July 27, 2012

Maghreb on Gulf: Exoticizing or Immoralizing?

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.

What Now?
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. 


  1. Great Job Samia!

  2. Just to rectify a couple of factual inaccuracies:

    1. Nass El Ghiwan song Ya Jemmal is not about Saudis. That song is about the king/leader. When he says "la tarmi al ghbar f 3aynina" (throwing dust in our eyes) it means you can't distract us. The are two reasons this song can't be about Saudis:

    a. The timing of the song is way before the phenomenon of the Saudis coming to Morocco. and

    b. To take the sense of the word "Jemmal" (camel owner/herder)literally does a disservice to Nass El Ghiwan. This band has very well researched poetry. Their poetry is full of images and metaphors. Think about the political context (les annees plomb) in which this band was formed, they never said things directly. Do you really believe their song Essinia is about a tray? When he says Mal kassi men doon al kissan (why my glass of all the glasses) do you really think he is talking about glasses? it's more an image of his own fate and how different it is from others'.

    c. Any Moroccan knows the proverb "Li F Rass Jmal F Rass Jemala" (whatever is in the head of the camel is in the head of the camel herders/owners.) This proverb is usually used in a context when we try to say that someone is not smarter than someone else.

    So this song refers to that cultural reference. Whatever you have in mind (Mr. leader) we think it too. You are not smarter than we are. We are not stupid.

    2. The court approval for marriage applies across the board not just to Saudis. It's the section of Mixed Marriage under the International Law provisions of Moroccan law that requires any Moroccan desiring to marry a foreign national to obtain a court approval. This is the theory that I studied in law school in Morocco.

    Now the practical part of this law, my friend whose came from the US to marry him, had to get a court approval too. When he took his wife to be interviewed (and seen) by the prosecutor, she was wearing jellaba. The stupid prosecutor made a sarcastic remark about her outfit and told my friend "you already dressed her in jellaba." (labassitha jellaba be3da). So this misery of having the court in the stupid country decide for you who you should share your life with applies to all foreigners. Remember the stupid prosecutor can decide that this woman or man is not good for you. Think about the freedom in this country...

    Conclusion, your article sounds more like a point of view of someone sitting in a cafe in Tadla. It needs to be more researched before someone can use it as a reference.

    I think the issue of why Moroccan women have a reputation of being easy goes a little bit deeper...Same goes for the other issues raised herein.

    Best of luck,

    He Is, Beni Mellal - Al 3assima

    1. Thank you for your comments and expressing your views.

      The interpretation of the Nass El Ghiwane song is debatable. I interpreted it as such considering camels are not indigenous to Morocco, but the song was released during the beginning of the strengthening ties between the Moroccan and Saudi monarchies.

      I mentioned towards the end of my post that there is still much to be discussed, so I did not intend to monopolize this issue with my own views, but rather urged for feedback and suggestions.

      Thanks again,