Rabat - The digital revolution has brought the dream of democracy and personal freedom to the Arab world. Despite the strong pull of religious and cultural tradition, it has brought change to contemporary Arab mentalities.
Rabat – The digital revolution has brought the dream of democracy and personal freedom to the Arab world. Despite the strong pull of religious and cultural tradition, it has brought change to contemporary Arab mentalities.
Historically, the combination of these traditions has prevented progress relative to societal change and cultural revival. However, as this particular revolution sweeps through many Arab societies, creating new realities and new narratives, many scholars(?) in this part of the world are rightfully asking how faith fits into the challenging situation. How will Islam react to the changes—it adapt to it or reject it?
In the 7th century, Islam extended eastward and westward from the Arabian Peninsula. The colonizers, who all spoke different languages and possessed different customs, were met with fierce resistance in all directions as they explored new lands and brought the religion to different peoples. In North Africa, the native Amazigh people, under the leadership of the able Princess Kahina and General Kousseila, initially resisted the Arab colonizers. They adopted a different approach in later attempts: accepting the cultural substratum, adopting it, and giving the traditions Islamic names.
In the Northern village of Tatoft, Morocco, there existed a pagan tale centered around the God Pan and the fertilization the land through sexual intercourse with rural women. This myth had strong significance and heavily impacted the population’s beliefs, as they lived in an agricultural society. Islam could not erase the importance of these customs and thus incorporated them into its own folklore. For example, a large part of the Pagan myth were the sterile women who flocked to Pan to be inseminated; any form of copulation would be unacceptable in Islam, so this detail was removed.
The image of the lascivious God Pan, half goat and half man, was replaced by a man dressed in skins. The celebration, rather than happening at the beginning of the new agricultural cycle, was anchored to ‘Aid Lkbir, the Islamic feast of sacrifice, which would serve as the source of the skins to be worn by a man in the cave . Then, he would come out running and dancing to the music of oboes of the world-famous Master Musicians of Jajhouka[i]. While many of the main tenets were altered or removed entirely, the essence of the tradition remains.
The Islamic use of color in the celebration is further strengthened by the introduction, in the rite, of a useless character dressed in white, called Lhaj, the man who went to Mecca for pilgrimage. This celebration initiated in the north, is now practiced all over the country; it is known as boujloudiyya in Arabic and bou-irmawen in Tamazight.
The silent revolution is in full swing
The millennials are those children born at the turn of the millennium, a period of time extending from 1990 to 2005. They came to life at the height of the digital revolution, spreading the ideals of globalization and freedom. The net is their arena for political activism and social discourse. Their ideals center democracy, freedom, respect of human rights, preservation of the environment and the bashing of devious political and cultural practices and dogmatic religious beliefs.
In America, the millennials have stood by the Palestinians against Israeli onslaught on Gaza, a move which is unheard of in the annals of American politics. In the Arab World, the millennials successfully bashed dictatorships during the Arab Spring and are now busy changing the contemporary political process. The millennials’ spring of democracy may be momentarily faltering, but it is not dying, it is just picking up steam for future rounds, more fruitful, hopefully.
In Morocco, the millennials are beginning to criticize the foundations of traditional culture and expandint the frontiers of freedom. They all have new tools for expressing themselves openly: PCs, smart phones and tablets. Today, most cell phones are smartphones and have 4G technology. Anyone can get free Wi-Fi connection in most cafés, restaurants and public places, and one city, El Jadida, is apparently offering free internet services within the municipality limits.
The state media has always been in the service of the political and religious establishments, obsequiously glorifying the conservative absolute monarchy and chanting the praises of a traditional and austere Islam that refuses to adapt to the realities of modern times. Sick of the fact that the media rarely reports on subjects that are close to their hearts, the youth, representing almost 40% of the Moroccan population, created an exclusive personal world on the Internet. Here, they have successfully bashing the red lines of both politics and religion, forever.
This unprecedented silent revolution is simultaneously taking place in Morocco and many Arab countries. The West and the rest of the world have been charmed by this unprecedented Arab awakening, nicknaming it “The Arab Spring.” There have been hundreds of books and articles written about it and many documentaries about the various demonstrations. Still, it seems that nobody is paying any attention whatsoever to the quiet cultural revolution taking place presently. One difference between the two phenomena is that while the Arab Spring has been hijacked by the more absolutist Islamists pushing back societies to the Middle Ages, the cultural revolution is currently thriving because nobody is paying attention to it, at least for the time being.
However, one of the good things about Morocco is the fact that the officials did not impose filters on the Internet as is the case in many Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc.
What are the various manifestations of this silent cultural revolution in Morocco?
Monarchy: In the 2011 constitution, as in all the previous ones, it is stated clearly that the person of the king is respected and above any form of criticism. As such, all political parties from left or right are to adhere to this law; instead they criticize and vilify the government, to be understood as an indirect way of questioning the king’s governance politely. The youth, however, point out that the establishment is going back on its promise of incremental democracy and incremental decentralization of power, through a massive co-optation of politicians from left and right. But in spite of all this criticism, they have yet to adhere to the monarchy as a symbol of arbitration and stability due to its historical and religious legitimacy, which has remained unscathed.
Political establishment: The millennials openly criticize the self-serving political parties, who never defend the interests of the constituents. By contrast, they remain subservient to the monarchy to further their interests by unabashedly partaking in the massive plunder of national wealth. Youths on all sides view politicians as employees of the regime and complicit in explicit corruption, nepotism, embezzlement and abuse of power.[ii] While the political elite they preaches modernity and democracy during political discourse, they are still patriarchal and tribal in practice.
Political Traditions: The youth openly rejects the traditional form of the monarchy and government, known as Makhzen, which they view as archaic and obsolete. As such, they reject the bay3a, the traditional expression of allegiance, that takes place on the second day of the Throne Day in July.
On this day, thousands of state employees, elites, and local and national representatives dress in white djellabas (traditional Moroccan robes) and bow to the king who is perched atop his horse. This is an action that goes back almost thirteen centuries, when the monarchy was first set up in Morocco. This act may be seen as an innocuous practice of traditional customs, many young people view it as support for the concept of the subject—an individual who has only obligations—instead of that of citizen who has a balance of obligations and rights.
Indeed the “Mouvement du 20 Février” that came at the heels of the uprisings of the Arab Spring called for the establishment of constitutional monarchy instead of the present executive monarchy, and the youth is calling for this change to be recognized.
Against Patriarchal and Tribal Obedience: Young people in Morocco have always been silenced by the patriarchal and tribal concept of respect of seniority. This concept teaches that the youth is supposed to keep silent and simply listen in presence of their elders, as they have more life experience. Young people rarely get the chance to express their opinions or become the political elite because political and social arenas are off limits to them. Meanwhile, the aged dinosaurs maintain their seats and positions while dominating every walk of life. The political arena exists as a true Jurassic Park and that is, undoubtedly, one of the reasons for the rise of the Arab Spring.
In the West, the youth is encouraged to form political opinions, but in Morocco and many other areas in the Arab world, they are stifled and repressed—any rebellion on their part is considered as a rejection of tradition and religion.
Liberation of Women: Since the 2004 adoption of a new family code, known as Moudawana[iii], Moroccan women are enjoying more freedom than they previously had. Toda, they can get married without the permission of a family guardian, refuse polygamy for their husbands and receive a larger portion of inheritance funds. This new family code has empowered women and helped them break the chains of oppression, in spite of resistance from Islamists who support strict Hijab laws and other drastic dress codes for women.
Sexual Revolution: Men and women are joining forces to fight sexual taboos rooted in religion. They hope to relax fears of dating partners from both inside and outside the country ending up either in marriage with non-Muslims or illicit haram relationships.
Men and women are joining forces to fight sexual religious taboos by open dating with partners inside and outside the country ending up either in marriage with non-Muslims or illicit haram relationships. Islamic religion allows men to marry non-Muslims freely but disallows females unless the would-be partner converts to Islam.
Islam allows men to marry non-Muslims freely but disallows females unless the potential partner converts to the faith. Contemporary women are no longer bound by this constraint.
Sex Work: Many Moroccan women have turned to the internet for employment, becoming sex workers in the Gulf States. This is something that has always been outlawed by religion, but the economic climate has led to Worse many families encouraging their daughters to migrate to the Gulf countries to make money as prostitutes. In many ways, this practice is not demonized and is even accepted within contemporary society. As a result, hundreds of citizens from the Gulf countries come to Morocco for sexual tourism, choosing such cities as Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Agadir.
Gay practice: Gay culture has existed in Morocco since the dawn of history and was always tolerated by society, as long as it is kept secret. However, thanks to the digital revolution, gays and lesbians have begun coming out of the closet and displaying their sexual identities openly and without fear of retribution. Tangier, Marrakesh, Essaouira and Agadir have become important locations for the gay community. Tangier’s community has always thrived, thanks to foreigners. Very prominent and vocal figures include late French author Jean Genet and also the late Paul Bowles, an American author. Queer Moroccans, like Moroccan-French author Abdellah Taia, are also beginning to write about their experiences—experiences that have long been considered “deviant.” Taia, who published a book on his sexual orientation, .[iv]
Public Show of Affection: In 2013, two youngsters from the conservative northern city of Nador kissed publicly after leaving school. The video of their embrace was posted on YouTube and the act triggered various reactions nationwide: those who supported the teens and asked for the strengthening of personal freedom and those religiously-minded people who asked the state to punish the kids. The latter claimed that they were under the subliminal influence of the western media.
In compliance with its conservative nature, the state arrested the couple, but this act triggered a worldwide campaign for their release. Many couples organized a “kiss-in” in front of parliament in Rabat, in defiance of religious conservatism. Under the pressure of the public worldwide, the government released the two and dropped charges.
The Amazigh Befriend Israel: Since the surge of Amazigh nationalism in North Africa, the more militant pro-nationalists have campaigned against the official historical narrative that is presented alongside Islam. They have called for widespread recognition of the fact that seventh century Arabs conquered North Africa with violence and not futuHat, peaceful conversion, as they claim.
Amazigh Nationalists in Morocco reject Islamic presence in the area and deem it the worst form of colonialism experienced by the Amazigh people of this region. To resist further obliteration of culture, they called for Tamazight to ne made an official language, and this was achieved with the new constitution in 2011. However, their most abrasive move is to call for friendship with Israel by setting up Israeli-Amazigh associations, arguing that there are many Jewish Amazigh people, who have made a notable contribution to the culture and that Israel, like the Amazigh, are victims of pan-Islamism and pan-Arabism.
Films like Kamal Hachkar’s “Tinghir-Jerusalem: les échos du Mella[v]” depict the painful journey of the Jewish Amazigh to Israel. For many Moroccan Arab-Nationalists, the Amazigh people are traitors of Morocco and Islam and should be arrested and put in jail.
Many argue, quite strongly, that the Arab Spring has gone to the dogs. It might seem that this is so,[vi] but the truth of the matter is that this is untrue. It is beginning to pick up steam, redefining its priorities and straightening its course in order to resume progress. Undeniably, big change will come to the Arab world, but it will be incremental. Although this is the opposite of what many would want, Arab minds are all framed in a traditional way and all constrained by religious dogmatism and determinism .
Though the political change is happening slowly, the cultural revolution is focused and charging ahead. In particular, Moroccan millennials and Arab millennials are smashing cultural and religious taboos and creating a new reality on the ground. They, millennials, want to create a future that responds to their real needs and not to the aging expectations of a religion or a culture. Resisting what has been imposed on them is at the base of this revolution, and they are demonstrating resiliency by exercising their right to choose their paths for themselves.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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