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Promoting Democracy in Morocco, One Student at a Time

What credibility concerning civil discourse, nonviolence, and the rule of law is there left for the West to teach the rest?

Rabat – The Dutch Eduardo Frei Foundation (EFF) has wrapped up its “school of democracy” program, teaching students practical skills for initiating democratic projects of their own in Rabat. 

The program aims to instruct Moroccan students who aspire to actively take part in politics and civil society and to engage in socio-economic issues from a democratic perspective. EFF concluded the three sessions of 2019 at the end of September.

Founded after the fall of the Berlin Wall by the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the EFF sets out to promote the development of democracy, based on international solidarity. With over 10 years of experience as a trainer at the EFF and recently welcomed as a new MP on behalf of the CDA in the Dutch Parliament, Wytske de Pater-Postma sat down with Morocco World News to talk about the development of democracy in Morocco. 

Superior cultures 

“Having lived in five countries myself, I do not believe that some cultures are superior to others. This relates to the courses that I give as a trainer at the EFF, since students here in Morocco provide me with a whole new perspective on Moroccan society. It’s genuinely a process of reciprocity where I as a teacher educate and learn,” de Pater-Postma told MWN.

Throughout the program, trainers teach practical skills to the students to boost their self-determination and project planning skills so they can initiate their own projects aimed at further developing democracy. 

“Students that are selected to partake in the program have projects of their own. Throughout the program, they get taught how to convince potential stakeholders, overcome obstacles, and to achieve their goals,” she explained.

Read also: Council of Europe Makes Morocco its First ‘Partner for Local Democracy’
Sexual harassment limits freedom

As a strident young woman from Fez, Amina Attar participated in the program with one clear goal in mind: Make a stand against sexual harassment in Morocco by launching her own campaign. “In Morocco we have deeply ingrained gender roles that dictate everyday life for both men and women. Whenever I leave my front door, tiresome ‘compliments’ ensue that goes unpunished,” expresses Attar.

“Girls should be taught at a young age it is okay to say ‘no’ and young boys should be taught it is not a sign of asserting masculinity by harassing young women.” – Amina Atarr. Photo credit: Amina Atarr.

“Girls should be taught at a young age it is okay to say ‘no’ and young boys should be taught it is not a sign of asserting masculinity by harassing young women.” Personal frustration fuels Attar’s awareness campaign to alter the mindset of young men and women. “What you have to realize is that I am harassed by boys as young as 12, and it infuriates myself and many other women.”

But personal frustration is not the only reason Attar takes it upon herself to lead her own campaign. “Sexual harassment limits the freedom of women and thereby limits their ability to properly participate in a democracy. Democracy and equality between men and women therefore go hand in hand,” Attar concludes.

Read also: #Masaktach Brings Attention to Sexual Harassment, Assault in Morocco
Education as an antidote to radicalization  

However, promoting democracy in Morocco can be a contentious subject. One student who participated in the program agreed to speak with Morocco World News, provided it would be completely anonymous to account for his own safety. 

After learning a friend of his fell prey to the preachings of radical imams on the internet, he switched from a promising education in science to religious studies. “It was shocking to learn how vulnerable he was to incitements of radical imams on the internet. I’ve always cherished Islam as my personal faith, but when a friend of mine radicalized because of misinterpreted verses of the Quran, I wanted to do more.”

By switching to religious studies, he hopes to become a scholar on religion and thereby further prevent young Moroccans from radicalizing. “Hundreds of young Moroccans have fallen prey to misinterpreted verses of the Quran, and as a result turned their backs to modern society. Teaching the verses of the Quran in the right context is therefore crucial to safeguard democracy.”

“But,” he underlined, “what we should strive for above all, is to make sure young Moroccans have access to education. Without the prospect of valuable education, young Moroccans will remain prone to the allure of a radical, fundamentalist way of life.”

Berlin’s hijab crumbled

In 1989 the world watched on as the overjoyed citizens of Berlin hacked their way to freedom after having lived for four decades under socialist oppression. Moroccan academic Fatima Mernissi described it as the “crumbling of Berlin’s hijab” and underlined how shopkeepers in North African medinas and peasants in the Atlas mountains had no trouble identifying themselves with seemingly different Germans.

Everybody can relate to the notion of freedom, in particular those who are deprived of it. For a brief moment, people in the Arab region looked up to the West as a worthy source of inspiration to promote enshrined values such as civil discourse, nonviolence and the rule of law.

Yet, as the West has militarily intervened in many countries throughout the MENA region, ranging from the Iraq war in 2003 to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, what credibility concerning civil discourse, nonviolence, and the rule of law is there left for the West to teach the rest?

A perfect democracy?

De Pater-Postma understands the criticism against well-intentioned projects initiated by Western countries as “paternal” and “hypocritical.” 

“I don’t hold to the notion of one country claiming the right to educate another. There is no such thing as a perfect democracy. However, asking yourself the question ‘What constitutes a perfect democracy?’ is a very worthwhile question to ensure the people within a democracy have a voice.”

“The reason why the EFF has a long-standing tradition with Central and Eastern European countries is because they express the desire to host our workshops and programs aimed at improving democratic values such as freedom of speech. You can’t expect countries who have lived under authoritarianism for decades, to embrace democratic values overnight. It takes time and patience.”

In more recent years, other countries throughout the MENA region have approached the EFF, expressing their desire to work with the organization, too. 

“The EFF is not only working together with Morocco, but we are collaborating with other countries such as Tunisia and Lebanon as well. Ultimately, it is up to each country to decide for themselves at what pace and in which direction they wish to tread on the road of democracy.”