Seeking the Higher Ground in the Diaspora Human Terrain

In this essay, Ahmed T.B. explores Moroccan emigration, both East, and West, and concludes that things are not always as they seem.


Ahmed T.B. is a blogger, poet, social and political commentator, and world traveler. 8 comments

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

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.

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Posted on Thursday, July 29th, 2010

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8 comments on “Seeking the Higher Ground in the Diaspora Human Terrain”

  1. “Moroccans residing overseas today no longer contemplate a return to Morocco (except on vacations.)”

    I have only anecdotal evidence, but this sweeping generalization isn’t true. I know several Moroccans who have moved back to Morocco, and several who are “contemplating” it. And no, they don’t live in the Middle East.

  2. Interesting piece, Ahmed, but I do challenge you on one point: Are the numbers of clandestines truly higher than the numbers of legal emigrants? The United States alone takes over 3,000 Moroccans every year via the visa diversity program; undoubtedly hundreds more come through marriage to Americans (be they native Moroccans or otherwise). Canada boasts similar patterns.

  3. Intersting to read 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. Now I want to know names… what soccer teams?!

  4. I will tell you something and to those who are thinking the same as you , i have been leaving an overseas life for more than 20 y, i did visit & leave in several countries including gulf countries (Dubai), thanks god now i am in my beloved country MOROCCO , nothing , nothing ,nothing compare to one hour living in MOROCCO , i am wondering for what complaining ?! Moroccan & other citizenship are living abroad like slaves !!! working there for dying and not finding a place where to be buried !

  5. Jillian … The Spanish ministry of interior estimated in 2002 that only 8000 to 10000 illegal immigrants come through the strait – 15% of the total illegal immigrants entering Spain. 85% come through ports and Airports. In 2001, 19126 were detained by Spanish authorities in 711 pateras crossing the Strait – El Pais 10/01/2002. 2007 statistics show that the Moroccan population remains the largest single immigrant group in Spain at around 575,000. These numbers are just for Spain. Today, the numbers are much higher.
    vankaas … After the scandal of Redouane Lemhaouli, a.k.a. “le policier de Rotterdam,” and Mohamed Ziad blew out, other Dutch officials of Moroccan origin came forward reporting that they were approached by the Moroccan secret service. The same practices have been reported in other countries. Spying on Moroccans residing overseas is an inherent function of the DGED.
    Liosliath and Fatin … I have a friend who’s Moroccan, but hold a EU passport. He lives in Casablanca. His father is a millionaire and he might as well be living in New York or Paris. He likes the fact that he could catch the first flight out and in a matter of hours be in Europe. Ouled Acha’ab don’t have that luxury. I also have plenty of friends who, after completing their doctoral program, decided to return to Morocco. The government paid them a pittance for a salary. It didn’t take long for them to pack their bags once more and leave Morocco to return to the U.S. where they now lead the dignified life of academicians.

    • Ahmed –

      I completely agree with you that there are many Moroccans who choose to stay overseas, I know quite a few of them, too. I just objected to the blanket statement implying that no Moroccans return to their native country to live permanently, because some do.

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