Morocco’s public spaces between state control and conservatives

By Ahmed Assid

During the past week, I have received two stories related to the management of public spaces in our country.

The first covers a video footage of a young Moroccan woman announcing her decision to clean a polluted alley with the help of her friend. The young lady stated that she has been dropping by the said alley for almost 26 years; however, pollution kept taking higher dimensions with every passing year. Under such circumstances, the lady could not help but join forces with her friend in order to clean this particular spot on their street, and turn it into a mind blowing space that attracts passers-by.

As soon as the two happy helpers started their cleaning process, the so-called “Muqaddam” paid them a visit asking them to stop what they are doing for it does not comply with the law, for the authorities alone have the right to change the state of any public space, and it is not up to individuals to do so.

Upon their confrontation, things have escalated between the young woman and the “Muqaddam”, which called for a quick intervention by a number of people who took the lady’s side and decided to help out with the cleaning. The “Muqaddam”, for his part, felt the necessity to notify his superiors to look into the matter.

As more officials got involved, the young woman grew stronger given the support of the people around her. At the end, this group of irritated individuals managed to finish the work they came for which resulted in turning the formerly filthy spot into a piece of art, for the walls were decorated in flowers besides other joyful colors that gave the space an antique look; all on the lady’s expense.

The second incident concerns Moroccan journalist Nora Fouari, who wrote an article about the “chaos attributed to Tarawih prayers” in which she condemned the behavior of people attending mosques for occupying public areas to the extent of stopping traffic and creating a daily disturbance that hinders people from reaching their destinations on time. This article, however, was met by a lot of criticism from conservatives.

The first case may have led a large portion of Moroccans to a state of shock given the fact that the authorities can not allow two individuals to take matters into their own hands and clean an alley for the public to enjoy, however, most of these people would defend Tarawih rituals in the second case, believing that the previously written article in this regard is provocative to their feelings; yet, both incidents stand for the same issue, that is using public spaces in a way that contradicts with coexistence values.

It is true that the authorities did not allow the two young Moroccans to clean the alley, but the truth is that their position can be seen as a weakness for certain individuals had the courage to point to a particular case that the authorities themselves could not or would not handle properly. In fact, such initiative is likely to delegitimize the powers granted to the authorities in charge given that they are the ones collecting taxes from fellow citizens in order to take care of such issues at a larger social scale.

Tarawih prayer, on the other hand, is a ritual that has been going for centuries. For most people, praying outside the mosque may not sound harmful; however, some would find it inexcusable and does not comply with the “modern state”. Besides, this second category of people claims that praying in public spaces is an indirect invitation to the rest of society to join the crowd, giving this behavior a more legitimate atmosphere that soon will be seen as normal. In addition, such behavior is likely to open the door for different civil code violations, which remains a nuisance for conservatives everywhere.

Ignoring all civil ties while praying in public spaces, including roads, is considered a first step towards civil disobedience that extremists find pleasing, especially that such behavior entrenches religious fundamentalism that goes beyond the state and its laws.

+ A chaotic behaviour…+

On the other hand, extremists do not accept those with a lifestyle that is different to theirs; therefore, they consider praying on the street as an imposition on everyone. In European and Western countries in general, where identity crisis is at its peak, praying on the street is a kind of extracting recognition from the other and a desire to prove oneself amongst others, which reflects a great deal of inferiority.

It is strange that religious extremists, as well as the general public, would rather follow the main idea behind prayer, than legalizing it space-wise, especially since most religious texts prohibit praying in areas that do not respect the desired conditions for their rituals, such as spaces where feces and other animal dung can be spotted, and the fact that people would find hard times concentrating on their prayers with people walking around them right and left. This may have been the case a long time ago, but what about streets today?

Besides, how can we explain the complicity of the Moroccan authorities to this chaotic behavior?

If cleaning public spaces disturbs the local authorities on the bases that such initiative points to their irresponsible social management, creating chaos through legitimizing Tarawih prayer on the streets actually backs up the authorities’ position for two main reasons: first, it soothes souls and leads to inner peace, and second, it makes the authorities look more engaged with public complicity in state duality; and at the end, they violate their own rules. The latter makes it difficult for the state to tame its citizens, for it tends to meet people’s desires no matter how deviant they might be, in order to insure stability and continuity, for these two concepts are the main objectives of the authority itself.

Moroccans have become familiar with the modern national state for over 100 years now. During the time they have institutionalized, they have been relatively able to dismantle tribal and ethnic ties in favor of the whole nation. But they have not succeeded in educating each other on the principles of civic behavior required by the modern state. Therefore, they started considering chaos and misappropriation acquired rights.

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