Rabat - The selection process for choosing the host of the FIFA 2026 World Cup presents an opportunity for the competing nations to introduce themselves to the rest of the world.
Rabat – The selection process for choosing the host of the FIFA 2026 World Cup presents an opportunity for the competing nations to introduce themselves to the rest of the world.
For the next seven weeks, the bidding nations – Morocco, on one hand, and a tripartite bid from Canada, Mexico and the United States on the other – will be scouring the world looking for votes from FIFA’s member associations.
The quadrennial football tournament is the world’s premier sports tournament and an obsession across the globe. A billion people watched some portion of the 2014 World Cup final match either on TV or portable device. It’s perhaps only fitting that the race between the North American bid and the Morocco bid will likely take on the characteristics of a national presidential election in the closing weeks and days. Who’s up, who’s down?
Of Morocco’s many unique attributes, tolerance is perhaps the most notable and profound. Not based on volumes of parliamentary work committee reports or religious edicts, tolerance here is rooted more in a unique amalgam of history, geography, cultures (note the plural) and a monarchy that has shaped the kingdom’s evolving civil society for more than 350 years.
Tolerance. Tasamuh in the local dialect. There are several important aspects of social and religious tolerance that inform Morocco in 2018 and which speak to the traditions of its 35 million citizens.
Time & Place
During World War II, Nazi Germany overran half of France and then established a puppet regime based in Vichy. Morocco, then a French protectorate, was home to roughly 250,000 Jews. While Jews were rounded up elsewhere across Vichy controlled France and Nazi-occupied Europe in 1941 and 1942, the then 32-year-old Sultan, Sidi Mohammad ben Yusef (later as king, Mohammad V – the grandfather of the current king), protected the lives and property of the Jews of Morocco. His now famous reputed reply to both Vichy officials and close confidants expressing his defiance of Vichy edicts is the stuff of legend: “There are no Jews in Morocco. There are only Moroccan subjects.”
In December 2015, the Institute for World Jewish Studies honored the late Mohammad V with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.–Rabbi Abraham Heschel Award. When Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain beginning in 1492, they settled throughout Morocco and eventually alongside the indigenous Amazigh people. Perhaps it’s this quirk of history that gives Morocco a fascinating, colorful and soulful national identity that finds expression in music, food, dress, language and temperament.
A 2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) report ranked the world’s most welcoming nations for foreign visitors based on survey data. Morocco placed third behind only Iceland and New Zealand. The high score is not just a reflection of the enduring popularity of one or two tourist destinations like Marrakech or Fes (Marrakech is a fusion of Las Vegas and New Orleans; medieval Fes channels the role of colonial Philadelphia), it is a reflection of the intimacy by which Moroccans view their role as hosts.
During the holy month of Ramadan, it’s common for those foreigners who have spent a certain duration of time in the kingdom to be invited into the homes of colleagues, neighbors, friends and strangers to break fast at sundown. In my Peace Corps site, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t Muslim. It only mattered that I was a stranger deserving of hospitality during a month of spiritual renewal and familial celebration. “You are family” has meaning here, too.
The Maliki School
There are four main schools within the Sunni Islamic faith. The Maliki madhhab (school of thought) is predominant in Morocco and it incorporates notions of the common or pubic good into religious teachings and doctrine. How will Islamic faith and scripture inform and affect the community or the people? What are the customs and practices of society that can help inform faith and strengthen that society?
The influence and relevance of Morocco’s religious traditions can be seen in the Mohammad VI Institute for the Training of Imams, Morchidines, and Morchidates in Rabat. Since the institute’s beginning in 2015, hundreds of faith leaders and religious scholars from countries across North Africa and Europe have come to the institute to train and to share religious traditions. The global respect Morocco has earned for the promotion of tolerance led to the Marrakech Declaration in 2016; some 300 imams and faith leaders from across the Muslim world gathered to reaffirm their support for the religious rights of minorities in Muslim nations and for genuine interfaith dialogue.
As the Arab Spring unfolded in 2011, the king of Morocco led a national discussion about how Moroccan civil society could be enhanced and how the voices of young people could genuinely be heard. The 20 February Movement that led protests across the kingdom against the stagnation of the status quo was primarily led by youth. Changes included a new constitution, greater power for the parliament and recognition of the indigenous Amazigh language as an official language of the kingdom. National political leaders made a new commitment to critical issues like youth engagement, regional disparities, and youth employment opportunities.
The aspirations of young Moroccans, those who live in cosmopolitan cities and those in the rural countryside, help drive important policy debates in the kingdom. The 2011 constitution provides a specific mandate for society to support the development of young people “to establish themselves in [an] active and associative life and to give assistance to them in the difficulty of scholarly, social or professional adaptation.” The principal that it takes a village to raise young people is an important part of tolerance. A dar shabab (youth center) is a key feature of most Moroccan towns and many big cities.
Thirty seats in the House of Representatives are now reserved for young people under 40. Beyond the meat-and-potatoes issue of job creation, Morocco’s youth culture embraces the new with the old, secular and religious; often equally familiar with the songs of Rihanna as with Moroccan folk icon Rouicha.
Which ever bid wins the right to host the 2026 World Cup it will have an impressive amount of lead time: eight years. The length of two full US presidential terms. Each of the four bidding nations certainly offers football players, staff and fans endless cultural and historical exploration opportunities outside the respective stadiums. Those eight years will also give the chosen host nation(s) time to build a more resilient civil society, perhaps a more perfect union.