Ruled by one of the oldest monarchies in the world, Ruled by a king whose independent wealth comes in at a striking 5.7billion dollars, and yet whose GDP per capita sits lower than Tunisia, and the lowest on the tour. To put it simply I’m not sure what I was expecting to see when entering Morocco. What little expectations I had leaving Tunisia were not good, after hearing that we were traveling to the country seemingly poorer than the one we had just left meant that I was expecting to see poverty and while in some areas that was the case, overall that expectation was dead wrong.
Morocco is an interesting country in terms of its government, neither truly a Monarchy like Qatar, and yet not a developing democracy like Tunisia, instead Morocco walks the middle ground as a constitutional monarchy. In 2011 following the jasmine revolution in Tunisia, Moroccans took to the street, demanding of their government similar reforms that had taken place in Tunisia. Little more than one month after the first protests took place in Rabat, King Mohammed VI announced that reforms would take place, with a goal of improving the democracy within the nation. Ultimately has meant that Morocco sits in a strange position, that initial comparison to both Qatar and Tunisia is apt as similar to Qatar, Morocco has a Monarch looking to make changes that are in the best interest of his people while at the same time the country undertakes changes in order to bring about more democratic systems, just like in Tunisia. Because of this when talking to locals, it is clear that there are two core ideas in the minds of Moroccans. First, that there is a genuine love of their king, this is due to many reasons (Some that will be covered during the modernisation section) but the primary reason seems to be due to just how much work he is doing to better the nation. And secondly that despite their Monarch Moroccans still want to be able to voice their views in ways that will mean they are heard. Whether it’s through the typical democratic side of Morocco or the actions of their Monarch, one element does seem to ring true, Moroccans do seem to believe that their government is acting in line with the views of the people, which in spirit is what any and all democracies strive to do.
Modernity in Morocco, if this trip had never taken place my views would have been vastly different. Morocco’s modernity when viewed externally, well frankly it isn’t good. From the exterior their technological improvement is hampered by their low GDP, their ethical modernity hampered by historic laws and traditionalist views, but, having now visited the country, that may not necessarily be the entire picture.
In terms of their technological advancement without question, Moroccans are riding a wave of improvements funded almost entirely out of their kings own pocket. The medina in Fez, where we spent most of our time resembles a market ripped straight out of the history books, and yet, it is a market that is completely connected the internet via wireless access points and fiber optic cable. Their energy production whilst still predominantly reliant on coal and gas is moving quickly towards renewables, currently ranked third in Africa in solar the country is shifting towards the renewable energy system backed, once again, by the King. So, despite appearances technologically Morocco is far more advanced than at first glance, and even more strangely this also seems to be the case morally as well.
Looking purely at Moroccan law, the rights of the LGBT community are not protected, with being homosexual still being considered a crime. However, in talking with Sandy McCutcheon of the website The View from Fez, and ex Australian journalist, we were told that the stance on homosexuality is far closer to ‘live and let live’ telling us a story of a friend who, instead of being arrested, was simply asked to move from the conservative, traditional old city, to the new city within Fez. While I wouldn’t for one moment suggest this is ‘good enough’ it does raise an interesting question, to what degree are the laws on equality in Morocco a reflection of the views of the people, vs wanting to maintain a traditional appearance.
Streets of sandstone, with no exterior decorations, save for colourfully painted doors and ornate knockers. This was the constant view walking the medinas in both Fes and Rabat, simple, refined, quiet, but upon entering the few buildings we were able to, this changed in an instant. The refined exteriors gave way to ornate and colourful tiles, high ceilings to assist with the heat, internal gardens with portals opening out straight into the sky. Rooftop gardens with amazing views with intricate metalwork lining the windows and banisters. Put simply, Morocco is the architectural example of ‘Do not judge a book by its cover’.
Beyond the shift from the externals and internals of the buildings, it was also apparent, just as in Tunisia that Moroccan architecture had been influenced and changed by the countries diverse and deep history. As with Tunisia, the country has a deep and diverse history marked by; a period of European rule, ties to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, historical Roman occupation, all of which blend together to create buildings and designs that distinctly Moroccan. When moving from the older cities into the new, its clear that European influence has played its part, but its also clear that the country has worked hard to maintain its own independent identity, whereas in Tunisia the main avenue could have been directly lifted from France, modern Moroccan architecture did not have that same clear Europeanised attitude. When locals were asked about this their response was the same, whether it was talking to someone on the street, or Director Lazaar from the Institute for the Training of Imams, to the representatives from The Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture, it was due to the deeply important idea of Moroccan Identity.