Nabilla Benattia, the “French Kim Kardashian”: Power Behind Popularity


I took a little break from Moroccan politics and focused on a lighter subject matter. Below is an excerpt of my post on Nabilla Benattia, who is often called the “French Kim Kardashian.” Read the entire post over on Bil3afya (complete with gifs):

Despite her Wikipedia page identifying her as a Swiss model, the most popular search terms that come up when looking Nabilla up are inquiries about her origins and religion. In multiple media appearances, she has explained how she essentially has no relationship with her estranged Algerian father, yet it is her “Algerian-ness” that is one of the most commonly brought up topics. During an interview with French paper, Libération, she addresses the relationship with her father and the impact it had on her. She also speculates as to what her life would have been had she been closer with her father. She, like so many others before her, acknowledges the struggle in identity. She explains, “With a Muslim father, a Christian mother, and a Jewish grand-mother, it was complicated. Especially since all three are really into their own thing. On Friday, my father eats couscous, there was no electricity at my grand-mother’s, and my mother goes to mass every Sunday.” Her categorization of the three adheres to dominant French perceptions and roles. The automatic association with a Muslim being of Maghrebi descent, with the mention of eating couscous on Fridays, reflects this perception. She further reinforces perceptions and roles as defined by dominate narratives in France: “If I stayed with my father, I have no idea where I’d be today. Making a tajine or even married?” Her comments, while problematic, fit a set of ideas the multicultural discourse shapes through notions of rigid identity. It would also serve well to question the context in which her comments were made, whether they are simply a media ploy for more attention or whether they are an indication of her detachment from her Algerian identity embodied in a self-orientalization. And while she raises points that have long been a topic of literature and knowledge production in the francophone world, she brings these questions to the realm of pop culture, where dissemination is far more widespread than in academia, making these ideas more pervasive.

When neoliberalism, patriarchy and authoritarianism collide

"Fadoua Laroui, everyone burns with their silence." Image via Global Voices.
“Fadoua Laroui, everyone burns with their silence.” Image via Global Voices.

Below is an excerpt from my recent op-ed piece, published on Al Jazeera English:

Fadoua Laroui’s self-immolation spread a wave of solidarity among Moroccans during a time of early mobilisation efforts for the beginning of the February 20 Movement. Fadoua Laroui was a single mother whose application for public housing was rejected in what was believed to be due to her marital status. Her self-immolation in front of her local municipal office was captured on video and shared widely on social media. In reaction to her self-immolation, Moroccan-American novelist, Laila Lalami, called her the “Moroccan Mohamed Bouazizi“.

The political and economic context surrounding her self-immolation is two-fold. Firstly, her self-immolation deliberately took place in the front gates of her local municipal office, an extension of the authoritarian regime’s hegemony. Secondly, her socioeconomic conditions that initially placed her in a position to demand public housing stem from years of top-down neoliberal economic policies. These policies made way for the king and his allies’ vast amassment of personal wealth at the expense of a majority of Moroccans, following the privatisation of Morocco’s state-owned enterprises. Forbes placed the king’s wealth at around $2.5 billion in a country where the Gross National Income per capita is $4,910.

Click here to continue reading.

“Two years on, Tunisia’s women go back to the drawing board”

My latest article is up on The National:

Beyond the complementary terms and the violence committed against women, there is little indication that the structures of economic, social, and political power in Tunisia have seen much change since the departure of Ben Ali. The opposition continues to rally supporters in huge numbers. Protests demanding economic reform, such as the violently repressed protests in Siliana, are recurring, and the government continues to maintain a tight grasp on freedom of expression. All of these are continuing hindrances to the democratic transition.

While the Tunisian government rectifies its legal missteps committed against women, it is imperative to remember that the factors women are mobilising against are not simply limited to the government.

Read more here.