The Myth of Moroccan Exceptionalism

ex·cep·tion·al·ism (k-spsh-n-lzm) : The theory or belief that something, especially a nation, does not conform to a pattern or norm. [source]

I’ve done myself the favor of avoiding Morocco World News like the plague. Aside from the excessive copying and pasting they do, the few times they invite writers to do an analysis, I shamefully lose brain cells. The one article that drove me off the edge was this Life in Morocco: An American Experience piece written by someone who could not even spare 10 minutes out of his time to do a Google search. I responded to him here.

Recently, I came across their latest attempt at analysis, Four Reasons Why Morocco is An Exception. Oh my sweet poli sci gods. Apparently, the author of this piece, Anaour Majid, is Director of the Center for Global Humanities and Associate Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of New England, USA. It says he’s written several books as well. I’ll leave the rest to your judgement.

First, he begins by claiming people, including Moroccans are confused about Morocco’s case. In this context, it seems Majid equates confusion with the difference of opinion. He then proceeds to make the earth-shattering claim,

“Many people make the mistake of thinking of Morocco as a Middle Eastern nation—we are not, I am sorry to say.  Morocco has a distinct population mix, a different geography, and a unique history. Those who criticize Morocco with mashriqi accents simply don’t get it. We don’t understand them and they don’t understand us.”

Majid immediately begins by assuming the rest of the Middle East is entirely monolithic. That unlike Morocco’s “distinct population mix, different geography, and unique history,” the rest of the Middle East is just a blob of 22 countries with no varying ethnic groups, no varying geographical landscapes and locations, and with just one simple history (whatever that is to him). It seems he has an issue with the fact that not every country that speaks Arabic is like Morocco, then completely attributes that difference to “misunderstanding.”  And this, my friends, is the beginning of a word as inventive as Moroccan Exceptionalism, what I like to call the Makhzeni Superiority Complex (MSC). Symptoms include associating yourself with the Middle East when it’s convenient, making the point that Morocco is Morocco during every discussion, bringing up the fact that couscous is first and foremost a Moroccan dish, remind everyone that Morocco was never ruled by the Ottomans, and singing the praises of the Moroccan monarchy in between every breath.

In Majid’s defense, he does attempt a political economic argument, but it falls short. He makes the common argument by people who suffer from MSC that “A country the size of Morocco can’t do direct democracy.” He then claims that only big countries can implement a representative democracy, arguing that they are far more organized. Wrap your head around that. Majid argues that before Moroccans can taste democracy, their culture must adapt to it. This is another common argument made by those who suffer from MSC. They often switch from claiming Morocco is the best to completely ripping apart Moroccans and referring to them as backwards and not worthy of democracy.

Then, Majid’s argument takes the most comical twist. He claims  that Moroccans view the notion of democracy as un-Islamic and something belonging to the kuffar (or heathens). Majid attributes the creation of democracy to the West while claiming it never existed in Islamic political thought. Oh. Well, how about the companions that succeeded the Prophet Muhammad using shura, a pluralistic vote within the community to decide who will be the next caliph? Or that in its time when Islam was introduced, it was first and foremost a religion of pluralism and completely void of hierarchy, unlike the Catholic Church at the time. Majid’s belief that Moroccans believe democracy to be un-Islamic can also be debunked by the February 20th Movement’s membership, which until a few weeks ago, included the Islamist Adl wal Ihsan movement. The movement’s belief that Morocco should become a republic instead of remaining a monarchy has been a major reason why the government has banned their political involvement. No, Majid, it seems the only ones who are afraid of democracy in Morocco are the ones who can’t let go of their power.

He then concludes his argument that Moroccans should stop corruption and create their own jobs. Well, if it was only their problem to begin with. The Wikileaks released a cable 2 years ago, holding company run by King Mohammed VI extracts bribes and concessions from real estate developers, businesses complain. That’s only a case among many. The ones creating the jobs are doing so with corruption, and at the pinnacle of society, where average Moroccan citizens have little to no influence.

Overall, Majid’s argument is unfortunately very common. The idea that Morocco is so different that we can’t use the normal tools of methodology is the very argument used by orientalists when studying the region as a whole. When studying Morocco’s recent history, we’ll find that it shares far more with its neighbors than Majid would like to admit. After experiencing decades of colonization and having its borders systematically drawn out by European powers, followed by decades of state-led growth in which the regime grew more authoritarian as it accrued wealth at a zero-sum gain, further exasperating income inequalities, while propping up allies of the regime in various business and political institutions, creating vast business-sate networks with people who essentially dominate nearly all the wealth and power within the country–oh, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Majid, try a little bit harder next time.


3 thoughts on “The Myth of Moroccan Exceptionalism

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