Dr Mohamed Chtatou
Driving on Moroccan roads is a big risk and quite a challenge. In some foreign advisories made available to travelers, it is stated clearly: “Think twice before deciding to drive in Morocco: it is risky and dangerous, local drivers take unnecessary risks, cyclists and pedestrians are careless and the roads in some parts of the back country are atrocious.”
Nobody is going to argue against this statement or dare to call it a conspiracy against Morocco or its interests. Some friends of mine even push the statement further by saying jokingly that maybe Moroccans are only destined to drive donkeys and mules and not cars.
Driving in Morocco is a big gamble for the drivers, but also for the cyclists and pedestrians. Every day when you leave home for work, you cannot be sure whether you are going to return home safe or not because killer cars, trucks and all kind of vehicles are lurking for you in the streets and the roads, waiting for the slightest moment of inattention on your part to get you. In this horrendous game of hide and seek, drivers are intoxicated by their power and can be mad, and pedestrians, on the other hand, can be very careless.
The question is why does the nice, tolerant and gentle Moroccan, of everyday life, get ferocious and suicidal and becomes a potential threat to himself and the rest of the world around him when behind the wheel? Is he conscious of that or not?
Cars occupy illegally the sidewalk near the Administrative Tribunal in Hassan, Rabat (Photo: M.Chtatou)
The ordinary Moroccan lives in a very traditional setting and environment, in spite of the modernization that has taken place around him. Modernization has made life easy for him but his mind and psyche are anchored in the “glorious” past, to the extent in many ways that, at times, the past is more important for him than the present or the future because it is heritage.
In this third millennium, the ordinary Moroccan still carries three major weights chained onto his leg:
– The weight of the “glorious” past and “venerable” traditions;
– The weight of religion and belief; and
– The weight of law and order (makhzen).
In this harsh environment, the Moroccan individual is supposed to act properly: perpetuate traditions and tribal culture, practice religion and show respect to the ancestral beliefs and, ultimately, submit to them. In this particular system, the individual is regimented by this “trinity of fear” and would not want, in the least, to be outside of it for fear to be stigmatized by society and punished by the establishment.
The combination of tradition and establishment that derives its legitimacy from history, religion and heritage, does not accept contestation, criticism or rejection of established protocols. Any such act is condemned and censured and, as a result, punished. The individual abides by such cultural harshness and psychological violence for fear to be excommunicated from family and society.
Now, even if Morocco, since independence, many decades ago, has undergone changes on the surface, yet such a thing as this “trinity of fear” is still an underlying phenomenon, strong and effective and the individual, who, is still ruled by tribal culture, has no say in things and, as such, accepts his emasculation.
Releasing pent-up emotions
When a Moroccan gets behind the wheel of a car, he feels tremendously empowered by the iron frame of the vehicle that gives him security and the gas pedal that allows him to speed up at will. The psychological effect is incommensurable on him because suddenly, inside this moving means of transportation, he feels free from the “trinity of fear” that rules over him in his daily life and speeds up beyond belief to release his pent-up emotions and express his feelings and indirectly his opinions.
This feeling of freedom from cultural pressure and political taboos, for the duration of his time in the car, makes him act in a very rude manner and discourteous behavior, as a way of taking his back on society and the establishment. Therefore, the car becomes a space of dissidence and a symbol for the rejection of imposed behavior and dictatorship.
Cafés and cars occupy the sidewalk in Agdal, Rabat and pedestrians are unlawfully pushed in the narrow roads at the mercy of crazy drivers (Photo: M.Chtatou)
The citizen driver acts as if he is the lord of the roads and what moves on the roads. Worse than that he thinks he is the only person using the road and sets aside, by tacit rejection, all the laws and codes regimenting driving practice and by so doing rejects the right of the other to be on the road and to use it. This belief is the result of his weighty past, the tribal substratum, which is expressed by such beliefs as: “me and me alone”, “me and my brother against my cousin” and “me and my brother and my cousin against the world”.
For the Moroccan driver, speed is the magic antidote against emasculation, and to get free from the weights of the past. And this manifests itself through two major means, that with time have become standard practices:
- Verbal violence: Most Moroccan drivers, when they are behind the wheel, lose all forms of polite and civilized behavior and shower other drivers with all kind of insults and obscenities, who, according to them, are all useless and ought to go and take anew driving lessons. Because, most of the time, these obscenities or threats will not be heard by the other side. The use of some sort of sign language becomes necessary, in addition to facial expressions of all kinds to express wrath, anger and dislike.
- Negation of the other: Most of the accidents of the road that take place in Morocco are the result of non-respect of the right of the other to go first, according to the driving rules and laws. This non-respect of the right of the other is almost second nature among most Moroccan drivers.
- Denial of cyclists’ rights: Most drivers believe that cyclists should not use the roads because they hold them back and prevent them from speeding up. This is the natural reflection and behavior of the emasculated person. This kind of person, most of the time wants to make others indirectly endure what he is going through and considers that very normal.
- Abhorrence of pedestrians: In the imagination of the Moroccan drivers, the pedestrians do not exist at all and if they do, they are truly injurious and hurtful and, as such, they ought not be allowed to cross roads. Drivers express their displeasure of pedestrians by literally occupying the zebra crossings or ultimately using terror tactics towards them by revving their engine when pedestrians are crossing he road to make them believe that their crossing time is up and that they are on borrowed time and therefore at the mercy of the driver, sneering at them when they are crossing or insulting them altogether.
- Occupation of public space: Deep down, drivers believe that all public space is their own because they own a car. Therefore, they occupy all available public space and in some busy commercial streets they share the sidewalk with cafés pushing pedestrians to walk on the road and face the danger of getting hit by cars and be abused by discourteous drivers who pushed them there in the first place.
The Moroccan drivers in their outrageous denial of the OTHER, have established, in their psyche, a hit list, which is as follows:
- Other drivers, and
- Police and gendarmes.
The rich language of Moroccan drivers
While in the West, the horn is used very rarely and only in case of a very dangerous situation to attract the attention of another driver or a pedestrian, in Morocco, it is the preferred language of the people behind the wheel. So this abominable device is used all the time and at random to:
- Express hate,
- Belittle, and
- Warn of danger.
So, the reason for which it is created comes really last and shows quite clearly that public driving in Morocco reflects faithfully the tribal instincts of Moroccans. Roads are the battlefields for tribal conflicts and feuds that are still vivid in minds and beliefs of people.
Cars clog the roads and the sidewalks in Hassan, Rabat and pedestrians are unable to go about their business (Photo: M. Chtatou)
Moroccans cannot express their opinions freely within the family space because they are ruled by the concept of “respect of seniority”, they might not like it but they abide by it because it is the “weight of the tradition” and tradition is culture. Moroccans are not well represented in politics because political parties are pressure groups that are in politics only to defend their own rentier privileges. Religion is omnipresent and does not allow the individual to debate or discuss things openly but only believe and practice as told.
When accidents occur, all the sides involved believe that the “other” is the one responsible for what happened, so room for conflict resolution becomes inexistent and this conflict is only mediated by the intervention of the police, in case of bodily injuries or the insurance, in case of material damages only.
Moroccans bend to authority only, represented by the state or the insurance and would not allow inter-personal conflict resolution. This means quite clearly that Moroccans, brought up to fear established authority personified by patriarchy, the makhzen or established corporation and of course religion and anybody other than these is considered unreliable and lacking power and charisma.
This means quite clearly that the Moroccan individual does not believe in himself to mediate problems on his own and consequently does not believe in the possibility that the other citizen can do either, because he has been brought up to rely on established systems and not on individual action or undertaking. The Moroccan has always been breastfed by the authority and patriarchy. This, alas, hinders his personal initiative and personal thinking and that is, undoubtedly, one of the traditional weights he carries throughout his existence, even in spite of education.
The right of passage
Prior to the colonization of Morocco by the French in 1912, the country was divided into two areas bled l-makhzen, land in which the government had authority to collect taxes, and bled as-siba, territory controlled by the Amazigh tribes that recognized the religious authority of the sultan as amir al-mouminine “ Commander of the Faithful” of the government but not his temporal status.
During these times travelling from on area to another one, one had to pay the right of passage to go through the territory of a given tribe. This tax was traditionally paid by a Jewish guide named the “walking Jew,” or azettat, in colloquial idiom, who is nimble and experienced in making long-term arrangement with tribal chiefs.
The Jewish guide when going through the territory of a given tribe, will display in the upper part of his long walking stick a piece of woven wool material showing the motifs and the colors of the rugs of the tribe. It is referred to as azetta and thus the traveler or the caravan led by the guide will go unhindered. Today, this term has become common in darija (Moroccan Arabic), zettat (zettat rasek), meaning “make arrangement for yourself to go through difficult terrain and situations by paying corruption money or using influential people.”
On the road, Moroccans, like the tribes do not want to yield the right of passage just because the law says so. As such, there is resistance to that and on the road everyone thinks he has the right of passage first denying the other this right even if it is his legally. This leads all the time to stupid accidents that some of which claim lives, unfortunately.
The fear of the gendarme (la peur du gendarme)
There is a traditional Moroccan saying that states:
Ma tkhaf ghir men l-makzen ou l-bhar ou l-‘afya
“You can only fear the government, the sea and fire”
This means that the phobias of the ordinary Moroccan are the backlash of an erratic and unjust government, the unpredictable sea and, last but not least, destructive and deadly fire against which man is weak.
Citizens in Agdal, Rabatat the mercy of ubiquitous cars (Photo: M. Chtatou)
Therefore, traditionally the Moroccan fears authority, which is referred to hibat dawla “the might of the state” and when the government is not present, Moroccans celebrate lawlessness and anarchy fawda, as a reaction to erratic and cut-throat authority. On the highway, in the absence of symbols of authority they will drive dangerously at unacceptable speeds and with no respect for lane discipline or driving laws, whatsoever. Because such uncivil practice is common culture, drivers have developed a language to warn each other of the presence of gendarmes or police on the road by blinking their car lights several successive times. Thus, the careless driver will reduce speed and drive calmly and lawfully in the presence of authority.
This fear of the symbols of public authority takes ridiculous proportions, when a car is flagged down by a gendarme or a police officer. Both the representative of the authority and the driver take on different roles. The police officer becomes the Sheriff and the driver Mr. Nice Guy. The driver makes himself very small to avoid having to pay a fine. First, when notified by the gendarme or policeman that he has broken the law he denies totally any such misgivings and swears by God that he has not done anything wrong. Then, he rather recognizes that he might have done something wrong and evokes all kind of excuses to justify himself and his misbehavior. On the other hand, the law enforcer acts very tough and shows no sign of giving in and the end result is either the driver pays the fine, or an arrangement against the interests of the state and public safety is reached by the two contenders and this will entail that the roads will continue to be a deadly space and drivers potential killers on end.
Moroccan roads are definitely not safe because of the aggressive and careless behavior of drivers, pedestrians and the ineffectual attitude of lawmakers and law enforcers. These roads, as they are now, look more like the Roman arenas where gladiators fight each other to death and where each one of them believes he is the strongest.
Laws by themselves will not change behaviors and, as such, roads will continue to reap many more innocent lives and maim many more people. What is happening on Moroccan roads Is a war of extermination that the Moroccans have declared on themselves without knowing or without realizing its impact on lives, on society and on the economy of the country.
The only way to put an end to this continuing drama that Moroccans have dubbed harb turuq “road war” is by teaching a course to children on civic and civilized driving in schools and having more awareness-raising programs on televisions and radios upholding the law of the land in road use.
Cars everywhere in Rabat ruling OK while the city council is totally absent (Photo: M. Chtatou)
You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu
Reading material about driving in Morocco: