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Archive for February, 2011

I am a postgraduate student, I admit that I am not well-versed in politics. But as a Moroccan citizen, I feel it is my duty to reflect on what’s going on in my country, following the news and eye-witnessing the events here, in my city Fez.

Morocco

 

Morocco is a kingdom ruled by his majesty Mohamed VI since July 30th,1999 after his father the king Hassan II passed away on July 23th, 1999. The kingdom is 12 centuries old.

 

Following the news on what’s going on in North Africa and the Middle East, almost all these countries are against the regime including their presidents (and kings in some countries). We heard on TV the slogan “the people want the fall of the regime” which implies the expulsion of the president as well as the government.

Morocco is different, however. At this period, almost all Moroccans were sharing pictures of the king on facebook, with slogans such as “we support the king” and groups entitled “we love the king” & “The Nations burn themselves to expel their presidents, we (Moroccans) burn the world for our king Mohamed VI” and the like. I personally feel so proud of my country and of Moroccans, and proudly joined these groups.

Couple of weeks ago, there were some videos circulating of demonstrations that will take place on February 20th in Morocco. This date, according to them, has become linked with “freedom.” On Sunday, Feb, 20th, there were demonstrations in the capital (Rabat), Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh and other cities. Following the news, they were peaceful demonstrations. Interestingly, and unlike other countries, the demonstrators were lifting up the photos of the king Mohamed VI with slogans “Long live the king.”

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In the afternoon of the same day, I took my ID, iPod and went out to see what’s going on. Walking in the street, almost all stores and cafés were closed. There were few buses. I had to walk to Atlas (where there was a demonstration). On my way there, I met with some guys and women running, and they told me to go back. I asked some kids “what’s going on?” they replied “things are tense, there are troubles.” Since the way looked safe, I continued my walking. There was a group of people surrounding someone who was saying that “these (the demonstrators) do not understand” apparently he was commenting on the slogan they were using “the people want the fall of the regime.” He added that “we should support the king, the king is young and he is also with change.” I managed to film that. I understood that the demonstrators moved to the university, probably to gain more participants especially students (who were among the demonstrators too).

I continued my way to the court in Atlas where there was a demonstration in the morning, it was empty but there were police tracks. I met with a friend (who lives close to the university) and we were soon joined by an American friend. We went to the university and things were calm. We walked to the centre ville, things appeared quite and normal, till a group of young people (not more than a hundred) appeared shouting “the people want the fall of the regime” followed by “long live the king Mohamed VI.” I filmed them. They continued their way to avenue Hassan II. Soon after, police tracks came but did not interfere.

At the mean while, I texted my friend in Narjiss and he told me that there were some demonstrations along Trek Sefrou and they were very aggressive and “horrible.” This is mainly because there was a match in the stadium of Fez, and the viewers on their way back made lots of troubles and damages (probably out of fun?).

On my way back home, I saw a bank’s glass broken, the entrance door of a residence broken, dustbins thrown down. A foreigner was prevented from photographing fearing that he will misuse the photographs (as was previously done in Laayoun). The police were organizing the traffic. And demonstrators were still shouting…

Concerning the Media; it is misleading. As Sayf al-Islam al-Qadafi, al-Qadafi’s son, in a speech states that media has provided wrong information concerning what’s going on in Libya, and Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia. Yes, and Morocco is not Egypt, or Tunisia. A wrong media coverage, just to give a STORY, some news channels are giving the impression that “Moroccans are against the king” which is NOT true! We are with the king, we support the king, but it is the government which is corrupt. The king is a young man, we are a young people, we want a young (in age not in experience though) government and prime minister.

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Three days before we planned to go on a trip to Ifrane (about one hour drive from Fez). On Friday (Feb. 18th) at 9 AM I met with Yassine and we went to Driss’ place. We (actually Driss) drove to Simohamed’s (known as ElHamzaoui) place, and lastly Otman with his guitar.  We were well-equipped for a journey in the snow: buta (gas), tagine, meat, vegetables, a large carpet, cameras, and the guitar. So five of us headed to Ifrane. This was our first trip with Driss’ new car, knowing that he is a brand new driver (yet he approved to be a very professional one).

Loud music, dancing and pictures/ videos, this was the atmosphere in the car while on our way to spend a day in the snow. We stopped in Emmouzar to have breakfast: tea, coffee, milk and mlawi. Then we resumed our way. We were stopped by the police in the entrance of Ifrane for a regular check. Ifrane was filled with snow. So beautiful.

At last, we are playing with snow, a snowballs fight. A very stunning nature, all covered with very white snow, mountains, trees, and rocks. Everyone made his camera ready and started taking lots of pictures: jumping, throwing snowballs, being crazy, and also filming interviews with ElHamzaoui who acted as a Saudi coming to Morocco, Driss as his English translator, Otman as the interviews’ commentator, Yassine the saudi’s bodyguard and myself as the cameraman. We spent about an hour there to continue our day in Mishlifen.

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Mishlifen is about 20 kms from Ifrane. It was, literally, all covered with snow. We enjoyed skiing from up the hill. Again, lots of pictures (well, this is a day that should be well-documented, you know!). After discovering the place more, we took our kitchen stuff and cleaned (with clean snow) vegetables, ElHamzaoui and Driss were the main cooks. The tagine, however, took more hours cooking than they expected so we had lunch at 5 PM!! It smelled very delicious (and also tasted). While waiting for the supposedly lunch, we (of course took pictures) played the guitar, composed our own songs (which were basically snow and tagine-centered). After enjoying the tagine, we cleaned the place and got ready to go.

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In the end of the day, we were all freezing cold (for we got wet). We difficultly made our way back to where the car was stationed. Each one of us was doing something to get his body warm. Soon after, we got into the car, and to our surprise (or shock) the car did not start (apparently it was freezing too). The four of us were pushing the car (while Driss directing it and doing his best to start it), but no satisfactory result. Someone (for whom we asked help) made an attempt, but he just made things worse; he got the car into deep snow, and all of us again were trying to take it back to the road. Someone else stopped to help us do something about the car. After many attempts “it is moving.” We were all like YEY!!! That was around 6 PM, it was getting dark.

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It was getting darker and darker, and the car’s battery getting lower and lower. After making it back to Ifrane, Emmouar, the car’s lights got off, oh ow!! Importantly, Driss (with his assistant ElHamzaoui) managed to drive without lights (in the dark) and luckily it was a full-moon night, sometimes depending on other cars’ lights. Yassine, Otman and I in the back were all focusing on the road, as if watching a film. We were not freaked out, still we did not want to die! But we all had trust in Driss’ abilities. We were praying not to be stopped by the police for a check, otherwise we will have problems and the car might not move again. We were stopped once though, but the policeman understood the situation.

When we almost arrived to the airport of Fez (which is about 15 kms to Fez) the car stopped, and it had no lights, this was dangerous but still!!! We managed to push it to a nearby café. Driss called a mechanic who is a friend of his. He came and we took the car to the garage and got a taxi back home.

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Probably while reading the last three paragraphs you got the impression that we were upset or the like, not at all! We were still singing, taking pictures, and enjoying our experience, and congratulating Driss for his professional driving. I am writing about this journey on my blog because it was a special and a great one!

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CasaNegraCasanegra (2008) is a Moroccan film directed by Nour Eddine Lakhmari, it has represented Morocco widely in many festivals and obtained many Awards. The movie is seen as a “success” though it has been greatly criticized for the uncomfortable “street” language used in it. Others, however, agreed that this is the Moroccan reality, the daily language that we usually hear in the streets, so nothing new. The film is given an ironical title: Casanegra which literally means the black house; it gives a pejorative image of Casablanca, the real name of the city which literally means the white house.

It is an alternative cinema, for the protagonists are marginalized characters. Much space is devoted to the people who are put in the periphery, which empowers them and gives them an opportunity to express themselves and tell their, untold, stories. We see Casablanca city through their eyes and hard circumstances, what probably makes it a black place. Interestingly, most of the scenes are shot in the dark, at night, a technique used by the director to reflect the characters’ interior anxieties.

Casanegra reflects reality, the Moroccan reality with all its contradictions. It deals with different social issues such as: poverty, social hierarchy, prostitution, homosexuality, drugs and violence. The dramatic story revolves around two ordinary young men who are put in the margin of the society. Adil suffers from his violent stepfather, who always beats his mother. This pushes Adil to stick to his dream, manifested in a postcard, and eventually plans to leave his “Casanegra”. Karim is a little more optimistic; he is more concerned with his family and falls in love with a woman, but later he suffers from love deception. Nevertheless, what unifies Adil and Karim is their attempts to do the impossible through all the means to better their social life.

Nabila (I will use the name she is given on the movie’s profile: Nabila, though she was only once referred to as Nabila by her friend) represents a modernized icon in the Moroccan society. The criteria of her modernized character are: speaking French, driving a car, wearing western clothes, going to the night club, smoking, and the fact that she is a divorced woman. To what extent does her modern and liberated life empower (or disempowers) her as a woman? And has she succeeded in creating a Third Space between tradition and modernity, Morocco and the West?

The woman in the store is westernized; there is almost nothing about her that reveals her Moroccan identity. Perhaps, this is the reason why she remained unnamed throughout the two hours movie. She has a confused Moroccan identity with a Western one; she is a ‘neither-nor’ character. This inbetweeness creates a kind of ambivalence in her personality; she is torn between two different worlds. She lives a librated western life in a Muslim country, attempting to live the West in the East, (that is, if we regard Morocco as an Eastern country, geographically speaking.) The West is mainly a modern secular world and Morocco is a Muslim society. She is flowing back and forth between two different worlds trying to create a Third Space. The woman working in the store is a westernized character par excellence, but since she lives in Morocco, so somehow she managed to live a Third Space.

Some Moroccan women take the journey of modernization, and eventually, start to criticize and be ashamed of their own culture and identity. They observe their society from dual positions: being superior looking down upon their own culture from Western lenses and being in an inferior position vis-à-vis the West. Returning to Nabila, her mimic of the West is manifested in the use of the French language and her Western clothes. Adil was making fun at his friend Karim asking him to “teach some Arabic” to her; because she uses mostly French, the language of the West. Actually, pretending to look modernized (in certain cases even superior) is the reason why some people prefer to speak French, or at least code mix French and Arabic.

Interestingly, the woman in the store is usually looked at from the outside speaking to her clients. Her voice is not heard. She is the subject of the man’s gaze and surveillance. Karim is attracted to her beauty; he sees her only as a body, as a woman who should submit to him and to his desire. He does not care about the social “hierarchy” between them although his friend, Adil, keeps advising him not to have a relationship with this woman, but he ignores him.

Nevertheless, Nabila seems to represent the bright side of Casablanca. She is an optimistic character. We never hear her saying Casanegra. Unlike Adil who is always screaming Casanegra which he has been using throughout the movie. This could be explained that she is living a happy luxurious life, away from the “dirt” of Casanegra whereas Karim and Adil’s life is full of unhappy events that cause them to see Casablanca through their hard circumstances. Basically, the choice of such linguistic forms reflects their psychological interior anxiety. And it could be seen as a disempowerment for them, a failure to face life so they escape in drugs and drinking alcohol for instance.

Karim at night goes with Adil to a corner in a very high building in the center of Casablanca, Adil screams “Casanegra”. Afterwards, Karim goes with Nabila to the same corner in the very high building, she was climbing even higher, wearing very tight clothes showing freedom, and she screams Casablanca with a very loud voice, trying to make herself heard; or as if she is trying to change the “black” reality of Casablanca. She calls for change, a change that “everyone is afraid of” according to Mernissi; probably because it is a change that seeks to decentre those who are already in the centre.

As stated before, Nabila goes to the night club with her friends. What is worth mentioning is the song she is dancing on with Karim in the night club; an optimistic song by Oum, a Moroccan westernized singer who sings in English. The song is entitled Hamdoulah (Thanks God in Arabic). The refrain goes as follows: “hamdoulah, for blessing my face, blessing my soul, giving me a piece of mind …When I’m feeling down, when I smile giving me strength, this is my dancing”. The song reflects the mood of the Moroccan woman living freedom.

The woman or chikha working in [Zrirek’s] night club is also portrayed as a, somehow, librated character, yet in a Moroccan traditional way in comparison to the Nabila. Chikha or chikhat (plural) are the kind of women who sing and dance in night clubs, some even smoke and drink alcohol, the case in the movie. But generally they have a bad reputation within the Moroccan society, therefore they are not respected. They are the type of women who are only for temporal fun, extremely objectified.

The language and taboo words the chikha in Casanegra uses as well as her actions (smoking and drinking alcohol) reveal her carelessness of what people think of her as a woman, a Moroccan woman. She has thrown values and social norms aside ignoring the extremely cultural power of hchouma [shame]. This latter seems to be a block of the freedom of Moroccan women. So by rejecting it they are free, at least from their perspective. She is defending chikhat when Adil criticizes them, so she seems proud of herself and profession. She is defined in the movie in relation to her profession.

She is a tough woman and very responsible as Zrirek says that “without her the night club wouldn’t keep going.” This might be motivated by having interest in the club for she will be the wife of the owner, Zrirek. Thus, is she really liberated? Or enslaved by man?

Ironically, the name of the night club where she works is: au Tout va bien (where everything is okay). It implies that outside is “Casanegra” and inside, the night club, everything is okay. Everyone escapes inside and forgets about the troubles of “Casanegra” by drinking, smoking, dancing and having fun.

In au tout va bien night club, a chikha is singing “kill me kill me, and close the door on me, till al Harizi (the man) comes and opens the door for me” (my translation), this indicates that even some Moroccan popular songs give power to men. They show how women are so dependent on men, and importantly the woman who is singing it, as if she is unconsciously disempowering herself.

Let’s not forget that the chikha remains throughout the movie inside her limited sphere, the night club; we never see her outside. So, is she herself escaping a bitter reality outside? Is she hiding inside the walls of “au tout va bien” and giving the illusion that she is all right? Would she be careless and not affected by hchouma when having a direct encounter with the society outside?

The actor who presented the chikha character is highly criticized; because women are usually expected to speak a good selective language and to behave in a certain way. The Moroccan audience seems shocked to see such behaviors on the Moroccan Cinema screen. The movie Casanegra is mostly watched individually; it is not a family movie. There is a great use of taboo words. The director explained this unexpected use of “street language” that it is the language of the ‘real’ Morocco, the language that we are confronted with in our daily life. He states that “we watch western movie which are full of worse insults and behaviors, still we like them and we don’t complain.” (In an interview with him in Mubachara ma’akum on 2m). The question that imposes itself here is, knowing that the scenarist and director of the movie is a Moroccan man who has lived in Norway for 20 years: Is the movie Casanegra itself a mimic of the west? In a Moroccan program where he was interviewed about Casanegra, he said that he was “disturbed by the postcards that represent Morocco in a folkloric way;” therefore, he wanted to show the ‘real’ Morocco, from his own perspective. Then, to what extent has he succeeded in representing the ‘real’ Morocco in the film?

In the movie, the mother of Adil is represented as a weak woman, victimized and silenced, we rarely hear her voice. Her first husband died, Adil’s father, and she got married again. Perhaps because she couldn’t resist living alone as a widow in the Moroccan society, so she got married seeking protection of man. This reminds me of a pertinent Moroccan proverb which states that “the shadow of a man is better than the shadow of a wall”, but is not the shadow of a wall better than the shadowing shadow of a man! Some men are in the family just the ‘present-absent’ subjects.

She is leading a miserable life with her second husband who mistreats her and uses her. She is a working woman; he beats her and takes the money she earns in order to buy alcohol. He treats her as a piece of furniture. He is much trivialized as a character; he cares about his little TV more than anything else; he threatens Adil to “cut him into pieces if he touches his TV.”

The woman, on the other hand, is very much victimized; portrayed as helpless. All she can do is cry. Her screaming seems not to be an act of rebellion but an act of defeat; when she couldn’t stand her husband beating her son, Adil. She is generally silent and when the violence causes silence, (one) must be mistaken. So who is to be blame here? The woman who submits to her husband and hopeless before him or the man who resorts to his physical strength to silence and domesticate the woman?

Adil is ready to do anything to defend his mother. While her husband is beating her, Adil defends his mother and hit his step-father with a chair on the head, which causes the fall of the authoritative aggressive man. However, and unexpectedly, the woman is yelling at her son who was trying to help her from the hands of her savage man. Naively, she is reminding her son not to “forget this man is my husband” and asking him to go away. As if it is her husband’s right to beat her, something expected and taken for granted. Probably, this is the reason why his violence is not resisted and fought against.

Adil encourages his mother to resist, and to go to declare all what her husband does to her in the police station. However, she is too vulnerable and frightened to suit her husband, though she admits that “she couldn’t resist (him) more.” Adil suggests that she goes to Taounat (A small town near Fez city) to his grandmother, and he finally could convince her. He provides her with all the money he has earned (or stolen). But she remains hesitative and anxious not to be called a “maskhouta” (Moroccan Arabic which means a naughty woman) in her village; for this is the second husband she escapes from. Actually her first husband died, as if it is her fault and she is the one to blame. She is afraid of the return, returning ‘home’. Her family will not understand her suffering and will only criticize and blame her for leaving her husband behind. Why is it a shame for a woman, but never for the man, to get divorce in the Moroccan society?

She is afraid to escape or get divorce from her husband. It is very likely that the audience would have been complaining or wondering why did she have to stay with him and stand all his dehumanizing? The wife usually sacrifices her life for the sake of her children, but this woman has no children with this husband. Is it because of a financial need of man? But she is the one who provides him with money, not the other way around; or perhaps an emotional attachment? The fear from the society and all their surface judgments could be another reason why she had to endure. When she has left, her husband asks Adil about her, and Adil replied him saying that “he brought shame to men.”

Society and the social norms have always preached that women’s space is limited in the domestic sphere: the house, it goes even further: kitchen. Besides, woman is expected to be dependent on man, simply because it is the man who is the lord of the house and the means of providence of the whole family. So everyone is under his mercy. In [Karim’s family], however, the standardized traditional spaces are somehow reversed, though the woman remains in the house – kitchen throughout the movie. Yet, it is the woman who is the lady of the house; her husband is very sick and the elder son, Karim, is not capable enough to take the family’s responsibility.

According to the Moroccan standards at least, she is an ideal Moroccan woman. She portrays a good image of a mother as well as a wife. Her husband is so sick, almost disable, and she has three children, among them Karim her elder son. She succeeds in doing her ‘duty’ as a woman in raising a good family.

Usually she gives advice to her son Karim and has authority over him in the kitchen where her voice can “be heard more easily (…) because under the patriarchal division of labor this is the space in which she [as a woman] has the greatest authority.” (Blunt, Alison. Writing Women and Space: colonial and postcolonial geographies. P: 2. 1994.) She encourages her son to get the job by el-Hajj [cleaning fish] to help supporting the family.

A woman taking responsibility in the family is not an easy task. Yet it is common in some Moroccan families. We often hear in the Moroccan society statements like: “a woman with no man is worth nothing.” But in Casanegra we see that the woman is almost everything and the other way around “a man with no woman is worth nothing.”

Karim is aware of the importance of educating girls. He brings an English dictionary to his sister because she needs it for school. Although he was made fun of when was seen with a book in his hands, he didn’t care. He did the impossible to bring the book to his sister. Importantly, it is a dictionary; a book which she would use to explain some complicated terms and concepts. Dictionary is the symbol of knowledge and learning, not any regular book. Likewise, he cares for the education of his little brother; he asks him whether he has gone to school that day. Karim is helping his sister and brother to learn and study, the thing that he seems to have been deprived of and missed.

The mother of Karim has a strong personality, unlike the mother of Adil who is completely submissive. She cares for her family. She cares for the reputation of her family. She does not have a narrow vision. She gives advice to her son. She questions the money that her son gives her; she does not accept whatever is given to her though there is a financial need in the family. Karim kissed her head showing respect; she is like a saint. She is rarely seen in the movie, yet she occupies an extremely important role.

She is not simply a passive woman in her kitchen cooking. She interacts and takes part in her family; she asks about her children and cares about their education, she makes decisions. When she is talking about her son’s friends, Adil, she addresses Karim saying “and you call (Adil) a friend”, this shows that she is not ignorant. She examines the friends of her children. She doesn’t believe the lies of Karim. She has a strong opinion. As a caring mother, she confirms the quote that “while men are concerned with an ‘ethic of justice’, women are more centered on an ‘ethics of care’.” (Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. P. 288) This is not the traditionally known “male-headed” family where there is “mastery” and “superiority”. But I would rather say a “female-headed” family.

As a conclusion of the second part; both women are unnamed. They are different women. One is submissive to her husband and not able to challenge him. The other is capable to take care of the whole family and take part in decision-making and lead a challenging life.

In the conclusion of my analysis of the Casanegra and the representation of women, I conclude that we cannot generalize and universalize Moroccan women experiences and differences. There are different categories of women: Nabila who is leading a Western life and independent from men, Chikha who ignores the society and its power, the good mother and wife who serves her family, and the woman who is re-married.

The women in the film are somehow empowered, Nabila has the power to control the fate of the man, while chikha intrudes the male space. The mother of Karim is not a passive woman who obeys men, but she controls the family. And the mother of Adil, who might look a victim, the fact that she left her husband behind reveals her power. The prostitute, who is defending the homosexual, is very important as well; she sees it as her duty to help the ‘man’. Although the movie has no feminist agenda, but it suggests reconsidering and revising the idea of the passive woman, the woman who is imprisoned in her house, or veil and is disempowered by men.

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Little known concerning the Macnins’ origins. They were natives from Marrakech, and they “were among the most famous Jewish merchant families of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Morocco.”[1] They settled their trade affairs in Essaouira which is “known to Europeans as Mogador.”[2] Moreover, they were very active in commerce and trade and they had a prominent role in “the early development of the commercial life of the new seaport.”[3] The Macnins were among the elite Jewish merchants who were privileged to wear Western clothes.[4]

Their fluency in European languages permitted them to be successful ambassadors to Europe and the Moroccan foreign affairs. They were among “the elite Jews [who] were part of th[e] cosmopolitan society of foreign commerce, well acquainted with Europe. The Jewish merchants (…) traded with Amsterdam, Livorno, London and Marseille often had members of their families in these European ports,”[5] which allowed them to function well in Europe.

Another important function of the Moroccan Jews is that they served as interpreters to the sultan “when foreigners obtained an audience with the sultan.”[6] Samuel Sumbal, for instance, served as an interpreter and counselor to the sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah.[7] Perhaps this is the reason why the Moroccan Jews remained always in close contact with the sultans. Interestingly, the act of interpreting to the sultan will allow them to be well-versed in politics in the state’s affairs, and to have a wider knowledge concerning the country’s relations with Europe.

Daniel Schroeter makes it clear that “the almost exclusive reliance of Sidi Muhammad b[en] ‘Abdallah on Jewish merchants to conduct his trade with Europe was also closely related to the fact that the Jews did not constitute a political risk, as did Muslim potentates.”[8] The Macnins maintained a special relationship with the Moroccan government. Because they were rich merchants, they were giving presents to the sultan and gifts to officials.[9]

Importantly, during the reign of Sultan Sulayman (1793-1822) in Essaouira, trade was dominated by Macnin family, Jewish merchants to the Sultan, and from 1800 onwards, Meir Macnin was active in London. [10]

Meir Macnin

Meir Macnin is “the family’s most famous member.”[11] Meir Macnin’s full name was Meir Ben Abraham Cohen.[12] His father, however, was known as “Macnin” which literally means “goldfinch.” Meir Macnin is a diasporic Moroccan Jew and a prosperous merchant who “was frequently the most important [often practically the only][13] intermediary between the Moroccan state and the European powers during the first three decades of the nineteenth century, above all under the rule of Sultan Mawlay Sulayman.”[14] Eventually “he began a long residence in London in 1800 at the time of the great bubonic plague in Morocco.”[15]

Daniel Schroeter claims that Macnin “only spoke a rudimentary English; [for] his Spanish and Arabic were all he needed for his dignified communal and social activities.”[16] But he must eventually have advanced in English too, for the fact that he lived for a long time in London and had many encounters with the English.

Meir Macnin was known as the sultan’s Jew and referred to by the Europeans as the “governor’s Jew” because he was always in a close contact with the sultan. In London he was periodically “commissioned to perform certain tasks as agent of the sultan.”[17] He became the favorite pet of Mawlay Sulayman that he would identify him as “our Jew” while corresponding with the foreign powers.[18] This gave a certain privilege to Meir Macnin.

Meir Macnin still served as the governor of Essaouira under the reign of Moulay Yazid. This latter was a very mean sultan not only to Jews but also to Muslims. He hated both Jews and Christians. Still Macnin, the Moroccan Jew, functioned well. Only some Jewish merchants who were granted to serve under Moulay Yazid’s reign such as: Mordecai De La Mar “who received the exclusive privilege to export wax from all the ports.”[19] And Francesco Chiappe, “who had been appointed by Sidi Muhammed b[en] ‘Abdellah in 1784 as secretary for foreign relations,”[20] while others were persecuted.

Macnin departed to London – England in 1799 accompanied by his relative Solomon Sebag[21]; he had “the wealth, standing, and contacts to become in a short time Morocco’s indispensable agent in Europe. But most likely, he left the country not in search of wider opportunities, but in fear of death from a disease that still infested North Africa at the turn of the nineteenth century: the bubonic plague,”[22] for it was widespread in the country then.

Meir Macnin lived in London for about twenty years, and then shuttled between Morocco and England for fifteen years until his death in 1835. Actually,

Macnin’s position as a Moroccan court Jew and his activities in London are representative of a specific conjuncture in Sephardic history. The era in which Macnin lived was the last age in which affiliation to the Sephardic world still transcended one’s national affiliation. Despite the fact that the gap between Moroccan and English economic and military power was obvious in the early nineteenth century, the Sephardic Jewish merchants who frequently traveled between Europe and North Africa demonstrate that there was a kind of parity between Anglo and Moroccan Jewry. There was as yet hardly a sense of a dichotomous relationship between a superior, Western, modern Jew, and the Oriental. The sense of parity was undermined when English Jews increasingly become a part of national civic society. Emancipation, in this sense, brought an end to Sephardic history. Henceforth, the Jewish world was divided between a new set of juxtapositions: East versus West, modern versus traditional, and so forth. In the last few years of Macnin’s life, the sultan’s Jew had become an anachronistic symbol of a bygone era.[23]

Based on this long quote we come to the conclusion that Meir Macnin, although a rich modern Moroccan Sephardic Jew was subjected to the superiority of the European superiority. Moroccan Jews were regarded as backward vis-à-vis the European ‘civilized’ Jews (Ashkenazi). Moreover, they were looked down upon being from Muslim/ Arab lands, which got them accused of being Arabized. Still, this did not stop them from involving prominently in Britain and the British life as a whole.

Although Macnin contributed prominently in the Moroccan state, I have not come across any acknowledgements to him in the state’s archive, somehow he is not given room in the Moroccan history. What is more ironical is that people confuse his name with the most known Moroccan Jewish name: Wacnin. Surprisingly, when I mentioned Macnin’s name to Mr. Didier Tobaly, the lawyer of the Moroccan Jewish community in Morocco, while in an interview with him; he gave me a weirdly shocked face and did not want to give information about this person. What is more striking is that in The Sultan’s Jew preface, Meir Macnin’s life is presented as problematic:

[Macnin’s] life seems to reveal the perennial negative stereotype of both Jew and Oriental: a cosmopolitan polyglot traveler; a schemer and scoundrel; a venal manipulator of other people’s fortunes; a seeker of wealth, honor, and prestige. To European merchants and diplomatic agents in Morocco, Meir Macnin appeared to combine the arrogant self-righteousness of the Jews and the moral depravity of the East. Despite his notoriety and history of unpaid debts, he was still able to operate and outmaneuver his detractore, flaunting his sometimes dubious status as Jewish agent of the Moroccan sultan.[24]

Thus, there must be something striking about this person that people don’t want to unfold or talk about…


[1] Daniel J. Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew (California: Stanford University Press, 2002), Preface.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibis., p.17.

[4] Ibid., p. 19.

[5] Ibid., p. 20.

[6] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. 25.

[7] Robert Assaraf, Elément de l’histoire des Juifs de Fès de 808 à nos jours, (Rabat: Bouregreg, 2009), p. 131.

[8] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. 22.

[9] Gulru Necipoglu. Muqarnas: an annual on the visual culture of the Islamic World (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2009), p. 170.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, preface.

[12] Ibid., p. 15.

[13] Yedida K. Stillman, et al., “Morocco, England, and the end of the Sephardic world order (The Sultan’s Jew, Meir Macnin),”From Iberia to diaspora : studies in Sephardic history and culture (Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, 1999), p. 87Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. xii.

[14] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. xii.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Stillman, et al., “Morocco, England, and the end of the Sephardic world order (The Sultan’s Jew, Meir Macnin),”From Iberia to diaspora : studies in Sephardic history and culture, p. 100.

[17] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. xii.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid. , p. 29.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Albert M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of England, p. 207.

[22] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. 35.

[23] Stillman, et al., “Morocco, England, and the end of the Sephardic World Order (The Sultan’s Jew, Meir Macnin),”From Iberia to diaspora : studies in Sephardic history and culture, pp. 100-101.

[24] Schroeter, The Sultan’s Jew, p. xv.

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Samuel Pallache is a Moroccan Jew who became famous in the Christendom and the Muslim world. He served as a mediator “between Europe and North Africa.”[1] Pallache and his nephew Moshe “were fluent in the languages and cultures of both Islam and Europe,”[2] the reason why they obviously were well-versed and well-known in both Christendom and the Muslim world. García-Arenal in her book A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe celebrates his-story. She states in the introduction of her book that:

the lives of such obscure minor figures are very hard to document or to reconstruct in their entirety. It is perhaps precisely for this reason that we, the authors of this book, have come to feel such fascination for the ambiguous and complex life of Samuel Pallache.[3]

This quote shows that Samuel Pallache was an interesting person who is worthy to be studied and conduct research on. García-Arenal, with other authors, devoted the entire book to tell Pallache’s his-story as the title indicates.

Samuel Pallache was born in Fez, attempted to straddle the borders between two worlds in conflict with one another.[4] García-Arenal illustrates with a map captioned as “Samuel Pallache’s World” which goes far to England and Italy. Samuel assumed control of diplomatic relations with the English court. So “in 1611, he traveled to England with the Moroccan ambassador and the English agent John Harrison to deliver a letter from Muley Zaydan to James I.”[5]

Some of the Moroccan Jews went too far in integrating in the English society by eventually converting to Protestantism, which caused a complete denial from their families: such as Isaac, Samuel Pallache’s nephew, son of his brother Joseph.[6] However, he was still identified as a Jew in London because the Christians thought that Jews can be ‘pretenders’.

Samuel Pallache occupied an interesting position in England serving “the crown again in connection with North African affairs” and afterwards “persuaded Samuel’s nephew, Moseh Pallache, to follow the same path”[7]

Samuel Pallache died in 1615.[9]

Samuel

Unfortunately, not much English or French materials are available on Samuel Pallache, mostly Spanish. I have based my arguments on mainly one book, A Man of Three Worlds, which is considered as a key book to Samuel Pallache’s journeys.


[1] Mercedes García-Arenal, et al., A Man of Three Worlds: Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University, 1999), foreword. viii.

[2] Ibid., p. viii-ix.

[3] Ibid., intro. ixx.

[4] Ibid., p. xx.

[5] Ibid., p. 75.

[6] Ibid., p. x.

[7] Jonathan I. Israel, Empires and Entrepots: The Dutch, the Spanish Monarchy and the Jews, 1585-1713 (London: The Hambledon Press, 1990), p. 368.

[8] Albert M. Hyamson, The Sephardim of England, footnote num. 2, p. 8.

[9] Ibid.

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Bab as-sma Maftouh (A Door to the Sky) is a 1988 Moroccan feature film, directed by Farida Benlyazid. The film has been widely watched and written about. In this article I will focus mainly on the issue of gender in the film focusing on the protagonist Nadia, the voice of religion and tradition Kirana and Bahia as a former self of Nadia. In the light of Suzanne Gauch’s article “Now You See It, Now You Don’t: Transnational Feminist Spectatorship and Farida Benlyazid’s A Door to the Sky.”

From the very beginning we understand that the film has a spiritual agenda. The setting is in the Moroccan spiritual city: Fez. The protagonist, Nadia, returns from Paris to Fez where her father lies dying. Soon after, in the funeral, where we see only women, Nadia is wearing a white jellaba and covering her hair and listening to Kirana’s chanting of the Quran. Eventually Nadia develops a close relationship with Kirana, who, interestingly, represents traditions and religion.

Under Kirana’s guidance, Nadia gradually discovers and later embraces her Moroccan Muslim cultural and spiritual heritage, leaving behind the Western French identity, knowing that she was living in France and is from a French mother, which is manifested through breaking up with her French boyfriend. Nadia in the beginning used to smoke and drink alcohol, later we see her praying.

Nadia decides to turn the family house into a zawiya, a shelter and spiritual center for women. Her siblings, however refuse and prefer to sell it because “it needs a lot of restorations.” Towards the end of the film, the spirit of Ba Sissi, an old friend of the family who died years ago, leads Nadia to a treasure buried in the garden, which will allow her to purchase the house. Later Nadia discovers her healing powers as a shrifa (a descendant of the prophet Muhammad), she uses this gift to cure the ill women whose problems are seemingly resolved once they are in the zawiya. Bahia, a hippie-like Moroccan girl, is introduced to the zawiya. Bahia, as Gauch argues, is a reflection of Nadia’s past. Unlike all women in the zawiya who are wearing traditional clothes and veils, Bahia is very westernized coming from France, she speaks French and has tattoos. She is looked down upon in the zawiya, only Nadia who sympathizes with her and invited her to her room.

In the end of the films, Nadia leaves the zawiya because her spirit cannot flourish there. She and Abdelkarim leave the zawiya and the city of Fez.

Benlyazid presents us with a spiritual transnational form of feminism where she develops the protagonist as an individual. She offers a soft version of Islam away from the political radical one. This explains why the film has widely circulated in the West and was praised by western feminists including Ella Shuhat. It is perplexing, however, that the film is not available in Morocco. Gauch similarly argues that the film is for a Western audience where it is recommended to be taught and to be watched by foreigners coming to Morocco. The film, for Gauch, becomes like a tourist guidebook.

Hamid Tbatou, a Moroccan cinema critic, believes that the film folklorizes (and Orientalizes) the Moroccan Culture through architecture, exotic places such as hammams and souks. The film provides images that please and flirt with the western expectations, and presents Islam as little more than magic.

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This article is based on Mostapha al-Messnaoui’s book Abhat fi Cinema al Maghribiya (Research on Moroccan Cinema, 2001). I will focus mainly on the first chapter that deals with the beginnings of Cinema in Morocco and how the French colonialism influenced it, followed by the three phases of colonial cinema in Morocco and then the extent to which Moroccan cinema could detach itself from the colonial legacy after independence.

The beginnings of Cinema in Morocco are blurred; in the sense that it is debated whether it dates back to the pre official appearance of Cinema in 1896 namely to the “detective film”: Al-Fariss al-Barbari (The Berber Knight) made by Jules Etiennes Marey in 1885 using the chronophotography technique, or to the era between 1895 and 1905 that is the era in which the “Viewer’s Catalogue” was assembled; it belongs to the French company Lumière, about 1800 short film made by the company at that time, including about 60 films on North Africa, only one film on Morocco entitled Rai’ al-ma’iz al-Maghribi (The Moroccan Goat Herder). But are we talking about Moroccan films here? This kind of film represents “the natives” as the Other, a static object that fits the decoration and background.

Al-Messnaoui explains that the criteria of a Moroccan film are not reduced in filming a film in Morocco with a Moroccan décor, nor in engaging Moroccan “actors” about whom we know only their names, nor through tackling Moroccan-like themes, these are only films made by foreigners on Morocco, far from the reality in Morocco. What is worth calling a Moroccan film is rather made by a Moroccan director who portrays the reality of Morocco from an internal perspective, not a superior one, starting from the lived reality not the eroticized one which serves a particular colonial agenda or give a picturesque Oriental superior view looking down upon the “natives” as “primitive,” “savage” and “exotic.”

When the French photographer and journalist, Félix Mesguich, came to Casablanca at the period when it was being attacked by the French colonial forces he stated that “when we reached [Casablanca through the sea] the smoke was rising from the city because of the bombings. A sailors’ group led us to the French consulate. I photographed some scenes of the soldiers in the deserted streets covered by dead bodies, from which a fetid smell rose with clouds of flies.” Clearly, from this description, the view expressed by Mesguich is the colonial gaze; the city that is burning does not make him feel a sense of disapproval, it is just like the “fetid smell” of the Moroccan citizens’ dead bodies.The quote shows how proud the French photographer is filming these Moroccan dead soldiers while he is protected by the French consulate. Al-Messnaoui argues that the gaze to the French occupation to Casablanca would have certainly been different if a Moroccan photographer were behind the camera, picturing what had been done by Moroccans as a legal resistance, not simply a barbaric act committed by “primitive” Riffians outside of civilization.

Morocco for France and the West, in general, is the same it doesn’t change; therefore, its image remains the same in the colonial cinema, perpetuating the same stereotypes about the “natives” and their inferiority vis-à-vis the superior West.

France attempted, following the Second World War, to establish a “Moroccan” cinema, supervised and directed by French cinematographers and addresses “Moroccan” stories cooperated by Moroccan “actors.” Here, too, we cannot talk about Moroccan Cinema, as long as it is only a diversification of the colonial orientation of cinema in Morocco; for this “Moroccan Cinema” is considered (under colonization) synonymous to local popular tales or “A Thousand and One Nights” tales or Molière’s plays within a Moroccan frame.

If it is hard to get rid of the colonial cinema easily; as much as it is also hard to integrate in its history. For Al-Messnaoui, the colonial cinema left clear scars on Moroccan Cinema, since the former is an essential phase of the latter.

The Phases of Colonial Cinema

Al-Messnaoui stages three main phases of the Colonial Cinema in Morocco;

The first phase is characterized by focusing on the exotic side of the Maghreb, this confirms the Westerners’ constructed image of the Islamic East as being aggressive and primitive. For the colonial directors the Arabic-Islamic civilization with its values, religion, and its view of the world, is totally different, and even contradictory, with the Western civilization that is much more civilized. Nevertheless it is a place of mysteriousness, stirring amazement and imagination. From this ambivalent state, most of these directors managed to make their films in Morocco and on Morocco, not because it is a separated land from the rest of the Arab world, but for it is the closest model to and on Europe.

Thus, the themes of the colonial film did not go beyond strangeness, fancy, magic, violent reactions, and the fatal jealousy, as its visual field did not go beyond sand, palm trees, camel caravans, the mosques’ towers, narrow streets, the burning sun, and its stories on love and adventure. The colonial films basically address the Western audience, so it is acceptable to marginalize “the natives” and transform them to “accessories” that fit the background where the European heroes move freely.

The hero of the colonial film is mostly a thief, a fugitive murderer, a bankrupt rich man, or one escaping from romantic failure, and then comes to Morocco to forget his worries or to hide his murder. Most of the times this hero ends with glory (soldier always) able to retrieve his money and his lover, or receive forgiveness for his crime.

Apparently in the second phase the “Moroccan” character has a better position in the colonial cinema, no more an object but a human. Yet, what sort of human? The “native” man is usually presented as naturally evil, bloodthirsty and murderous, and the “native” woman as a sorcerer, a belly dancer or a prostitute, or a very beautiful woman (always a Western actor who would play this role) of whom the young European officer falls in love with, and she might share him love but the end is never happy because of “the traditions, values and religious customs” which forbid marriage between a Moroccan woman and a nsrani (Christian man).

In this phase a Moroccan might contribute in providing a certain idea to the film with which the director wants to a give a local touch. This did happen in the film Wardat al Souq (or Arih achatwiya) the second Moroccan film of Jack Sepherac but it is about a “popular tale” that has nothing to do with real life. The attempt of the colonial director to get closer to the Moroccan reality was a failure, because he addresses reality through a fictional story. This film, however, led to the appearance of the first article in the Moroccan Cinema criticism by Mohammed al-Omari himself, in the form of a letter in French sent to the director in 1931 where he congratulates him for the film and celebrates it as a film that does not wound the dignity of Muslims and that it is within a Moroccan frame and characters.

Perhaps, a number of intellectuals would have shared this opinion because all what they asked from cinema was to display a Moroccan space with Moroccan characters, without having the thought to film a local film on reality because such films were needed in the colonial era to help in achieving independence not glorifying the colonial presence and portraying the colonizer as civilizing from one side, and as the most powerful that should be submitted to avoiding its anger from the other. This would have not affected the Moroccan audience anyway, who were mostly influenced by the Egyptian Cinema, for the fact that it is closer to their Arab culture and language. Therefore, to fight against the great influence of the Egyptian Cinema on the Moroccan society and to avoid the danger it might cause in developing awareness among Moroccans, a new vision was suggested to the Colonial Cinema that is establishing a local “Moroccan Cinema” that targets “the natives.” And here the third and final phase in Colonial Cinema starts.

The third phase: in harmony with the new vision, the French filmmakers made in Morocco several films targeting only Moroccans. Thus, in two years only, 1946-1947,  about 12 films appeared all spoken by the local Moroccan Arabic, or rather in both Moroccan Arabic and French, starting by the film Yassmina. But the claimed Moroccan films were not welcomed by the Moroccans. This was explained by the French critic G. Hennebelle due to the absence of reality in these films, the Moroccan viewer does not find his real representation or his political ambitions in it.

Later, France will learn from its Moroccan “mistakes,” so it sent to Paris in 1958 about 15 candidates to pursue a training in the High Institute of Cinema (I. D. H. E. C.), but that was too late, for most of these candidates, after finishing their training served the “Independence National Movement” and filmed the first real Algerian feature films on armed resistance.

To conclude, Cinema in Morocco has been greatly influenced by colonialism. Colonial films cannot be considered or included within Moroccan Cinema, simply because the former marginalizes, and other times it distorts, everything that is Moroccan. In addition, Colonial Cinema was largely targeting a Western audience. Al-Messnaoui comes to the conclusion that there is no Moroccan Cinema unless it detaches itself from the colonial heritage and moves forward.

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