By Nouhaila Chelkhaoui
By Nouhaila Chelkhaoui
Morocco World News
Toronto, February 26, 2013
I applaud King Mohammed VI’s attempts to setting us on the road to progress, a fairly recent major example being the amendment of the Morocco’s constitution. Amidst unprecedented turmoil within our neighboring Arab countries, our king has granted us with, in the words of the Economist, “a more inclusive constitution.” Such initiatives have, quite deservingly, received worldwide recognition. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it, we have shown “great political maturity…quite admired in the United States”. Nevertheless, whether the anticipated impacts of such reforms have materialized, remains a matter yet to be scrutinized.
Although Article 24 from the amended Constitution of Morocco grants us the right to a private life, the local policeman still thinks he has both the right and duty to storm down the breathtaking Avenue Mohamed VI of Marrakech and question the motives of citizens enjoying a peaceful evening. This is partly because he likely has not properly read the constitution, but mainly because he was raised and socialized to act and think this way. The institutions, comprising family, school, and circles of friends, among which he was brought up largely bypassed any appreciation of individual rights and freedoms including but not limited to respect for privacy, freedom of expression and gender equality.
Unfortunately, this handicap extends way beyond just policemen. It reaches out to become the foundation of a majority of Morocco’s current problems. Sexual harassment, for instance, is an ongoing issue in Moroccan society that increasingly spurs heated debate. Although this term encompasses both genders, the vast majority of victims in Morocco are females. A lot of the time, such harassment takes place in public areas where males allow themselves to make unwelcome sexual comments, gestures or other expressions towards females.
Just like the policeman above, these young fellows – and old, might I add I’m afraid – believe that they not only can but should engage in such behavior should females handle themselves “inappropriately”, which seems to always be the case. Once again, such reasoning stems from their social norms enforced by their surrounding society that has made invasion of privacy and violations of individual freedoms appear neither so invasive nor violating.
As a final instance, our driving habits are more explained through a normative approach rather than a lawful one. Last time I checked, according to the Moroccan driving code, pedestrian crossings, as the name suggests, gives priority to pedestrians to cross the road. Answering otherwise to such a question on the driver’s license test would be incorrect. In practice, however, for some odd reason, stopping for pedestrians when required is the exception rather than the rule, which explains the unusually high rate of traffic accidents in Morocco, with pedestrian victims outnumbering all others. The issue here is not quite the law, but rather our norms. Our law tells us to prioritize pedestrians but our norms tell us to disregard them.
Since our norms have a tendency to out-compete our laws in Moroccan society, then it only makes sense to start diverting our attention to issues from a normative perspective, hence, a regulation from below. A common ground for the illustrations above is that no economic or political reform per se resolves these issues. That is because norms are not merely an outcome of rules and regulations but rather stem from deeply entrenched societal values and understandings that are crucial determinants of a country’s developmental status. Hence, these cannot be expected to change overnight by a set of rules, and should therefore be dealt with accordingly.
Put differently, the government can place lawful reforms, but it remains up to citizens to treat others with respect and dignity, to recognize others’ rights and liberties, to resist the temptation of bribery, to stop the car at a pedestrian crossing, etc. And these righteous decisions can only be attained through education and awareness; to educate and raise awareness about just how destructive or constructive these seemingly minor details turn out to be to a society.
One of Morocco’s greatest impediments to progress is its underestimation of the power of social norms. The way we are socialized is directly linked to how we progress, or don’t. And we tend to disdain the importance of socialization and its impact in framing our society. This is reflected in the relatively little importance attributed to the social dimension which embraces mental health, therapy, awareness, psychology, extracurricular activities, education etc.
In the broader context, it is mirrored in the lack of social services and programs, both governmental and nongovernmental. It is thus not surprising that the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index (HDI) ranks Morocco 130th out of 187 participating countries, lagging behind 129 countries. Although Morocco has made significant improvement, it is still lingering in “low human development,” and is well below the average of both the world as a whole and Arab states alone. As Moroccans, we ought to trace the issues holding us back all the way to their roots. And these roots are likely to involve the long ignored social dimension of our societal issues.
Indeed, political and economic reforms are crucial to progress in our country. Nevertheless, prior to these changes are the social prerequisites that allow for a smooth passing of subsequent political and economic reforms. These social requisites involve a change of our vision, a conversion of our mentalities, from all socio-economic classes, for a better Morocco. This is inevitably tied to the involvement of all citizens notably women and youth; the former to bridge the wide gender gap in our country and the latter because we are the leaders of tomorrow and thereby determine what will become of our nation. With such a vision, one that calls for the implementation of social programs and services as a product of both governmental and civil efforts, which will in turn educate us and raise awareness of the issues that haunt Morocco and hinder its development, we can hope for a faster and smoother road to an improved quality of life.
Max Rodenbeck, “The Cycle of History,” The Economist, January 2013.
Arieff, Alexis, “Morocco: Current Issues”, Congressional Research Service (2012): 3,
Jefrie, J. Ruchti, World Constitutions Illustrated, “Morocco” (New York, Buffalo: William S. Hein & Co., Inc., 2011): 10,
Nouhaila Chelkhaoui is a Moroccan national. She studies political science and sociology at the University of Toronto, Canada.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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