To mark the 11th anniversary of the King’s ascension to the throne, and pursuant to royal guidance, Mohammed Ameur, Minister Delegate in Charge of Moroccan Community Residing Overseas, organized, in Ifran, the 1st Forum for Young Moroccans of the World. The forum gathered five hundred participants from thirty-three countries. It was intended to allow the Moroccan government to connect with and reintroduce second and third generations of young “Moroccans” residing overseas to their heritage.
As a preliminary to the forum and at the behest of Mohamed Bernoussi, the Secretary General in Charge of Moroccans residing overseas, and Driss El Yazami, president of the Overseas Moroccan Community Council, the French research agency BVA conducted a survey that covered six European countries and collected the views of over 2000 young first and second generation immigrants between the ages of 18 and 35. 94% of young “Moroccans” currently residing in Europe maintain strong ties to the Kingdom and consider themselves “Moroccans” as well as citizens of the host nation.
The BVA survey fails to communicate what being “Moroccan” means to today’s diaspora and the descendants of previous generations of immigrants who have demonstrated they are proactive contributors to the societies within which they evolve. Their assimilation into the social and cultural fabric of their host nations is complete. Those who have attained citizenship and pledged allegiance to the flag and the principles of their adoptive nations realize all of a sudden that they now live in a truly democratic society and enjoy more personal liberties and political rights than in Morocco. In Holland, Belgium, and France, Moroccans have climbed up the political ladder achieving prominence within their communities and earning the respect of their peers and colleagues. Proclaiming their “Moroccan identity” stems from a need to belong culturally that is encouraged by the democratic communities of which they are an integral part because it reinforces its diversity, not from their loyalty to the King and deference to the Kingdom’s political institutions which they consider corrupt and partisan. Complaints against the dishonesty and incompetence of the diplomats and civil servants in Moroccan embassies around the world abound and were never heeded by the authorities. According to an article in Yabiladi, five hundred Moroccan immigrants residing in southern France signed and submitted, in 2007, a petition to Morocco’s Ambassador in Paris to seek redress against Mohamed Bernoussi who at the time was the consular officer in the French southern city of Marseille since 2002; he was accused of extorting money from those seeking consular services; he treated the people he was to protect and serve contumeliously. Mohamed Bernoussi is now the Secretary General in Charge of Moroccans residing overseas. Go figure.
The government has long recognized the positive role Moroccans residing overseas play in stimulating the national economy; in 2009, the country saw an influx of over 5.86 billion dollars thanks to its immigrants and their descendants. Being a source of foreign currency is not the only reason the Moroccan government has ramped up the intensity of its courtship of the diaspora. In the past two decades, the number of Moroccans residing overseas has tripled. Today, there are 3.4 million Moroccans calling other countries home. Over seventy thousand children of Moroccan descent are born overseas every year. They constitute a human terrain over which the Moroccan government feels it is imperative to gain control and maintain the initiative. Lack of control over the Moroccan diaspora could constitute in the long term a strategic political and national security vulnerability that will erode the King’s sovereignty and subvert his leadership and that of his government. A Trojan horse of monumental proportions. The threat, in the eyes of the Moroccan government, are not only those violent Islamic extremists recruited by al Qaeda or some other terrorist group in banlieue mosques, or POLISARIO sympathizers, but also those Moroccans who, as citizens who subscribe to the just values of countries that are steeped in a tradition of true democracy, view Morocco’s government as a soft dictatorship, but a dictatorship nonetheless. So far, Morocco ‘strategy to address the threat remains one-dimensional, relying solely on human intelligence; in areas where there are large congregations of Moroccans – most of Europe, Montreal, Washington D.C., New York, Orlando, Boston, Middle Eastern countries – the Moroccan secret service, through Moroccan embassies, deployed informants to collect and report on disruptive elements, created news media forums that caters to the Moroccan immigrant population while assessing atmospherics and identifying subversion, organized associations, formed soccer teams.
The percentage of Moroccans immigrating legally is rather bleak when contrasted to that of dispossessed young men with no real opportunities temerariously undertaking the exceedingly dangerous and sometimes deadly migration north; these young Moroccans, literally, flee Morocco initially lured on by promises of prosperity in Western countries, but mostly impelled by enduring governmental neglect and unabated scarcity at home.
Their stories don’t always have the cloying feel of adventure tales. For years they toil, eking out an existence in the gutters of their adoptive cities through the vicissitudes of an immigrant’s Spartan life; they navigate, often in isolation, the complex labyrinth of cultural and linguistic adaptation. They have to make decisions in response to situations their Moroccan upbringing never prepared them for; they learn by trial and error as they contemplate secularism versus religiosity, a common culture versus an undiminished ethnic identity. All along, they harbor a nostalgia that cuts through their psyche like the Jaws of Life. They are constantly nagged by the tug of those familiar places that haunt their childhood memories. The first few years in an immigrant’s life are an emotional and physical crucible that sets the men apart from the boys. Unlike Western expatriates living in Morocco, Moroccan immigrants seldom consider the option of returning home when beset by failures; such a return is considered a letdown by their families and friends, a sign of weakness in the face of adversity. Quite a few, through sheer pertinacity and ingenuity and with no assistance from the Moroccan government, achieve noteworthy professional careers. Ironically, it is only then that the Moroccan government embraces them and considers them assets.
Moroccans residing overseas today no longer contemplate a return to Morocco (except on vacations.) Those who relocated to the Middle East are an exception to this rule; they are denied legal protection and their grievances are seldom addressed by local authorities and the Moroccan diplomatic missions. In fact, Moroccan female immigrants in the Middle East often complain about how they are equally abused by their Middle Eastern sexist sponsors and the personnel of Moroccan Embassies who ask them for sexual favors in exchange for administrative services.
Racism in many shapes and forms is still part of the immigrants’ daily life. It is true that for many Moroccans in Europe and the United States, especially those who were indoctrinated into violent Islamic extremism or involved in criminal activity, 9/11 ended the immigrant dream. It has certainly reshaped the political agenda in Europe and the U.S. and shook the core outlook each individual Westerner had on Islam and Arabs. Of course, Islamophobic sentiments existed long before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, but no one can deny that the horrific events of that day not only heightened such emotions that previously were widely condemned as racist and teetered on the edge of society, but engendered a new wave of antagonism. An extreme right movement that is unabashedly parochial emerged from the shadows, supported by politicians and news outlets and stoking the Christian atavistic fear of Islam, to launch a stunningly potent smear campaign against not only the malevolent Islamic extreme right fringe, but also the pro-Islamic initiatives moderates champion within their communities. Still, the majority of Moroccans residing abroad would rather remain in countries where there is a due process to mitigate injustices and where the law is unequivocally above all.