Undertaking real-world reforms is the only real solution, and as a member of the CSMD, Laroui now has a chance to serve Morocco by promoting reforms.
Beni Mellal – Although Fouad Laroui holds degrees in engineering and economics from prestigious European universities, he has become a prolific writer in the Moroccan diaspora. He has produced a fabulous miscellany of novels, short stories, poems, and especially chronicles in the French weekly Jeune Afrique and other media outlets.
Born in Morocco’s eastern city of Oujda on August 12, 1958, Fouad Laroui was lucky he could study at the Lycee Lyautey French school in Casablanca. After passing the French Baccalaureate, he went to Paris to study engineering at Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees.
Because of his degree, Laroui had access to the position of engineer at Morocco’s Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP), the phosphate company in Khouribga. But he did not settle in Morocco.
Feeling the need to broaden his professional career under mild skies, he made it to the United Kingdom to study at Cambridge and York, earning a Ph.D. in economics. Described by French academic Bernadette Rey Mimoso-Ruiz’s biographical essay as “a writer without borders, Laroui finally settled in the Netherlands, where for many years he has taught French literature at the University of Amsterdam.
Having gained solid scientific training in the West, Fouad Laroui could have been a Moroccan Erwin Schroedinger, Paul Dirac, or John Maynard Keynes. But he was led astray, not to say infatuated, with French literature. Instead of scientific theories, Laroui has played with the written word since the late 1990s.
Fouad Laroui became established as a literary lion, winning several acclaimed prizes and having his works translated into many languages.
He won the Goncourt prize for a short-story in 2013 and the Jean-Giono grand prize in 2014 for his masterpiece novel “Les Tribulations du dernier Sijilmassi” (The Tribulations of the Last Sijilmassi).
Like Morocco’s leading literary expatriate figures, including Driss Chraibi and Tahar Ben Jelloun, Laroui carved out his literary reputation mainly in France. Most of the Moroccan elite chose to study in France and self-exile there to escape the lean years and the “years of lead” since the independence era, when social justice and political pluralism could not be found in Morocco.
The irresistible lure of Westernization drew a narrow circle of Moroccan intellectuals into self-exile in order to enjoy more political and academic freedom. They fled the double hell of repression and oppression the Moroccan masses experienced, beaten in hard times by the uncompromising “makhzen” (central government) that is surveilling and supervising Moroccan subjects as an unquestioned Big Brother.
After composing his first novel “Les dents du topographe” (The Topographer’s Teeth) as well as many other novels, Fouad Laroui engaged in the linguistic debate over writing in the colonial French language instead of a national language like Darija (Moroccan Arabic) or a nationalist one like classical Arabic.
Laroui tackled the question in a comparative and analytical study, “Drame linguistique Marocain” (Moroccan Linguistic Tragedy) that he published in 2011. But the writer was firmly convinced that his educational background empowers him to write comfortably in French, after receiving recognition as a literary heavyweight in the Romance language.
Commuting between Paris and Amsterdam, Laroui used the French language, and also Dutch, as his bilingual vehicle of clever communication and clear, cosmopolitan creativity. Still, the Moroccan nostalgically flirts with Arabic terms as a neo-orientalist advocating France’s longstanding neocolonialism, cultural hegemony, and ubiquity in Morocco, the Maghreb, and throughout the Dark Continent.
Writing of Morocco from afar
Labelled a “child of the French mission” and banned by the reactionary establishment, in his first novel, “Les dents du topographe,” Laroui found himself compelled to write formally in French about his modest Moroccan upbringing as the son of a civil servant. The novel become almost autobiographical as Laroui outlines his unforgettable travels between continents, ardently describing the cross-cultural connections between people of different races and tongues.
Having lived in the melting pot of diasporas, identities, and cultures—Moroccan, Maghrebi, Muslim, and modernist—the writer can build a barrier between himself and Moroccan reality without fully detaching himself from the visceral, complex, and paradoxical daily life the Moroccan majority experiences.
Laroui managed to glean facts and fables about the painful status quo in Morocco that forged his psyche and his whole since he emigrated.
Throughout his literary odyssey, Laroui inventively developed imaginative realities in his historical, social, cultural, and existential novels and essays.
Laroui also recorded the yawning cultural and political gap that still exists between the French-educated elite he belongs to and the backward-looking guard that ostracized him from his homeland.
Thanks to his interactions in various European environments—France, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium—the once-engineer has remarkably found inspiration for his novels, in particular, and most of his writings in general.
In spite of many social disparities and cultural contrasts, the Oujda native has reconciled his adoptive Dutch society and his native Morocco. Laroui made of himself a cosmopolitan European and an ecologist bridging the gap between the North and the South to defeat cynicism and racism permanently experienced by Moroccan emigrants in their new homes.
A role in Morocco’s future
The extroverted, smiling, and humorous nature of the prolific author has made Laroui a smart sociologist of quick wit. This undoubtedly simultaneously popularized and universalized him in the eyes of most international and Moroccan readers.
His most recent work, “Dieu, les mathematiques, la folie” (God, Mathematics, Madness), and Mimoso-Ruiz’s biographical essay are good signs that Fouad Laroui is reaching universal fame and glory outside the vanishing police state of former interior minister Driss Basri. No longer can Basri censor his thoughts, suffocate his freedom, and prevent his emotional growth and personal development.
Fouad Laroui realizes that signing his essay under the roof of the Moroccan chancery in Paris is evidence of his “Moroccanness” under the auspices of the enlightened neo-makhzen.
After two decades of reconstruction and reforms in the Alawite kingdom lauded by the West, the winds of the Arab Spring up-rooted several Arab potentates and plunged their countries into permanent political chaos.
As Fouad Laroui wrote in his chronicles, the Arab Spring would be destructive to the stability of both the political and social orders of the Arab world. Undertaking real-world reforms is the only real solution, and as a member of the CSMD, Laroui now has a chance to serve his country by promoting reforms.