by Sana Afouaiz - 02 March 2015
This short article is dedicated to all Africans who say, I’m not African and all the Arabs who say, I’m not Arab.
The issue of the Moroccan identity seems to be a debate that I always have to explain whenever I travel, especially when I meet some of my African and Arab fellows. Africans would ask me “Where are you from?”, me: “Morocco”, them: “Ah, you are an Arab who don’t admit the African origins”, then Arabs ask the same and then say, “Oh you are the ones who don’t speak Arabic only French”. I’m not saying all the Africans and Arabs think the same way, but these answers and questions I’ve heard from many of them. Then I had to explain that Moroccan identity is a mix of Arab, African and Amazighi culture, which make Morocco one of the most diverse countries, with different languages, ethnics and cultures. But for some it seems difficult to understand.
This question is periphrastic. Morocco is situated at the peak of the African continent, and it stretches itself along the top of the Sahara all the way down to sub-Saharan Africa. It is linked to the Middle East as it shares the same mother tongue language and the same religions (Arabs are not only Muslims, there are Christian and Jewish Arabs), and approximately the same political and social challenges.
Morocco is connected to Europe for economic relations that link not only Morocco to the European Union, but Africa to Europe as well. Also, Morocco was colonized by France, so don’t be surprised when you hear a Moroccan speaking half French, half Moroccan. To be honest, the French influence has dominant effects on the way Moroccans speak. You should expect that with some Moroccans you will have to speak French, otherwise you will be underestimated. It is advantageous to master different languages, but it is bad when people are treated according to their level of speaking French.
Speaking of “Africanism”, which is far more imposing when studying Morocco’s history: Some of my African friends once commented: “You guys aren’t Africans because you aren’t part of the African Union, you left the AU, so how come you consider yourselves Africans”? I won’t answer this because it’s a very political subject that will lead to another debate, which is not the focus of this article. But anyway, Morocco is situated in the North of Africa, which means that geographically Morocco is an African country. If Morocco left the African Union, that’s because of a political reason, but Morocco is still one of the most active African countries investing in Africa and it constitutes an open economic gate for sub-Saharan countries towards Europe.
On the other hand, I asked some Moroccans: “Are you African?” and I got the most shocking answers,which is actually common between the North Africans. They said:” Not really, Africans are black, but I’m not black”, and I replied: “Should I be black to be called African?”
Morocco, politically and economically, is focusing on Africa in recent years, as many projects have been implemented to foster the global economics of Africa. This shows how important Africa is for Morocco.
Now let’s talk about the Amazighi identity. The Amazighi people constitute about 48% of the population, which is the native identity of Morocco before the Arabs came to spread the Islam religion. Arabs and Amazighi since lived peacefully together and founded the Moroccan identity, a mixture between the two identities, until 1930 when the Amazighi culture was denied. That divided the Arabs and the Amazighi as it was the easiest way for French colonizers to control the country, but even after the independence, the Amazighi still didn’t feel comfortable to speak Amazighi in public places or even to admit that they are Amazighi. Ever since, there are stereotypes between the two groups which normally should constitute one group.
The situation has improved now, as the language became official in the Moroccan constitution, and the identity of Tamazight has become more and more integrated.
Arabs, on the other hand, criticize Morocco for not speaking pure Arabic in daily life, yet, there are no Arabs that speak exactly classical Arabic in their own daily life. They have Arabic accents such as Egyptian, Lebanese, Palestinian, and Jordanian. These are accents not classical Arabic language; although it is true that the Moroccan dialect is different since it is a mixture between Arabic, Tamazight, French and Spanish. Still, just because the other Arabs can’t understand the Moroccan accent, it doesn’t mean that Moroccans don’t master the classical Arabic. For those who don’t know, Arabic is the first official language of Morocco.
I believe diversity is richness. I have always felt fortunate because of the diversity in my country. I admire the fact that everything is different and yet so much alike. What I don’t like are the divisions based on differences that should not minimize who we are.
In Morocco, we can never speak of a pure race or ethnicity, everything is bonded and intermixed.
I believe this categorization of people is preposterous, since it disturbs our wonder of the beauty of us being diverse; a fusion and combination. We spend so much time identifying differences and putting barriers between “us” and “them”; whoever “us” and “them” may be.
Next time don’t ask me to choose whether I’m African or Arab, and don’t you dare to question if I’m Amazighi or Arab. I’m Moroccan, I’m a mixture of all of them, I’m African, I’m Arab, I’m Amazighi, I’m Andaloussi…
What difference would that make to you now? Would you treat me any different? Better or worse?