|Arabic text reads "Khaliji soap operas."|
[Image from Moroccan Trolls]
Camels, uneducated tribal folk, expensive cars, slow speech, niqabs and abayas, no moral values. Saudi, Kuwaiti, Qatari, Emirati, who cares? They're all the same. Moroccan women are their toys, five-star resorts and night clubs are their playgrounds. Unearned petrodollars flowing out of their wallets, with the same Khaliji dress and accent.
The actions of a few become the stereotypes used to identify the many. Such is the case of Maghrebi attitudes the Gulf. These essentialist views are mutual, as Mona previously pointed out. But what has shaped these views? Where have these views positioned Moroccan women? How are they perpetuated and reinforced? What is being done to facilitate better understanding?
Neoliberalism Gone Wild
When the newly independent Maghrebi countries began the process of post-colonial development, the state led the way with import-substitution policies. In order to man the factories and maintain production, rural-to-urban migration boomed. The public sector became the largest employer and provider of welfare. Populations were growing, expenses were rising, and the government could no longer sustain these policies. Cue the privatization of state-owned enterprises and the World Bank and IMF loans (awarded with a list of stipulations, of course). In comes the Gulf foreign direct investment.
Luxury malls, five-star resorts and hotels, high-end residential projects--were Gulf investors launching businesses for the local population or themselves? Popular Moroccan band, Nass El Ghiwane, answered that question in their song "Ya Jemmal," whose chorus translates to "Oh camel-herder, take your camels back and away from us."
Income inequalities grew and more people were pushed into poverty. At the same time, the drug and sex trade began to evolve into a lucrative market. Between the hash and sex trafficking, Gulf investors saw the Maghreb as more than just a market for investment, but as Mona put it, they saw it "as the place to fulfill their drugs/sex dreams." And for Maghrebis, the Gulf and its inhabitants were not just a geographic region shaped by its own history, geopoliticial, and socioeconomic conditions. The Gulf and its inhabitants were seen in terms of their wealth.
The Moroccan Woman
Some underprivileged Moroccan women charmed wealthy Gulf tourists. Others resorted to prostitution. Some pursued what they thought were maid or cosmetologist working contracts in the Gulf, only to be stripped of their passports and forced into prostitution. Some were kidnapped by folks involved in extensive transnational prostitution rings. Whatever her fate, the Moroccan woman would become a victim of her own reality, along with the scorning eyes of society. In her homecountry, she is seen as lacking the moral values or patience to search for a more "appropriate" source of income. In the Gulf, she is no longer a victim of her socioeconomic reality, but an object deserving of the imposed objectification.
This notion is reinforced by mass media in both regions, whether in film, television series, music videos. It is indirectly perpetuated by government policies in both regions as well. The Saudi government banned Moroccan women "of a certain age" from performing the minor religious pilgrimage, the umrah. This policy reinforces the fact that whatever experiences she has endured, shaped by whatever factors, it is the Moroccan woman's fault. She is not a victim, but the perpetrator. The Moroccan government did no better in requiring Saudi-court approval before a Saudi man can get married in Morocco to a Moroccan woman. Again, the law does not address the conditions of the Moroccan woman, nor does it indicate any step toward improving her conditions. It's just another bureaucratic step added to the process.
When the idea for this blog came up, it was just one possible step towards changing these views and better understanding why these views exist. It's quite obvious that not much is being done by either societies or governments. If there is something being done, it's not working really well. The Maghreb and the Gulf may be on two opposite ends of the so-called "Arab World," but misconstrued views should not be the only bridge through which these two regions connect. There is still much to be said, so we invite your feedback and suggestions.