In Moroccan politics, the recurrence of — often hot — cultural frictions on such issues as personal freedoms, language policy or artistic events reveal hidden socio-political divergence. Their politicisation expresses discrepancies over the nature and future of the state that political parties and social movements yearn for. When summer festivals, for instance, host controversial guests, opposition prompts police brutality, to exemplify not only cultural difference, but rather what Moroccans call “dictatorship of the minority”.
This happens especially after elections wherein Islamists get landslide victories or when elections approach; cultural provocation accelerates to blur the image of Islamism-leaning political parties and groups. The purpose is twofold: to show Islamists’ weakness in defending Moroccan identity or in keeping faithful to their reform promises, as well as to hint at their unsuitability to govern a 21st century, modern Morocco.
Yet, unlike the last political season, the current term has started with frictions that affect public policies. In previous years, most disagreements over cultural issues happened between civil groups, or between the opposition and civil society. This year, the provocation started from within state institutions.
In this context, the Ministry of National Education issued a note requesting regional academies to impose French as the language in which scientific subjects is taught to technological common core pupils. The note — deprived of any context or pertinent educational research — claims to answer educational needs, though the ministry does not explain which needs precisely or how the decision does not contradict with the Constitution.
While civil society has been calling for more Arabisation of the Moroccan educational system, especially higher education, the note marginalises such advocacy. It claims that teaching scientific subjects in French in high schools will facilitate understanding at higher levels. The message is that no language reforms will occur in higher education that is taught mostly in French.
In reaction, the Federation of Pupils’ Parent Associations (FPPA) organised a sit-in in front of the ministry headquarters to condemn the plan. As they have witnessed, changing the language of instruction at schools used to be advocated by the Zakoura Association. However, the recurrent criticism aimed at its president, Noureddine Ayouch, especially for being a French puppet, seems to have obliged him to maintain a low profile.
Furthermore, the National Coalition for Arabic in Morocco (NCAM), a local NGO, issued a press release that described the notorious note as “a genuine threat to the educational and linguistic security of Moroccans.” It also said that the ministerial decision makes a “mockery” of Moroccan “values and social and constitutional consensus.” The NCAM called upon the government to put an end to the implementation of the note’s recommendation.
Both the FPPA and NCAM were conscious that changing the language of instruction at Moroccan schools is but the tip of an iceberg of a deeper, politicised cultural rift. It seems that cultural provocation has become a political programme, especially for anti-Islamist secularists, even from within the government, albeit at the hands of a technocrat on this occasion.
Moreover, a few weeks earlier, the Consultative Council for Human Rights (CCHR) included a controversial recommendation in a report on the situation of women in Morocco. The call for equating males and females in the inheritance system simultaneously challenges a Qur’anic principle, counters the general mood of the rise of religiosity in the country, shows a certain level of ignorance of the nuances within the inheritance system itself and overlooks the true human rights problems that Morocco faces and are in more urgent need of being addressed.
As the Head of the Government, Abdelilah Benkiran said in a TV interview that the CCHR acted as if it were an NGO or human rights association, not a state department. In the same vein, NGOs often make the remark that the CCRH is not pluralistic, but has been hijacked by ex-leftist activists and adheres to a leftist agenda of human rights.
The two weird moves from the Ministry of National Education and the CCHR, as two state departments, indicate the stiff political conflict at the frontline of culture and identity politics. That’s why, more, and maybe graver, cultural provocations are expected in this political season as the second parliamentary elections in post-Arab Spring Morocco come closer.
This explains why Bayt Alhikma (House of Wisdom, HoW), a leftist NGO that aligns with the Party for Authenticity and Modernity (PAM), seized the gloomy context of the recent Paris terrorist attacks to request the revision of Islamic education textbooks.
This carries a direct accusation that Moroccan schools, especially Islamic education classes, harbour and develop terrorists. Reminiscent of similar calls after the 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca, this argument neglects the fact that terrorists of Moroccan origin are usually school dropouts. This was clear in the case of the Paris attacks; the Moroccans involved almost certainly never spent much time in a Moroccan classroom. Instead, it was possibly the lack of adequate Islamic education that facilitated their inclination towards terrorist networks.
Once more, this provocation overlooks the cultural realities in Moroccan society. Morocco has hundreds of Qur’an schools; youngsters win numerous international Qur’an recitation competitions. Some Moroccan students at public schools receive authentic education that is based mainly on the Qur’an. Mohammed VI Radio channel depends heavily on the Qur’an for its content and has been top of the popularity list ever since media metrics started in Morocco. If Islamic education is responsible for terrorism, it means that HoW views Morocco as an entire country of potential self-destructive fanatics.
In the context of the vulnerability that the region is subject to these days, consensus is required more than ever before. If cultural provocations aim towards pushing Moroccans not to vote for Islamists, the provocateurs are certainly taking the wrong path. If nothing else, anti-Islamist politicians must have learnt from the 2011 and 2015 elections that the more that Islamists are targeted, the more votes they get. Winning elections comes only through serious opposition and realistic, achievable political programmes.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.