little, and only the candidate’s local connections, wealth and personal charisma -as well as personal loyalty to the regime- made a difference. On the other end of the constituency-types, educated voters and small employees in urban areas and large cities were prone to vote USFP or PPS more often than others. Although it has been pointed out that higher degrees-earners also tend not to vote; in short, USFP and PPS shared in 1977 and 1983, a population of educated people, with degrees varying from basic primary education certificate to high school diploma. College and University graduate, though general sympathetic to left-leaning themes, did not partake in voting during elections, as their successive turnouts tend to vindicate their apparent rejection of the whole electoral process.

The 1984 turnout has a peculiar property no other election before or after has featured: the discrepancy between cast vote ans effective popular vote. If one is to indulge into a joke, the Interior ministry felt so comfortable that even official figures do not account for, say, OADP candidates who managed to gather 70,637 votes, but were allocated only 32,766 votes instead. On the other hand, MPDC carried only 15,052 votes, but was credited with 69,862 instead. UC (20,407) MP (32,945) and PND (20,407) also benefited from a boost. USFP, on the other hand received its ‘fair’ share of votes. UC candidates won with landslide majorities in many regions, the Atlantic agricultural plains, the North all over the Rif mountains and land-locked constituencies in Khouribga. It is worth pointing out that particularly Essaouira, Tiznit, Skhirat and Salé had UC super-majorities with more than 50% of popular votes. RNI and MP parties also fared better, respectively carrying Tangiers, Tata and Sidi Kacem, as well as Ifrane, Khemissat and Warzazate. As such, and save for party switch from RNI to UC, there was little change over the larger rural constituencies who came out for the Triumvirate UC-MP-RNI, as they collected about 60.45% of seats, and 58% of popular votes.

1993 did not carry significant changes, indeed, Bernabé Garçia reports:

“It appears from the new political map that there are no significant changes since 1963, and the only new information it carries confirms the predictability of its outcome. Abstentia reached 37.25%, i.e. some 5 points above the recorded level in 1984. A high record of annulled ballots was also observed, some 930,000 votes, i.e. 8.16% of total electoral corps, and 13.01% of voters, compared to respectively 7.5% and 11.1% in 1984. While eligible voters amounted to 12,670,000 the electoral census registered only 11,398,997 voters, which means that about 1.25Million Moroccan were not registered, a figure 10% larger than those who had their ballots annulled. In short, one Moroccan out of two was prevented from voting, either by not registering or by destroying the vote they cast.

As for Koutla votes (Istiqlal-USFP 25.4% PPS 3.9% and OADP 3.1%) they amounted to 32.5% meaning that one voter out of three endorsed the change Koutla leaders have been calling for. These figures only show the lack of substantial changes compared to previous elections [In 1984, the Koutla carried some 31.1% of popular votes] B.L. Garçia – Translated in Arabic by B. Kharazi p.244-245 Ed. Difaf. 2009

The swing vote however was on specific constituencies, especially with landslide defeats UC incurred, but the margins remained, overall, unchanged.

1997 elections coincided with the “Alternance Consensuelle” and the new 1997 local government bill that created regions and regional councils, and thus redesigned constituency boundaries; Because of it, the electoral map was even more fragmented than before; a winning party gathered on average 24% of votes, hardly a stable or strong majority. This average goes down in large urban centres – Casablanca had an Istiqlal majority with 15% of the votes, while USFP carried Rabat with 13.4% of popular votes. The largest majority (48%) was recorded in Mohammedia, by independent candidates, a rebuker of party machine and yet another evidence that only personal connexion and wealth matter in the success or failure for a parliamentary candidate. Overall, rural constituencies remained under MP-PND-MDS-Independents control, and the number of political parties doubled from 7 to 15 and subsequently, large parliamentary conferences grew weaker and shrunk in size: in 1993, a 50% majority was insured with the seats of three parties. In 1997,  5 parties were needed to insure that majority. In these conditions, the coalition government was necessarily a patchwork of unlikely allies, with RNI and Istiqlal joining in even though they both had government experience since 1977.

In terms of popular votes, Istiqlal ranked first with 1.4 Million votes, but USFP, even with a lower turnout (1.02 Million votes) ranked first in terms seats (respectively 56 and 31) which created some frictions over who gets the Premiership for the transitional government.

2002 were the first elections held under King Mohamed VI, and to Koutla parties, it was a test to the transitional period they have agreed upon to carry out. Furthermore, between 1997 and 2002, the number of political parties increased further from 16 to 26 (at least those represented in parliament) a further fragmentation of the electoral map, since many of those managed to scrap 25 seats away from the incumbent candidates, but failed to secure more than two or three seats each. The effect of smaller constituencies may have prompted would-be candidates and politicians to organize themselves in smaller political parties and contest elections with the only strategy to carry one or two targeted seats; The fragmentation also led to increased competitiveness over the 70 provinces, yet this resulted in stalemates all over the political map of Morocco: only 18 out of 70 provinces recorded majorities large enough for a party to carry two seats, a sign of weak majorities even though some seats managed to carry large majorities: Essaouira, Aousserd, Benslimane, Marrakesh, Oued-Daha, Khenifra and Kenitra all delivered a large margins, with the first candidate putting themselves ahead with double the votes the second winner carried. However, this does not always mean large majorities in absolute terms; indeed, 1735 competing lists (an average of 26 per constituency) ensured small majorities, and effective small margins of victory. Indeed, even though USFP carried Agadir with  a large margin compared to the second and third parties (respectively, MP and PJD) it has collected less than 45% of the votes. The same goes for PJD at Casablanca- Derb Al Fida – Ain Sultan: they have collected only 28% of popular votes

NB: '63 FDIC votes allocated to MP. '77 Independents votes allocated to RNI

Though 2007 was trumpeted as ‘PJD coronation’ all parties actually lost votes compared to previous elections. This is due to the exceptionally low turnout observed during these elections (37%) during which no party exceeded half a million of popular votes. Compared to 2002, PJD candidates lost some 92,000 votes, a smaller loss when compared to USFP and Istiqlal candidates’ – respectively 309,000 and 103,000 votes. An electoral catastrophe in which one party does slightly less worse than others is hardly a sign of political endorsement.

Furthermore, margins of victory narrowed significantly, as winning candidates, on average did not carry more than 10% of popular votes; with the notable exceptions of Sahrawi and Eastern constituencies, margins of victory rarely went above 14%, a very low number indeed, considering the low turnout.

As for political implications, PJD has formalized its takeover of formerly USFP strongholds: Casablanca, Rabat and the outskirts of Agadir transferred votes from 1997 to 2007, and that is particularly true for middle-class, college-educated voters who prefer either to boycott the whole electoral process, or to simply vote PJD instead of USFP. USFP candidates, on the other hand, changed from urban centres to rural districts, mainly in the Sahrawi provinces and the North Atlantic coast. MP candidates, on the other hand, benefited from the reunification of Haraka spin-offs (UD, MNP, MDS) to take back control of Mountainous rural districts in the Atlas and the rural hinterland surrounding Rabat.

Now that these numbers have been laid out, it is possible to predict some voting patterns for the 2011 Elections, essentially based on a crucial swing vote, i.e. the Youth. This variable political parties did not (and amazingly enough, still don’t) take into account explains the high discrepancy between youth turnout and overall population. Nationwide, one Moroccan out of three eligible to vote is less than 24 years old. And yet, These make up for only 9% . In some constituencies, youth vote would not only determine the outcome of an election otherwise ‘locked-in’ in favour of one candidate, but deliver substantial majority, if they were to display homogeneous voting patterns.

Morocco's electoral map since 1963 (majorities computed on administrative provinces)

The electoral gaming goes as follows: considering the high proportion of youth in particular districts, their turnout is critical to shaping results and delivering stable majorities not only to candidates, but also to political parties in parliament house that could result into carrying a stable majority coalition and thus, a stable government.

2007 recorded 4.65 Million effective cast votes. Assuming the percentage of rejected ballots is close to the 40-years average (that is, 14.37%) and assuming equally an average turnout vote, i.e. 65%, total turnout would reach about 16 Million registered and effective voters. 41% of these are 30years-old and less, with 20% overall first-time voters. In short, the younger population not only delivers swing votes, but changes the complete electoral map of a number of regions. We consider the following districts with a high youth percentage: Grand-Casablanca, Marrakesh, Agadir and Tangiers. These account for roughly one-third of total current number of seats, and can yield up to 1.2Million young voters. In many of these districts, their vote can arbitrage between neck-and-neck majorities, especially in large urban centres, the very same cities that observed high rates of abstention in 2007.

regional districts selected upon percentage of young (20-30) population

Since the selected districts account for 25% of all young voters eligible for registration, it is obvious that a homogeneous vote can theoretically deliver a 50% plus majority to a pre-electoral coalition. This holds particularly true whether small constituencies like Aousserd, Bojdor or Smara, are involved, or relatively larger ones like Alhuceimas, Beni-H’ssen or Chefchaouen. Because their 20-30 account for one-third of likely voters, they can carry 19 seats (or 980,000) with a majority of their own.

The assumption behind this finds its origin in the weak absolute majorities political parties hold in these districts: for instance, while it is true USFP candidates carried a relatively large number of votes in Agadir city, they have failed to capture an overall majority of registered voters, let alone likely or eligible voters. Because of this under-valuation of youth vote, the electoral system matters very little as long as the 20-30 (and first-time voters a little above 18) register and vote in favour of one party or bloc of political parties gathered in a stable electoral coalition. In tight races like in Rabat, or Casablanca, or Tangiers-Tetuan-Larache, they can deliver substantial majorities to candidates they consider fit for office.It is true local notabilities and the old system of patronage and horse-trading will continue throughout, but the number of seats allocated to ‘Old Politics’ shrinks significantly, provided young voters are not coerced into voting one way or the other. In short, the rural vote might very well give way to the young vote, a more unpredictable variable when it comes to actual vote counting. Their vote will not bring only one party to power, but they can provide a small coalition (say no more than 4 parties like the Koutla, or the new UC-RNI-PAM alliance) with enough votes and seats to control the house.

But the gaming has a catch: it further assumes alacrity on behalf young voters, with the renewed interest in political affairs able to translate itself into high turnout vote, and homogeneous selection of political parties. Never since 1963 political parties were given the opportunity to gather large support in their bid for office. Let us only hope they will accept to allocate effective partisan power to their young supporters.

“New Politics” Inc.

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, The Wanderer by Zouhair ABH on July 19, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I had this most peculiar conversation with someone “in high places”. I mean, I did not meet that person for an official purpose – it was a social visit, I leave official meetings to senior bloggers. The person’s rank and occupation were not obvious to me, as I was told, much later on, I was talking to an official from the Interior Ministry. And so, the summary of our discussion is a bit at odds with the kind of posts I usually publish: this is, if anything, a first-hand account of what seems to be the prevailing argument up there. Alternatively, I could be mistaken, and the green I am in practical politics might have been fooled with a tailor-made speech for would-be “young politicians”.

The thing is, the argument was extraordinary to my ears, simply because it betrayed what seems to be a newly developed, intelligent approach. That’s why I am posting about it: Intelligent. By intelligent I mean a very perverse – adulterating- policy into systematically chaperoning whatever novel proposal might pop in the Moroccan political discourse, carefully taking into its confidence any initiative likely or potentially likely to change things too radically. In a nutshell, the idea is to encourage young Feb20 activists to join mainstream political parties and shake them to their foundations. And as my interlocutor said, they have the next 5 years to achieve the following set of objectives: take over the partisan apparatus, topple down the old-guard leadership and before you know it, the Palace will hand over its powers and obligingly establish itself as a true parliamentarian monarchy. The perfect scheme, even to my taste. Who would oppose this offer? it sounds responsible and moderate, plus it has the advantage of cleaning political parties’ Aegean stables.

But there’s a catch to it. In fact, there are several of those: first off,there are boundaries not to cross -and those are tighter than you might think- second, there are “Moroccan exceptionalism” features one needs to take into account, i.e. not to rush things; and last, the State tropism is the only viable paradigm in Moroccan politics, i.e. the very concept of individual welfare, or community well-being is necessarily encompassed within the State, whether Makhzenian or modern. Supposing these young people manage to take control of these political parties within the next half a decade, the ensuing struggle would leave them paralysed, and in any case unable to put forward any controversial proposals. It might go otherwise, but one cannot erase 40 years of meaningless politics with one clean swipe of 5 years of fresh, youthful activism.

There was one aspect of our discussion I founded quite interesting to mention in extenso here: the official was very relaxed when I contradicted him, in the sense that he didn’t behave in that typical you-republican-in-disguise-plotting-for-the-downfall-of-our-beloved-fatherland and was very open and forthcoming in interacting with me – I mean he admitted the existence of dissent, and was generally in agreement that its existence and activism were strengthening more than threatening Moroccan democracy and development. But past beyond niceties about general principles, the typical Dakhilya way of thinking took over: “No, the Ministry or the Civil Service can’t supply you with Demographic features of specific boroughs. No, a Federal Morocco is out of the question. No, it will be chaos and mayhem if you make Mokadem and Caid positions elected offices“. In short, as long as a certain political project was deemed in compliance with certain guidelines (carefully laid out in High Places), then it is fine to be creative; Other than that, you are simply, and I quote: “Hard-headed”. Actually, this applied to those political parties he quickly guessed I was sympathetic to, or even a member of: PSU, PADS (and a little of Annahj, too).

The other thing we agreed upon was that the Feb20 demonstrations were no threat to the regime’s stability. Quite the contrary, I was comforted in my belief that the blueprints of 2011 Constitutional upgrade -for this is not a genuine reform- were already in place (apparently as early as 2000-2001) and needed only some acceptance from the partisan spectrum. Rather, political parties themselves felt threaten -after most of them castigated the daring youth for being either manipulated, unreasonable, radical, and finally stubborn. The Monarchy, the system surrounding it to be precise, is stronger both domestically and abroad.

Old Faithful

The gamble is subsequently very audacious: it is common knowledge the present political personnel is ageing, incompetent and/or largely corrupt. Palace has been trying to revive some Royal opposition, but failed with large parties, mainly because of a past policy of constant corruption and house-training. Parts of these high circles, it seems, understood the dangers of a too house-trained political personnel. Luckily enough, there’s a bunch of motivated, enthusiastic and pure new players around who seem to have as keen interest in politics. They can provide the suitable relief to political parties, and who knows, some fresh ideas to the other side as well. As a matter of fact, the whole argument can be summed up as follows:

“join political parties and make them look credible so as to seize power. The monarchy will not obstruct”.

Other things of peripheral interest to the main subject were mentioned as well: for his perspective, the 40 years long struggle between the National Movement and the Monarchy was very damaging to Moroccan perspective in growth, development and advancement in civilization. But then again, in his view, National Parties shouldn’t have engaged in a bras-de-fer with the Crown Prince, then King Hassan II. That curious (from my perspective anyway) interpretation of modern history was his reply to my favourite line: if the Monarchy was indeed keen to accept a real Parliamentary Monarchy, why was Abdellah Ibrahim Government systematically ambushed by the Crown Prince? It was as though his mind was definitely made up about that era, only he was respectful enough not to express it in blunt terms: the National Movement was the only responsible political body for the loss of time and resources Morocco suffered from over the last half a decade, not the Monarchy.

So here it is: at least one school of thought within the regime pushes for a renewal of politics, because it prepares an alternative power and so enact a smooth transition from the “Executive Monarchy” to  a true symbolic one. However, the transition has to be done on the regime’s term, and they will pick who qualifies and who does not. Even though the stated standard selection puts a large weight on competence and talent, the principle is un-democratic, and furthermore, the dictated terms are such that there is little room for political innovation: the State is still perceived as benevolent and in charge of individuals and communities, even though it has a poor record in achieving common wealth.

In short, I came back home even more convinced I should stick with the Hard-headed bunch. First because I don’t like patronising tones and schemes, and second, while I agree political personnel needs renewal and a great deal of political savyy, I do not believe the movement should be hurried, or artificially created. That reminds me of the Charm Offensive Fouad Ali El Himma undertook vis-a-vis the Radical Left – presumably as a vanguard of a Modernist-Monarchist movement- around 2005-2006; once in a while, the regime wants to pick the brains of its non-governmental elite by means of alluring promotion or honouring their scholarly work for instance.

Leave it Governor, the New Politics you are advocating cannot be the process of political engineering. the Changing of the Guard is coming, but on our own terms and time.

Ramadan At The Gates

I don’t think this month is holy any more, nor does it still bear some genuine religious significance to the people. It is, I must point out, a subjective point of view. Indeed, Moroccans (at least those I saw in Casablanca or Rabat or today in Marrakesh) are ostensibly reading the Koran in public places. I noticed the mosques were never so full of faithful as they are this time of year. But on the whole, it does not feel like Moroccans get in touch with their spirituality. It does however look like more of a parade of spirituality, and it is going out of proportions. There is this stereotype I hold on my fellow citizens as being hypocritical, but surely it was nothing like that.

There is something I find quite strange, though: Every Ramadan, dissident voices claim their right to break it, and every time, the orthodox voices cry their shock and anger to that handful of Kuffar that have no respect for Islam or to anything this Umma holds dear to its heart. Some even get raving mad, fortunately only on Facebook walls or Hespress comments. Yet it remains so that Moroccan society is growing intolerant, or at least seems to be so. Last year MALI group tried a spectacular direct action but were prevented from doing so. Do we have some comprehensive explanation why some Moroccans feel very sensitive about this?

Let me just put it in simple terms: fasting Ramadan, just like praying are two rituals part of the five pillars of Islam. However, these pillars are ranked in order of precedence and it goes like this: 1. Faith, 2. Prayers, 3. Charity, 4. Ramadan, and last 5. Pilgrimage.

In other words, its is much much more serious breach of Muslim faith not to pray than not to fast Ramadan, and even more important to care about the needy than to fast during the holy month. Until now, I have never seen someone harassed by the crowd because they did not attend the Friday prayers, as far as I am concerned. There was this unfortunate occurrence when a particularly zealous member of my family tried to talk me into “mending my ways back”, but that was it (the person in question avoided me for the rest of the evening, and that was a relief).

Their reaction would have been quite different if I was not fasting, I can tell you that. While the last pillar (pilgrimage) is compulsory only to those able to go to Mecqua, Ramadan remains effectively the last pillar all Muslims should observe, and yet it is, according to some surveys I am going to discuss, the most important one.

The Moroccan Penal Code, Article 222, is quite clear about it: Muslim Moroccans are not prevented from not fasting Ramadan, they are forbidden to do so in public.

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

How could anyone -save for those of our fellow citizens with Jewish ascent- prove that they are not “notoriously known for their belonging to the Nuslim faith?” And what about a Moroccan that reverted their faith to Christianity? do they have to produce a baptism certificate? And what about the atheists or the non-believers? Do we need a paper stating our non-belief from Richard Dawkins? And why being so hypocritical about it? Why would the Moroccan judiciary punish anyone break-fasting in public, but turn the blind eye on those who do so but away from any public fuss? Doesn’t it encourage hypocrisy? or Doesn’t it simply give in to the fear of Fitna?

For Fitna here would be some Muslim fanatics taking on those they consider apostate. Article 222, just like Article 489 (on homosexuality), Article 490 (on illegal sex) and 496 (female adult with a tutor authority) reminds us that Morocco, for democratic and tolerant it boasts to be, remains handicapped with a reactionary set of laws as well as state of minds, and impaled in deep contradictions that cannot be explained but in sociological terms. I must point out that nowhere in the penal code an article punishes a Moroccan national for not going to the Mosque, or giving money to the poor, or even for lacking faith in Islam. Why do we focus on Ramadan, and not on the rest?

Let me be clear about it: I am a staunch supporter of secularism as a political solution for religious issues. The law of the land needs to be set up by men, and these held accountable to the nation. That also means that the His Majesty should not benefit from the extra-constitutional powers his status as “Commader of the Faithful” permits him. In other words, Islam, just like other religions, remains a private matter, thus effectively rendering the public sphere neutral to any spiritual lobby.

I cannot however understand the sheer contradiction of it all: it is fine not to pray (I mean, people do not necessarily see it as a blatant lack of faith) it is legal -within the boundaries of the law- to drink alcohol (bars are public places as far as I know), but jamais au grand jamais, one should break Ramadan fasting, especially not in public. At the best it is frown upon, at the worse you get caught up by the police. In the land of contradictions, one stands beyond bemusement.

Let us take a leaf from the RDH 50 report. The one about society, families and youth, and especially about religious values as seen by the Moroccan youth. According to the survey, and it seems to be the general case, the youth are longing for a change, compared to the previous generation (namely their parents) either by refusing the norms (no prayers, no Ramadan) or by accepting the norms as they were, but in a different way, so that the inter-generation differences remain seen.

By doing so, the Moroccan youth do no “invent” as it were, atheism or agnosticism, nor the “new wave” religious observance. They simply move within the social context they are living in, and the choice is then made accordingly. There was a time (1961) when agnosticism and atheism had the upper hand:

seuls 5% des enquêtés estimaient que la religion tenait une place plus grande que dans la génération précédente. La majorité (80 %) affirmait l’étiolement de la religion. Parmi les constatations recueillies : « les jeunes se détachent de la religion », « il y a un sur mille qui pratique », « plus de 50 % ne font ni ramadan ni prière », « autrefois un musulman était renié par sa famille s’il épousait une chrétienne, aujourd’hui non », « la religion est l’opium du peuple », « les questions économiques sont plus importantes1 ». Doit-on conclure au recul de la religion chez les élèves marocains d’après l’indépendance? En tout cas, quel que soit le rapport des élèves à la religion, les questions prioritaires de leur époque étaient politiques, économiques et sociales. La question de la sécularisation progressive des sociétés, du recul de la religion, doit être nuancée. Les processus de changement ne sont ni linéaires ni irréversibles. Les recherches récentes sur le rapport des jeunes à la religion vont dans ce sens”.

I like the last sentence because it is the adequate and informed answer to any of those making speeches about the irreversable victory of Islam over the unfaithful.

That happened some 50 years before. What about now?

“Selon une enquête menée par M. Tozy au début des années 1980, seuls 8 % font la prière régulièrement, 26 % occasionnellement et 49 % ne la font pas. L’enquête de 1992 révèle que 54% des étudiants font la prière. Alors faut-il conclure à l’absence du religieux lorsque seuls 8 % des étudiants font régulièrement la prière et au retour du religieux lorsque la proportion des pratiquants « augmente »? Ni l’un ni l’autre. Nous avons dit que le retour du religieux (si cette expression a un sens) n’est pas un processus irréversible. S’agissant toujours de la pratique de la prière, l’enquête de 1996 enregistre une « diminution » de 10 points par rapport à celle de 1992”.  That is quite odd, as pointed out later on: “Tozy remarque l’incohérence, voire le caractère contradictoire des réponses : 85 % des enquêtés avaient un rapport ambigu à la religion. Ceci montre qu’il est difficile de partir d’un seul aspect de la religion (la prière, le port du voile etc.) et d’affirmer soit la sécularisation soit le retour du religieux.

These are the conclusions the report reached on religious values and Moroccan youth:

– The present situation is neither that of secularism or mass-islamization. All that comes up from the finds is ambivalence, ambiguity and contradiction in the choice of religious symbols as well as individual and collective behaviour towards Islamic rituals. (including therefore Ramadan)

– The religious references are more and more of exogenous  nature. family no longer provides them, and the Youth are looking for them elsewhere (Satellite TV, Internet, University, etc….) thus proving a much more heterogeneous choice in terms of  “religious apparatus”

What about Ramadan then? It may be related to the kind of relationship we have with food and the ritual of eating.  The HCP studies still point out that Moroccans are still devoting an important part of their income on food and edible material.  Basically, Ramadan is considered to be the most visible aspect of religion one can display, and some sort of unhealthy consensus has been created on that.

It seems Ramadan created itself into a taboo, and those who dare challenge it must be punished, following this newly esablished norm. I consider it to be new because the non-faster were more visible say, 30 years ago than they are now. Can the Moroccan society live with a fraction of its population deviant from that norm? of course it can, it has proven to be easily adaptive. What lacks is the basic condition of an open debate, for a taboo is not subject of such talks, and it seems to me, the blame is on both sides.

Oh, and Ramadan Mabruk. May we all put on a bit of weight in the name of Allah.