Moroccan decision-makers should draw lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and the achievements of Moroccans such as Dr. Slaoui.
Washington D.C. – Since the news started circulating about US President Donald Trump’s intention to appoint Moroccan-American-Belgian scientist Moncef Slaoui to head the White House’s COVID-19 vaccine team, many Moroccans attempted to spoil their compatriots’ joy and moment of pride by saying that Dr. Moncef Slaoui is not Moroccan, but American.
These Moroccans doubled down when Slaoui said following his official appointment that he was proud to take up the task “for his country,” in reference to America. The fact he said this in front of President Trump proves to these critics he is not Moroccan, and we should not be proud of him as one of our own.
These claims beg the questions: Who told them that Dr. Slaoui is not Moroccan? Did he ever renounce his Moroccan nationality? Does obtaining a foreign nationality revoke the Moroccan nationality? Did they think that he should mention his country of origin after President Trump appointed him to head an American team to develop the vaccine?
Why do some Moroccans indulge in such self-flagellation and constantly try to downplay the national authenticity of any Moroccan genius who succeeds abroad?
Those who made these claims omit that Dr. Slaoui was born, raised, and educated in Morocco until he obtained his baccalaureate diploma. This means that he spent the most important years of his life—the years in which people forge their personalities and obtain the cognitive and mental training that constitutes the basis of their knowledge in the future—in Morocco.
A product of quality Moroccan schools
Dr. Slaoui was born in 1959 and went through the Moroccan public school system—known at the time for its high quality. This means that he obtained the ABCs of his knowledge in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and other matters in Morocco.
It was the quality of Moroccan schools at the time that shaped Dr. Slaoui’s academic path in the following years and helped him develop his genius. He did not receive his elementary or secondary education in Belgium or the US, but in Morocco. When he moved to pursue his higher education in Belgium, he was ready and empowered, thanks to the quality of his Moroccan schooling, to excel and outperform his colleagues of other nationalities.
The list of examples who, like Dr. Slaoui, benefited from an education in Morocco before shining abroad includes scientists Rachid El Yazami and Kamal Oudrhiri, astronomer Merieme Chadid, and doctors Sara Bilal and Latifa Elouadrhiri, among so many others. None of these reputable Moroccans who honor their country has ever denied their homeland.
It is true that they also hold other citizenships. But they remain proud Moroccans, even though Morocco did not provide them with the conditions to professionally excel in their fields.
Should one hate and underestimate their country because it did not provide the necessary conditions to fulfill their potential? Of course not. Being Moroccan is not only about holding a passport or an ID card. It is a state of mind and a lifestyle. It is the pride that one shares with millions of other Moroccans belonging to a country that has a millennial civilization and a rich history. It is the shared hope of building a better country for future generations.
No one has the right to doubt that Drs. Slaoui, Yazami, Oudrhiri, Bilal Chadid, and Elouadrhiri love Morocco and would do anything the country asks of them. Proving this point, Dr. Slaoui did not hesitate to give lengthy interviews to Moroccan television channels to raise Moroccans’ awareness about COVID-19 risks for public health.
Let Dr Slaoui speak for himself
People know this scientist says that he is a good and humble person. I do not have a single doubt that he is proud of belonging to his country and that Morocco is always on his mind. When a person reaches such a level of success and knowledge, it is rare for them to express arrogance or to deny their roots.
If after his mission in the White House King Mohammed VI were to appoint him to lead a scientific initiative, would he reject this offer? Would he say to the press that he would serve a country other than Morocco? In this scenario, he would certainly repeat the same expressions he used in front of President Trump, and perhaps with more enthusiasm.
When one says Dr. Slaoui is not Moroccan, they give themselves the right to speak on his behalf. When one claims that he is not Moroccan, they offend his family living in Morocco and deprive them of the right to be proud of their son for shining at a global scale, honoring them and his native country. Did any of those who say that Dr. Slaoui is not Moroccan receive permission from him or any member of his family to make those claims?
Even linguistically, it is a mistake to say that Dr. Slaoui is an American of Moroccan descent: He was not born in the US, nor is he from a second, third, or fourth generation of Americans of Moroccan descent. Rather, he was born and raised in Morocco.
If one says that Dr. Slaoui is not Moroccan, what of the dozens of football players who are second and third generation immigrants, born in European countries, sometimes with a parent of European nationality, but who still play for the Moroccan national team?
Why do these critics not question whether or not they are Moroccans when they cheer for the national team, rejoicing at their achievements, and feeling sorrow at their failures?
The national team that qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia was mostly composed of players who were born and raised in Europe, many of whom do not speak either Arabic or Tamazight. Why do Moroccans say with pride that these athletes are Moroccans, while many claim that the doctor who was born, raised, and educated in Morocco is not?
A chance to rethink priorities
In times like this, one should be proud of what Moroccans all over the world continue to achieve. Instead of embarking on such a futile debate, one must pressure Moroccan decision-makers to draw lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and the achievements of Moroccans such as Dr. Slaoui.
Combined with COVID-19 pandemic, the appointment of Dr. Slaoui should serve as a turning point for Moroccan decision-makers. The circumstances should push them to rethink the country’s priorities, overhaul the education system, and promote scientific research in all the fields that can put Morocco on the pathway towards progress and inclusive prosperity in the years and decades to come.
This moment should also serve as a starting point to promote a culture of merit and accountability, fight endemic corruption, and hold accountable all parasites who prevent the country from achieving the progress and prosperity to which all Moroccans aspire.
Moroccans as people and as a society, also have to play their role in achieving those goals and stop waiting for change to come on its own. A collective effort should focus on rejecting a culture that glorifies those who promote trivialities, ignorance, narcissism, and stupidity on social media, and the country’s established pattern of nepotism and cronyism.
We must also review our values and teach our children that their role models should be people such as Drs. Slaoui, Yazami, and Oudrhiri, Chadid, Bilal, and Eluuadrhiri, as well as the tens of thousands of brilliant Moroccans working to fill their potential, rather than petty so-called social media influencers who only spread ignorance.
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis.