Mercurius Maghrebensis

A personal view of Maghrib and Mashriq

‘Intending so to terrify the world’


Ten days ago most newspapers carried a photograph of Daesh – Isis – fighters, in silhouette against the sky, raising their black flag on the hill of Tel Shair opposite Kobani. It portended the fall of the city, and in those parts of the city that Daesh has so far managed to enter, the violence is extreme – “I have seen tens, maybe hundreds, of bodies with their heads cut off. Others with their hands or legs missing. I have seen faces with their eyes or tongues cut out – I can never forget it as long as I live,” as one refugee told a reporter. A couple of days ago the same papers carried a photograph of the black banner being torn down off the hill by Kurdish fighters, giving hope of respite for Kobani. Now it seems that the Daesh has had to pull back from most of the town.

We’ve been here before. This tired symbolism of black flags descending out of Khurasan to capture the central Muslim lands in a cascade of terror, as supposedly predicted by the Prophet in a hadith, is a recurring theme of Middle Eastern history. But to an Englishman the first resonance is perhaps of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great. The governor of Damascus, standing on the city’s walls, says in despair,

His coal-black colours, every where advanc’d,
Threaten our city with a general spoil;
And, if we should with common rites of arms
Offer our safeties to his clemency,
I fear the custom proper to his sword,
Which he observes as parcel to his fame,
Intending so to terrify the world,
By any innovation or remorse
Will never be dispens’d with till our deaths.

Tamburlaine’s reputation, which ran ahead of him like wildfire, stressed his absolute implacability towards his enemies, his scorn for the customs of war and his bottomless appetite for blood. He raised pyramids of severed heads – 120 pyramids around Baghdad alone in 1401 – at the gates of conquered cities and put whole populations to the sword. But he wasn’t unique, and it’s important to remember that this was the MO of every invading army in the history of the Fertile Crescent, from Sennacherib, through the Abbasids to Hulagu and well beyond. Hulagu’s sack of Baghdad in 1258 killed 200,000 people by his own modest estimate – 800,000 or more by those of others.

To judge by Kobani, and the awful litany of beheaded hostages from many nations, severed heads are still important props. But today there is a much more powerful vector for terror than simply word of mouth, and the great innovation of the Daesh banditry is their use of film and social media to carry these images, quite ruthlessly, ahead of them. As Olivier Roy said recently of the filmed executions of Western hostages, “It recalls to mind the ‘trial’ of Aldo Moro put on by the Italian Red Brigade in 1978.” This violence is a carefully calibrated theatre of blood, and it is carried across the world on the internet. What we are seeing is Tamburlaine on Facebook, in real time, and it is very hard to digest, and harder still to react rationally.

A recent article in the Guardian by Steve Rose looked at the film and internet output of the Daesh with the critical eye of a film writer. Their output is workmanlike, but not that good. He detects relatively sophisticated camera work with simple cameras, and an understanding of film-construction that he attributes tentatively to Deso Dogg, a German ‘gangsta rappa’ turned Daesh propagandist under the name of Abu Talha al-Almani. But he doesn’t underestimate the potency of this film output, starting his essay with Frank Capra’s reaction to Leni von Riefenstahl’s 1938 Nazi propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will: “It scared the hell out of me. It fired no gun, dropped no bombs, but as a psychological weapon aimed at destroying the will to resist, it was just lethal.” That’s just what Mr Dogg and his colleagues aim to do too, and judging by their success at Mosul, they aren’t bad at it.

These bandits, the scrapings off the bottom of Muslim communities around the word, working with the attenuated relics of Saddam’s Ba’ath and Sunni tribesmen driven beyond desperation by the sectarian barbarism of Iraq’s Shi’ite government, are a well-armed rag-bag. What they have done very well is to use these modern vectors of fear. They are children of the internet generation. They produce nimble, bloody little film clips called mujatweets, designed to be retweeted all over the world. They text photographs of butchery and decapitation ahead of them to the defenders of towns that they wish to attack – the modern equivalent of Tamburlaine’s pyramids of heads. And they make documentary films about the joys of living in the ‘Caliphate’ (“I don’t think there’s anything better than living in the land of the khilafah,” says one, smugly. He’s clearly not Yazidi, Christian or Shi’i.). They are in short, a Virtual Mongol Horde, with a PR sense like Tamburlaine’s and the ethics of a shrike.

Is there anything original about them? Steve Rose plays with comparisons. Is their style von Liefenstahl, or Kathryn Bigelow, Oliver Stone or do “the cheap production values and portentous narration resemble a bad History Channel documentary?” Undecided, but “what nobody wants to admit is that Isis could have fashioned a visual aesthetic of its own.” What though is indubitable is their easy and relatively skilled access to the internet: “Once cameras were big and expensive and only available to television and movie studios. Now they have become cheaper and more available, ordinary people have gained control of the media narrative.” (Ordinary people?)

He looks at the feeble attempts by the US to fight back by caricaturing the Daesh’s video-game style and vocabulary; and one has the sense of a bunch of black-flagged terriers snapping at the ankles of a confused elephant. And he ends with the clear conclusion that the cause of the West is far from unambiguous, and that it is the Daesh imitating us, not vice versa, that is so devastating. “Not only are we a page-setter in production values,” he quotes US documentary-maker Steve Jarecki as saying, “we are also a page-setter in murderous, amoral, profoundly disturbing content the world over. If we are watching Isis come up to speed, it’s to our own apparent obsession with gore and depravity.”

So how can this relentless tide of bloody offal be fought? It is fascinating and deeply encouraging to see clear signs of a firm and public position being taken by European Muslims. No one with any sense or knowledge doubts that virtually all Muslims deplore this awful hijacking of their religion by testosterone-fuelled, religiously ignorant Rambos. But it has often seemed very hard for Muslims to speak out, which is why (to name only one of many) the reaction of Asim Hussein, the Imam of Manchester Central Mosque, to the technicolour execution of a British hostage was both moving and impressive: “Alan (Henning) embodied more Muslim virtues than the entire Isis put together.”  At the same time the hashtag #notinmyname has taken off, reaching 300 million people in its first weeks, and “saying no way, not in the name of Islam, and not in the name of any faith or humanity,” as Hanif Qadir, one of its founders put it. But the problem is the one Jarecki describes – finding an idiom that is as far away as possible from the “gore and depravity” in which western cinema often likes to wallow, far away from government, and well beyond the kiss-of-death that is official control.” John Gray, speaking like Qadir to Dominic Casciani, says, “[Governments] definitely need to be funding this stuff and they definitely need to be helping those who would be credible messengers develop the kind of technical and messaging skills that they need. But that’s where they need to stop. They then need to stop trying to control the message. They have to get used to the fact that some of the messages that are going to be the most effective are going to be least comfortable for governments themselves.” Bravo.

Oh, and a final note on the religious illiterates of the Daesh. It seems that they are scared witless of the female Kurdish fighters of the YPJ at Kobani, because – and this is really quite delightful – they believe that if killed by a woman they will go to hell. Go girls. Get these e-Tamburlaines where it really hurts, in their brittle and much exaggerated masculinity.


Black Banners and Wizardly Bowlers

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The two-month silence on this blog is the result of our moving house – after four years in Morocco, I am now back in England with my family, settling into a new home, new weather, new circumstances. I shall continue to write about Morocco and the Middle East, and hope that you will stay with me.

Unpacking books the other day, I found myself sadly holding my copy of Sir Harry Luke’s Mosul and its Minorities. Luke was a colonial civil servant of distinction, whose papers are now at Oxford and who, if you’ll forgive a personal interest, ended his career as British Council Representative in the Caribbean. He published a good deal, and this little book, off the press in 1925 when he was Colonial Secretary in Sierra Leone, is a record of two journeys to Mosul, in 1907-8 and 1924; as well as much (just occasionally it seems too much) reading.

He sets out to describe the extraordinary, closely tessellated pattern of religious minorities which had been living on the northern Mesopotamian plain around Mosul for thousands of years. It is dreadfully poignant to re-read it today as Daish/ISIS bandits set about driving the last of these communities out of their soi-disant Caliphate,  enslaving women, killing children and posting slavering film of their atrocities online pour encourager les autres. These victims, of course, are real Mesopotamians, many with bloodlines stretching back in the same region for thousands upon thousands of years – and their persecutors, as so often in history, come from far away. Not all the black banners, though, come from Khorasan: most seem to emerge directly from the dim recesses of the Muslim world, the bidonvilles of South Asia and North Africa, and the dislocated anomie of European migration.

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When I was in Baghdad with the British Council at the end of the 1980s, I used to attend the Queen’s Birthday Party at the Embassy by the Tigris, and in a book I wrote about that time, I described it:

The régime took not the slightest notice of such occasions, so that there were none of the olive drab uniforms and berets of Ba’th Party functionaries. In fact the Iraqi element of the company seemed almost entirely ecclesiastical, a fantastic flotilla of clerical outfitting reflecting the rich mosaic of Christian sects in Iraq. There were Nestorians, Melkites, Jacobites (and no doubt Schismatic Jacobites, too), Greek Uniates, Assyrians, Catholics, Armenian Uniates and Orthodox. Sometimes there was the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar. Each wafted across the rose garden bedizened in a different panoply of pink or black silk, red chiffon or black satin. The hats were like the skyline of an Indian cemetery, pepper-pots and onion-domes, birettas, canopies and indistinct pointy hennins of white drapery. Their owners milled about in swirls and vortices, gossiping and quarrelling, cutting each other dead or dropping viperous comments. I remember once coming across a hugely bearded archimandrite in one of the rose-alleys, reading the palm of an aged Armenian pianist: both were in floods of tears.

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My taxonomy was a little loose, but the impression is accurate, a snapshot of the amazingly diverse Christian heritage of Iraq. Less visible, though scarcely less important, were the non-Christian minorities, the Shebeks (a dim agricultural tribe, possibly Shi’ite Kurds, according to Luke), the Mandæans and the Yazidis. And of course, though it was easy to forget it under Saddam’s leaden hand, the Sunni Muslims themselves were a minority, too, in a predominantly Shi’i country whose census figures were necessarily shrouded in mystery. In city, plain and mountains, as Luke puts it, are scattered the remnants of other peoples, some of whom have known periods of great glory in singular contrast to their precarious present; while others have had so obscure a history that it is difficult even now to unravel their origins and the genesis of their beliefs. But of all these minorities it is safe to say that they have suffered tribulation and oppression, have undergone martyrdom for Christ, for Jehovah and even, unlikely as it may sound, for the Devil.

Luke lists Mosul’s glittering cavalcade of Church potentates, the Nestorian Patriarch, the Chaldæan Patriarch of Babylon, the Jacobite and Syrian Catholic bishops, each photographed in his splendour.  I was not wrong in my memories of exuberant hattery. Here is the Jacobite’s headgear: a large, swelling turban, made by covering a stiff, canvas frame with ingeniously plaited spiral folds of black silk, which officers of the RAF have been heard to describe as a “wizardly bowler.” Or the Chaldæan Patriarch’s flat band of shiny black satin, wound so many times round a low Tunisian fez that it projects quite a hand’s breadth from the head. Luke tells the complicated story of schism and fission that led through the fifth century Church Councils to the fragmentation of the Eastern Churches; the great Nestorian explosion of faith into furthest Asia; and the early modern seduction by the papacy in Rome of fragments of these fragments into the Uniate churches that still march alongside, and often eclipse, their elder sisters.


I remember, on visits to Mosul from Baghdad, visiting churches that were old before the Council of Chalcedon, thick with the smell of wax, light filtered through smoke and alabaster. In those days there were no other foreign visitors and the key had to be found, the key-keeper woken. There was an amazing sense of the depth of history, the unbroken, if slender, continuities that linked Mosul to the deep past. It was a history that also held Muslims in the close embrace of their own distant past, though “the Moslem Arabs are,” as the NID Geographical Handbook of 1944 puts it, “recent immigrants,” while “the Kurds and their racial associates, the Yezidis and ‘Assyrians’ … were already present in the northern mountains in the Parthian period, and are generally regarded as the descendants of the Medes.”

All this is now being ground to dust beneath the heel of the ignorant platoons bringing their sullen, bloodthirsty fury from the back alleys of Casablanca and Cardiff, Paris, Benghazi and Cairo, on a tide of Gulf money, into the land between Aleppo and Mosul. This plain is the great west-east axis of Assyria, the first steps of the Silk Road, which has given shape to northern Mesopotamia through the ages. Murder, rape, expulsion and massacre are now daily occurrences here. The human fabric of civilisation is being ripped apart. So too is the hardware. Churches, monasteries, tombs and mosques are being blown up, burnt and desecrated in pursuit of an ideology which it is tempting to see as primitive and mediæval, but which is actually very modern in its facile merging of savagery, intellectual shallowness, technical sophistication and totalising, unreflective self-righteousness.

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This has happened before, repeatedly, over the centuries, but never quite as thoroughly as today. The last massacre of Bedr Khan Beg left so indelible an impression on the minds of the survivors that the Assyrians, in ordinary parlance, still date their years from 1845, wrote Luke in 1925. In future those who are left to discuss dates will doubtless talk in much greater horror of 2014.

The Yazidis suffered if anything even more. Layard describes a massacre by the Kurdish Beg of Rowanduz, who chased the Yezidis of the Sheikhan to Mosul and  “massacred the wretched fugitives on the hill of Qoyunjik within the full view of the exulting Moslawis.” The appalling fate of the Yazidis in recent weeks, driven out of Sinjar and other towns onto the mountainside of Mount Sinjar, many to be killed or to die of starvation, is testimony to the fanatical malice of the Daish towards this ancient minority. When Luke wrote of their undergoing martyrdom, unlikely as it may sound, for the Devil, he was perpetuating an easy fallacy rooted in tittle-tattle. The truth (inasmuch as outsiders know it) is much more interesting, the devil being nothing of the kind, but the peacock-angel Melek Taus who refused to bow before Adam, and was entrusted by God with the governance of His creation. Shi’ites, too, are treated as heretics and meet much the same fate. So do Sunnis who fail to toe the Daishi line, who display sentiment over the ravaged tomb-shrines of Jonah, or Seth or any one of dozens of others razed with dynamite.

But whether non-Daishis worship God or the Devil seems irrelevant. They are being extirpated from their home of millennia by outsiders driven by blood and fury, who want a ‘Caliphate’ amputated from human history and populated by cloned salafi-jihadis, with overgrown beards, grubby pedal-pushers, closed minds and womenfolk hoarded in black bags. Poor Mosul. Poor Iraq. Poor Christendom. And the poor, poor Umma. As Zephaniah said of Nineveh:

How is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in. Everyone that passes by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.

Wag on.



A propos of nothing above, one fascinating little comment in Luke’s book gives me gentle pleasure. Driving across the desert from Damascus, he comments that as we began to near the Euphrates we occasionally crossed or ran parallel with the ploughed furrow which indicates the air route from ‘Amman. The thought of aeroplanes following a furrow across the desert for navigation is wonderful, and seems almost as long ago as the Council of Chalcedon.

Entitlement and hoopoes’ blood

It’s bac time again, with thousands of young Moroccans chewing their pens and writing exams. The price of hoopoes’ blood, that sovereign booster of exam performance, is no doubt sky-high. The newspapers are full of ingenious stories of cheating. They also pay much attention to what comes next, and there was an interesting survey in L’Economiste this week about what lycée-leavers intend to do. There’s much said about career aspirations (engineering well in the lead for boys and girls) and courses of higher study. But the most interesting phenomenon is the unexpectedly small proportion of students who want to study abroad, at only 12 per cent. Why? Les complications pour obtenir un visa étudiant, la crise européenne et l’installation d’un grand nombre d’établissements étrangers de renom … This is very interesting.

The same phenomenon is picked up by Driss Lahlou in an article on career choice at the back of the paper. He highlights four major trends in Higher Education in Morocco:

  1. The growing concentration of the private HE offer in a number of major institutions with reliable quality and a distinctive offering of their own.
  2. The globalisation of higher education, with the growth too of dually awarded degrees, foreign accreditation and the increase in foreign degrees delivered locally.
  3. Growing focus on high-tech specialities like IT, telecoms and logistics – with strong appetite from the job-market for all these, especially informatic engineering and logistics.
  4. Growing diversification towards Anglophone education. “Limiting ourselves to French educations will not open us up to the world.” Really good education in English gives the student “a good mastery of the language while at the same time opening the doors of first-rate British or American teaching – still little known in the emerging francophone countries.”

That accords well with what I see. Private Higher Education is growing fast – not perhaps quite as fast as the Ministry would like, but 20% of bac students told the survey that they wanted to study privately, which hits the Ministry’s aspirations for the market, if not yet its capacity. Foreign institutions are setting up in Morocco, and foreign degrees are easier to obtain here than ever before (whatever recognition problems may remain). Closest to my desk is SIST, on the floor below the British Council, which offers degrees from the University of Sunderland and Cardiff Metropolitan. For the first time a few weeks ago, I visited Mundiapolis in Agadir, and was extremely impressed by the resource, quality and student offer.

Dr Lahlou’s third point is also interesting. Logistics isn’t a subject that has much detained me – a historian – until recently. But last week I signed an agreement with CGEM and the Supply Chain Foundation (of the UK) to establish a comprehensive framework of training and qualifications in logistics, focusing initially on the aeronautics industry. This is clearly riding a wave. The project will soon offer customised Moroccan syllabi for all levels from technician to Master’s students, and dually accredited Anglo-Moroccan qualifications. This is a very potent alliance, and I suspect a model of things to come.

Finally, education in English. I wrote recently about the growing movement towards English in education, and indeed towards English education. One Russell Group university told me recently that it has received more than 130 UCAS applications this year – almost as many as there were Moroccan students in the UK when I first arrived here. There is a growing understanding amongst the French-educated, the children of the lycée de la mission that French monolingualism is boxing them in, limiting their prospects. That English-language education is a passport to a globalised world, through universities that are disproportinately of world class.

This week I had a fascinating conversation with one of Morocco’s premier foundation institutions not just about the language and organization of ‘Anglo-Saxon education,’ but its philosophical assumptions concerning individual student autonomy, the nature of achievement, the entitlement conferred by a degree and above all the methodology of assessment. What struck me most was the mechanicity of the system that the French left behind in Morocco and which has not adapted with any real flexibility for the twenty-first century. Above all, the strange almost metaphysical rights conferred by a degree to job, security, salary, respect. It isn’t unique to Morocco (I first came across it working in Italy twenty years ago, where the intitolomento, the entitlement that a laurea bestowed, stretched to different salaries for the same job as a non-laureato). Here its corrosiveness is shown by the regular demonstrations outside Parliament by chômeurs diplomés who demand unconditional and uncompetitive recruitment into the civil service simply by virtue of having a degree. (In what? 80% of them, I gather, are graduates in Arabic Literature, Islamic Studies, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. What does that tell us?)

So I remind myself that what still characterizes British higher education is the complete absence of entitlement: a degree is just an entry-ticket to one tier of the employment market, not a season-ticket to a job. A graduate looking for a job in England still has to prove, in a very competitive market, not what she has done, but what she can do. A degree in a particular subject from a particular university may be one part of that portfolio of proof, but in these days of mass higher education, it’s only a small part. Today almost half of young Britons have degrees of one kind or another. Employers look through those degrees (what kind of university is it from? What does it tell me about this young woman?); and beyond them (what can she do? What is her future potential?) Entitlement has gone the way of hoopoes’ blood.

The Cockerel Tree


There’s a story told by Edward Westermarck, about a judge – a cadi – who committed a variety of sins, culminating in his smearing soap across the threshold of his chambers and finding it hugely funny when visitors slipped and fell. He went on doing this, with growing hilarity, “until an angel of God said to him, ‘O stork why did you do wrong to Moslems?’ At the same moment he was transformed into stork; and he has still a black cloak and a white cloak, he has the henna of the bridegroom on his feet, and his eyes are black with antimony, and he is going on laughing as before.”

Storkification (the fate, too, of Antigone in Ovid’s Metamorphoses) for cruel and undue laughter seems to be a recurring theme in traditional Moroccan stories. The black-and-white livery of the stork is often understood as the habit of a cadi or imam, and the laqlaqlaqlaqlaq of the bird’s beak as the echo of the immoderate laughter. Generally the metamorphosis is a punishment; but sometimes it can also be a voluntary transformation of the sort described by Juan Goytisolo in his novel Las Semanas del Jardin, of a stork-man from Marrakech whose wife, working in France, abandons him for a Frenchman.

The Marrakchi, who lives next to Dar Bellarej, the stork hospital by the Abou Youssef mosque, tries to get a visa for France, fails, and sets out to find his unfaithful wife by other, magical, means. “The following day, I was aloft with a flock of storks in an ineffable state of bliss and delight. The world was at once miniature and immense: toy towns and landscapes, seas gleaming like mirrors, white mountains … My altitude, lightness and speed of movement granted me a feeling of superiority over humans, slow as turtles, tiny like insects.” He flies north with a muster of ‘real’ storks and finds his wife living with her French lover. He joins the household, ingratiating himself with his own unknowing wife, who adopts him, taking him for a female stork. “How incredible … there are lots of [storks] in my country. I’m sure that’s where she’s from … How tame! She must have fallen ill and can’t fly any more. I’ll look after her and feed her on raw fish. In our country they say it brings great luck: a guest sent from heaven, whom we must respect and offer hospitality to.” So he settles down, in the guise of a female stork, and disrupts his wife’s adulterous relationship, sleeping in his wife’s bed, shitting on the lover’s pillow and causing escalating arguments until he flies home, his job done. In due course his wife follows him back to Marrakech, happy, affectionate and full of stories about a strange stork which had flown to her from Morocco.

Storks have a special place in Morocco, which arises from their sheer numbers as they migrate south from Europe towards West Africa across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, many spending the winter in Moroccan trees, telegraph poles and minarets. The pisé walls of Moroccan medinas are festooned with their gaunt black-and-white figures. One has only to think of Fes or Marrakech (where Ali Bey al-Abassi, the Spanish impostor, famously kept three, their wings docked, in his garden); or the Chellah at Rabat. Kenitra – Port Lyautey as was – is a particular centre for storks: in 1935 Bruet recorded 23,969 nests in Morocco of which 8,573 – more than in the whole of Algeria – were at Port Lyautey. No wonder the collective noun for storks in English is military – a muster, or a phalanx. The puzzle, though, is that until I came to Morocco I had never seen more than one or two at a time. Only here have I seen phalanxes.

They are bids of a mesmerising, gawky grace, winging home in the evening. Rabat has few more evocative sights than the storks returning to Chellah in the twilight, an awe-inspiring feathered cavalcade of huge, ragged wings flapping in on the evening breeze. Sometimes the crowds of birds descending are alarming in their density, and those already in the trees serenade their arrival with a windstorm of clacking beaks, laqlaqlaqlaqlaq …There are said to be a hundred nests there, including those on the hillside below Yousoufiya, but sometimes it seems that the evening rush-hour brings many more great White Storks home than a hundred nests could house. And home they fly, riding the thermals above the Bouregreg, where you can look magically down upon them from the heights of Yousoufiya.

But they come and go, these laqlaqs, and latterly they seem to be doing less coming than going. Stork numbers are down, though we could be forgiven for not noticing: what my daughter calls ‘the cockerel tree,’ on her walk to school still has eight or so nests stacked crazily one above the other like ragged bedsits, each with parents and three or so young. But more and more storks aren’t making it to Morocco at all on their way south.

SOS Stork Migration is a project that tracks storks to try and make sense of this. The jury is still out, and there is clearly more than one factor at work, but an important one is the tempting food-source provided by southern Europe’s great, stinking open-pit rubbish dumps. These are simply too easy, and too delicious to pass by, and many storks – more than half those tracked – never make it further than the great, gorgeously named, middens of Ejea de Caballeros, Bourg-en-Bresse, Alcazar de San Juan, Almagro, Montpellier, Lerida, Malpartide de Caceres, Dos Hermanos and so on. There’s another juicy one at Kenitra, which marks it as a must-visit on the modern stork-migration map, just as it was 80 years ago. Their diet (not difficult, or pleasant, to imagine) gives them added weight but lots of nasty pathogens. It also tempts them to end their journeys – the easy pickings of used nappies, waste food, packaging, pharmaceutical junk and heaven knows what else seems to remove the need to fly on southward for the winter sun. Only one of the seven storks tracked got as far as Senegal: another made it to Morocco but no further. The rest settled happily to gorge on the foetid rubbish heaps of Spain and France.

This is very sad. There is no visible shortage of storks right now in Rabat – and the walls of the Imperial Cities are still topped with countless feathered Capuchins. But if SOS Stork Migration is right, and the study looks unhappily convincing, the southward flight across the Straits of Gibraltar that has gone on for millennia will thin and perhaps peter out. Regulating rubbish-dumps in Europe (by reducing the food content) may help – but in the end, if we want to save the cockerel tree, we may need to stop clearing up rubbish dumps in Morocco.


Moroccans at Monte Cassino


I have the clearest memory of standing, ten or twelve years ago, under the great barrel-vault of the Menin Gate, looking at the names of the 55,000 dead in the battles for Ypres, whose bodies had never been recovered. It is a melancholy place, site of an extraordinary daily theatre of the emotions when the Last Post is played at sunset, the heart-breaking bugle echoing across quiet streets. What struck me then was the number of men and officers from the Indian army, havildars, subadars and sepoys who had given their lives for the King-Emperor, very far from home in the mud of the Ypres Salient. It is a strange and sobering reflection, that victory depended on colonial armies, and that so much was given by them, so unstintingly. And of course it wasn’t just Britain’s Indian Army that fought in Europe and elsewhere: troops from North Africa – including perhaps 40,000 from Morocco – served in the Great War too, and a foundation called Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation has been set up to commemorate them and promote the memory of their contribution to the winning of the war. It is a fine project and worth exploring, run by a group of people that includes Eugene Rogan of Oxford and Driss Meghraoui of Al-Akhawayn.

I was struck this morning to check my phone and find quite how often an article I re-tweeted yesterday on the Muslim contribution to the Second World War had been re-tweeted again. It clearly strikes a chord on this 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the 1944 Normandy landings are all over the press, to remember that many of the named and nameless dead are Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian – without even mentioning the troops from East and West Africa, India and the Far East. I was mulling this over when I noticed a copy of L’Opinion on a news stand this morning, headlined on its front page Hommage aux Marocains tombés dans la lutte contre le nazisme.

It is essentially an account of the role of the Moroccan Goumiers at Monte Cassino. My father, who saw his twenty-first birthday in a dug-out opposite the monastery at Cassino in March 1944, used to say of the Goumiers,   echoing the Duke of Wellington, “I don’t know what effect they had on the enemy, but by God they scared the living daylights out of me.” Now I have a glimpse of what they did to the enemy.

“It was the legendary Moroccan soldiers of Moulay Driss Zerhoune, from Taza and the Atlas, who would breach the German lines, considered impenetrable for months, and open the route to Rome.” The French cemetery is at Venafro, twenty kilometres away, where the Corps Expéditionnaire Français was based, and there are 3,130 Muslim graves out of a total of 4,578 – sixty-eight per cent. Of the French force that took part in the Italian campaign, 72,000 – sixty per cent – were Moroccans. The Goumiers broke through the Gustav Line, outflanking Cassino, and took the neighbouring summits of Monte Majo, Monte Aurunci and Belvedere. “They had to climb steep slopes covered in mud and snow, which the Germans judged to be unscalable, before securing the peaks under German artillery fire.” Kesselring himself later said that “The French, and above all the Moroccans, fought furiously and exploited every success by concentrating their forces on each point that showed signs of weakening.” After Cassino the Moroccans marched north, and the story of their campaign is told in the 2006 film Indigènes, which had such a powerful impact, among others, on President Chirac that he finally relented on the longstanding scandal of pensions for Moroccan ex-servicemen.imgres

The Moroccan writer of the article, Abdelmalek Terkemani, notes the losses to the Goumiers at Cassino – 4,272 Muslims dead, 2,000 lost and not identified, and some 23,500 wounded, of whom the great majority were Moroccan. And he goes on to lament the growing xenophobia in Europe, where the common struggle is allowed to slip out of memory: “Photographs of these tombs, of young Frenchmen and Moroccans buried side by side, captioned ‘THEY DIED FOR EUROPE,’ should hang in every meeting room where foreigners in Europe are discussed.” But – as he concludes – “One can’t talk of this subject without remembering the unjust treatment suffered by the brave Moroccan soldiers who survived, compared to their European brothers-in-arms. Many of them died without trace, others among the survivors crippled or handicapped dragged themselves painfully for decades, to the front of French consulates demanding more just and more worthy treatment of their predicament.”

King Mohamed V was guest of honour at the first great France Combattant parade in June 1945, with Goumiers marching along the Champs Elysée, but as Terkemani points out, the lesson was not altogether well learned in France. Maréchal Alphonse Juin, the immensely successful French commander at Monte Cassino became Résident-général in Morocco and fiercely opposed the Nationalists. The present French Ambassador, Charles Fries, addressed this question gracefully and directly at the launch recently of a second edition of the 2006 history of the Goumiers, by Pierre Riera and Christophe Touron, Ana! Frères d’armes marocains dans les deux guerres mondiales. “Tens of thousands of Moroccan soldiers have twice paid the price in blood to defend our liberty. May they be assured that France will be eternally grateful to them for it.” May they indeed.

And now I know, as I leave my house in the morning and head for the office, why I am walking up rue Zerhoune, and it is a good reminder.


Arbitraging the tortoise market


In my garden in Rabat there are half a dozen tortoises which emerge on sunny mornings, loll in the sun, couple from time to time with a sound like wrestling wardrobes, and spend the winter under the woodpile. At least two of them were already there when we arrived in 2010. Another – Mr T – was bought in the mdina as a Christmas present. He was recently joined by a pair of middle-sized tortoises presented to us after a trip to the souq by the visiting New College rugger team, and known as Wyckham and William. There is also a baby tortoise, about the size of a half-crown, apparently born here, which lives on the back lawn and causes us to walk nervously on tip-toe, watching carefully for her small, round back half-hidden by grass. I suspect there may be more, but I am not intimate enough with any except Mr T to be sure of exactly who I am talking to.

Many diplomats stick their heads under their cars in the mornings looking for suspicious packages and wires: we go down on all fours before driving off, to make sure that one of the tortoises isn’t enjoying the warm shade of a tyre.

These spur-thighed tortoises (testudo graeca) are native to Morocco, and range free in our garden as of right. They need no care from me, and think they own the place which, as Moroccans, they do. They ignore the cats disdainfully, and their disdain is returned: I think the two species simply move at too different a pace from one another to take notice. They mostly do the same with us, ignoring us completely unless offered lettuce, in which case they line up like the Grand Fleet being reviewed at Spithead.

When we first arrived I consulted the internet anxiously to find out whether I needed to look after our sitting tenants. Rule One for tortoise-owners, according to the wisdom of the web, is that they are prone to constipation and may need occasional enemas. A little daunted, I found a very clear diagram of how this was to be done, and was relieved to discover that it demands little more than putting the tortoise bottom-first on a wooden shingle sloping downwards into a basin of warm soapy water. Gravity, it seems, does the rest.

However, such drastic (I use the term advisedly) remedies seem not to be called for in warm climates. In fact colonic irrigation for tortoises is probably necessary only in captivity in the chilly north, where they really oughtn’t to be in the first place. This shouldn’t surprise us, since tortoises are built for Africa, its temperatures, vegetation and humidity. This causes me a little guilt, thinking back to my childhood in 1960s London when every garden, including ours, had its – presumably costive – tortoise. I don’t ever remember up-ending the poor chap in warm water to administer laxatives.

Between 1895 and 1984 some ten million tortoises were apparently imported into Britain, 67% of them (how does anyone invent these figures?) from Morocco. And CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, has made it illegal to import or sell the little fellows (unless bred in captivity and microchipped) since 1984.

But there’s market pressure. The tortoise-man in the Souaika sells a big tortoise for 150 dirhams, and a middling sort of tortoise for 100 or so. Small ones are cheaper (and no doubt they’re all much cheaper if you’re not a gullible middle-aged Englishman – the RSPCA reports that they can, or could, be bought in bulk in Marakech for £1 each, which is 13 dirhams). He has trays of them, rather squashed up but not in too obvious distress; on the other hand, he doesn’t like people photographing them, which may be simple irritation at all the tourists who snap without buying, but may equally reflect a discomfort at undercover missions from animal rights organizations.

This month 66 spur-thighed tortoises were found in a sports bag hidden in the back of a van coming off the ferry from Nador at Sète in the south of France. There, it seems, they command prices of between 1000 and 2000 dirhams a pop. So for 66 that’s profit of going on £10 grand – which is why people smuggle them. Fortunately all 66 survived, though the press reports do not record whether they have been repatriated to Morocco. If not, we must wish the douaniers sètois the best of fortune with the wooden shingles and the soapy water. Wholesale smuggling of tortoises takes place too on a much larger scale, with tortoises stacked upon each other like melons, and many miserable deaths in transit.

At the retail end of the trade it seems that British tourists, nostalgic for childhood memories of tortoises-in-the-garden, are buying them and taking them home in pockets and handbags. This is tough on the handbag, which will fill up with tortoise-crap, but more importantly, is tough on the tortoise. Ours will stay where they belong when we leave, fossicking about in our Rabat garden in the sunshine to amuse and delight our successors.

Moroccans ascribe all sorts of virtues to tortoises. Some believe that their blood cures warts, some that they keep snakes away from the garden. Yet others believe that their hiss can turn children blind, though my offspring seem still to be pretty sharp-eyed. At least Mr T isn’t likely to suffer the fate of Darwin’s tortoises, sent back from the Galapagos to England, but again and again eaten en route by sailors who found them irresistibly delicious: tortoises here in Morocco are generally thought of as haram on the culinary front, because they are believed to eat – forgive me – shit. So perhaps that handbag will be self-cleaning, after all. But don’t.

Follow that oval ball


I have on my desk a press cutting about an organization called ‘Les Enfants de l’Ovale-Maroc’ – EDOM – and it’s such a wonderful story that I shall do little more than repeat it here. Moroccan rugger has not really impinged on my consciousness these last four years, though there’s a field of waist-high buttercups in the Hilton Forest with posts at each end on which intrepid teams sometimes go out. Rugby was introduced of course by the French under the Protectorat, and has been intimately linked with France and Spain, where most of the best Moroccans play for league teams and quite a few – like the great second-row forward Abdelatif Benazzi, capped 78 times (below) – have played for France. But Morocco itself was a founder member of the African League in 1986, and has won it twice in the past decade, inserting itself into that other sphere of post-French rugby, francophone  West Africa.

Anyway, I need little convincing that rugger is a sport that breeds virtues of determination, courage, teamwork and so on, as well as being enormous fun. EDOM was set up ten years ago at Mers El Kheir, near Temara, one of the ten poorest communes in Morocco, to harness those virtues to bettering the lot of the town’s children. The president of EDOM, Dr Mohammed Missoum, says that it is “un bel example d’ingénierie sociale dans l’action de lutte contre la précarité. Nous menons des actions dans le soutien scolaire, les activités artistiques, les practiques sportifs … surtout le rugby.” I should say that “un bel example” is exactly what it is.

EDOM has seen 4,000 children pass through its tutelage, and raised 7,000,000 dirhams in a decade. It has seen its boys and girls (it is committed to girls’ education and opportunity) go on to further education and medical school. Just as important, half the national rugby team are EDOM graduates, and all benefit from the “solidarité, respect, ésprit d’équipe et courage” which EDOM and rugger inculcate. Several African countries are looking to franchise this brilliant concept. A week ago, EDOM won the 11th Crown Prince Moulay Al Hassan championship.

A few weeks ago I was in Oxford, and watched my son walk out onto the pitch for the first time in a Blue jersey, for the University Under-20s. Like every father on the touchline I was bursting with ridiculously exaggerated pride. But I think after reading this piece in L’Economiste, I’d be just as proud to have seen my son running out onto the field at EDOM.


A dearly bought hyphen


At the beginning of the last century, the Bouregreg valley was a lush confusion of interlaced channels, thick with reed-beds and sedge, where European residents went sniping from flat-bottomed boats in the heat of a Rabat summer, avoiding pot-shots from Zaer tribesmen. Rbatis with any sense stayed well away, safe within the walls. This fragile and beautiful environment lasted, more or less, for another century, with fields and orange-orchards slowly reclaimed from the marshes, and the truly breath-taking view of Salé across the estuary uninterrupted by building. Until recently it was still possible to make out the shadowy outline in the sand of the channel leading from the riverbank to the Bab Mrisa, up which captured ships were dragged to be dismasted and stripped of their chandlery in the basin of Salé’s arsenal.

Writing at the turn of the last century, the French Vice-Consul, Louis Mercier, described this glorious stretch of unspoilt river valley.

The Oued divides  … into a large numbers of channels which cut up this marshy soil into an infinity of isles and little patches of land of tortuous shape. Dense and varied marsh vegetation covers the low plain and shelters a whole world of water birds – marsh snipe, woodcock, curlews, plovers, ducks, cranes and so on.  Only two branches of the Oued are of any importance. The main one is the furthest east, touching the right bank, close to whose high and bushy banks it flows for 400 or 500 metres. Then it moves slowly away from the bank to take a north-south direction, then northeast-southwest, and it touches the left bank three kilometres further on.

The other important branch is roughly halfway between the two banks and follows a north-south route almost in a straight line, only to lose itself in the sandbanks a few hundred metres before rejoining the main channel. This second branch is called by the natives Es-Saqia, ‘the channel:’ given its narrowness, it can only offer passage to a single boat. This is the route which hunters take, because it leads into the heart of the marsh. It also has another advantage which is not unimportant: it is equidistant from the two banks, and puts you out of range of gunshots from one or the other. The two banks are about a kilometre apart at this point, and it is well known that the Arabs don’t like shooting from a distance. For part of the year all these alluvial lands are covered at high tide.

Having arrived at the end of the saqia, you can land and continue the expedition on foot, towards the left bank. This is only possible when the tide is not too high, otherwise you are stopped constantly by secondary channels. You can continue in that direction and rejoin the road that runs along the left bank at the foot of the cliffs and goes to Chella; or continue along the river as far as the lovely orange orchards which lie a little further on. These orchards are the property of the qaid of Rabat, hence their name, El-Souissiya, which comes from the patronymic name of his family. These orchards have, for a long time, been the objective of walks for Europeans living in Rabat. They go there by river and by land. But insecurity has been growing now for three years, and these days even the owner of these orchards doesn’t dare go there himself.

Unspoiled no longer. In the time I have lived in, and loved, Rabat, I have watched the lower part of the river transformed into the Bab el-Bahr, a stack of drab, undistinguished building around a marina. The stark white control-tower of a heliport stands like a single raised finger in front of Salé’s ancient walls. Right in front of one of the world’s most magnificent mediæval urban panoramas, it is a sad impertinence. A plywood dhow is now moored at (nailed to?) the river-front near where the old customs sheds once stood. And foundations are being furiously dug further up the river valley, for more building.


Here, I read yesterday in a breathless account in L’Economiste, there is to be a further development, a new cultural centre for Rabat, no less, centred on a Grande Théâtre by Zaha Hadid. There’s a photograph of a 3D maquette of the whole development, and Ms Hadid’s theatre looks like an enormous marshmallow that has been sat upon by a careless elephant. The developers, Wessal Rabat, are as pleased as punch with the whole thing, which is budgeted at 9,000,000,000 dirhams, and will take shape between 2014 and 2020.

La phase II, qui s’étend sur environ 110 hectares, se positionne dans un site exceptionnel déjà desservi par le tramway, les réseaux routiers et autoroutiers, qui plus est située à 10 minutes de ‘aéroport international de Rabat. C’est dire que le projet s’insère dans un logique d’attractivité touristique et culturelle. Rabat-Salé intends to attract 4 million tourists a year by 2020 (so the red-faced Brits tumbling into the medina off the new Ryan Air flight from Stansted are only a harbinger of redder things to come). To service their discerning needs there will be not only Ms Hadid’s Grand Théâtre, but a new museum of archæology and earth science, ‘thematised promenades’ by the river and lots of hotels. As well, of course, as another marina (difficile à imaginer le réaménagement de la vallée du Bouregreg sans un marina … équipée de meilleures commodités des marinas de plaisance. Quite.)

Grosso modo (and seldom, it seems to me, has that over-used Italian phrase been more appropriate) les composantes seront à forte dominance culturelle et s’inspireront du patrimoine architectural local, afin de renforcer l’attractivité touristique de la destination. That will be the 105,000 square metres of offices, I imagine, along with the house-building programme which combine des structures futuristes et traditionelles avec des touches typiques de l’ancienne medina.

But it’s too easy to carp. Rabat is a capital city, and it’s not unreasonable that it should want all the fancy bric-a-brac that goes with being one. Nor that the biggest investment fund in Africa should turn its attention from Casa Port, once finished, to the Bouregreg, la plus grosse opération jamais realisée par le fonds Wessal. By 2020 the old sister cities across the Bouregreg will be lost in a sea of concrete, and the Casbah des Oudiyas will look down disdainfully  on a valley full to the brim with cultcha.

Zaha Hadid is a wonderful architect (I recently visited her amazing new half-finished Middle East Centre at St Antony’s in Oxford and was suitably awe-struck); and culture is a splendid commodity. This new quarter will be un veritable trait d’union entre la culture et le grand public. C’est la principale mission qui sera donnée aux cinq maisons de culture de la vallée du Bouregreg. I’m not entirely clear how this rhetorical hyphen will operate in joining culture and the general public, but I daresay the latter will pour down from both banks to throng the facilities providing the former. I very much hope it works, because the price that Rabat is paying is a large one, in the loss of the almost inexpressibly lovely views of Salé’s walls and the slow-moving river, of the patchwork of small green fields and the storks nesting undisturbed on the hillside opposite the Chellah.

I went yesterday to the high place on the bluff at Yousoufia, and looked out on the valley, with storks riding the thermals far below, and tiny fishermen casting nets. The river snaked lazily along towards the sea and the great walls of the Chellah clambered dramatically down their hillside. It will be a dearly bought hyphen.

The Bureau of Industry and Amusement Hall

Swords, students and vegetables


Dhar el Mahraz at Fes is awash, according to press reports, with commerce illicite de toutes sortes de marchandises (drogues, alcool, sabre, prostitution …). It sounds a bit like the Baltimore housing projects in The Wire. And the neighbours aren’t great, either: Il est entouré, autre les bidonvilles de Dhar el Mahraz, Douar el Askar et Aouinate El Hajjaj, d’une zone industrielle (Sidi Brahim), de casernes militaires et de quartiers insalubres. There’s quite a bit of casual violence (the sabres are a giveaway). It’s really not the kind of place you’d want your children going anywhere near.

The odd thing is that it’s a university campus, belonging to Fes’s Université Sidi Mohamed ben Abdellah. Ten days or ago there was a pitched battle there between Islamists and Maoists which led to several severe injuries, and the death of a young student called Abderrahim Hasnaoui. The fight was over a seminar run by the Islamists called – you couldn’t make this up – Islamists, the Left and Democracy.

The details are not in the end very important, though the objection of the Maoists was to the fêting of an Islamist militant of the 1990s held responsible for the death of a leftist student in 1993. Abderrahim Hasnaoui was 21 when he died, which means that he was born in 1993, about the time of this earlier murder. So he can’t have had any direct knowledge of it, and the same is presumably true of all the other cutlass-wielding undergraduates who set about each other with such enthusiasm. The motor of events at Dhar el Mahraz was regurgitated history, myth and tittle-tattle, a narrative whirlpool of gang violence and ancient grievance. Mixed of course with testosterone and hatred: cette violence est le résultat d’une décision préméditée, as the Minister of Higher Education noted soberly.

It smacks of what is being called Tscharmil in the press. I’m told that the word Tscharmil comes from the kitchen and has to do with dicing vegetables, an unpleasant image in this context. It describes a recently much written-about epidemic of crimes with armes blanches – cutlasses, machetes, butcher’s knives, mostly home-made. The tscharmilists post pictures of loot, victims and weapons on the internet, and we are warned that street robberies with knives (and larger cutlery) are on the increase in towns across Morocco. The newspapers publish pictures of policemen with home-made sabres seized from home-made sabre factories, and they look pretty lethal (the sabres, that is).

The King has given firm instructions to police, university presidents and other authorities that they are to stop both Tscharmil and campus violence: L’université ne doit plus être un lieu de désordre, mais un endroit de recherche et de savoir. It seems that the police have responded with enthusiasm, in some cases taking much more proportionate armes blanches – razors – to the scalps of miscreants, cutting their hair off. This in turn raises all sorts of bad memories, and reminds liberal commentators of Costas-Gavras’s 1969 film, Z. It’s all a bit of a mess. On Monday this week the police were given permission to enter universities without the permission of presidents and deans to preserve public order. A sort of academic hot pursuit, to prevent sword-fights.

But what is really going on? The phenomenon of youth violence is clearly real. Several of my colleagues have been robbed with edged weapons in Casablanca in recent months. Sword-wielding students are not a figment of the imagination, and nor are squalid deaths in campus brawls, or armed hold-ups. But as Omar Saghi comments in TelQuel, the level of violent crime is nonetheless pretty low, and not really rising: l’insecurité qui, selon des médias lubriques, explose, n’a rien d’exceptionnel par rapport a ce qu’elle a été sous Hassan II. Indeed the Ministry of the Interior has just this week announced that the national figures for violent crime are significantly down. What Saghi sees is a diatisation de l’insecurité, an escalating coverage of violence in the press which plays to popular fears, underwrites resolute police action and elaborates narratives of blame. This seems plausible – we see it in Britain too, the fingering of migrants and the poor, the press-driven soap opera of threat to person and property – a de-ideologized politics of fear.

Is this all it is? I doubt it. There is an awful lot of non-specific frustration bubbling under the surface of Moroccan society, of thwarted ambition and stunted lives. These tscharmilists are football’s Ultras writ large, young men whose rage finds no other outlet than physically enforcing submission. Look at the picture at the head of this post – it’s in Rabat, of course, and shows an absurdly mighty FAR Ultra superhero violently subduing the shrimp-like fans of two rival teams. This is the visual language of thuggery, the ritual but nonetheless very real violence of young men failed by the education system and the job market, finding expression in imposing their incoherent, self-glorifying, resentful, inarticulate – but very real – personal narratives down the throats of Others.

It is a relief to see decisive action taken – but what it all underlines for me is the desperate need for investment in a reformed Higher Education sector. Dhar el-Mahraz is to be rebuilt, apparently, and not before time. Last week I was at Agadir and visited the new campus buildings of Ibn Zohr University: they are superb, carefully thought out, beautifully decorated and imaginatively finished. Though Ibn Zohr has its share of campus troubles, it is hard to imagine students crossing sabres in these splendid buildings, which radiate a respect for the student that demands to be reciprocated. And that respect, that karama, is what is missing for so many of Morocco’s young people – and what they so desperately need.

Roll up that Chap


When I started this blog almost two years ago, I chose as the masthead picture a line of mannequins outside a clothes shop in Avenue Hassan II, between Allel ben Abdellah and Mohamed V. They seemed to me to capture something quintessential about Morocco, the melancholy of the young men chipped and battered by life, their eyes ringed with smudged brown paint, bleak, dazed and despondent. They have a teddy-boy’s quiff, a jaunty wave of the hair, and a not-quite-firm jaw. And they go resiliently on through chips, scratches and breaks, repairs and re-paintings: eternal survivors

Later I found out that the mannequin, who also has a wife and two children, is still made from moulds sold by Spanish travelling salesmen in the 1960s and 70s. I came across a small workshop on the old Kenitra road making the wife, who is known (there at least) as Monica. A week later, the foreman told us, he’d be doing a run of Monica’s consort, Er-rajul, the young man in my picture. The faces of Er-rajul and Monica, who I have come to think of as a Moroccan Adam and Eve, stick firmly in the mind: I can’t walk through a mdina anywhere in Morocco without seeing them staring sadly, perhaps reproachfully, out at me from shops and stalls. Once spotted, they are everywhere: Monica and her fibre-glass, teddy-boy husband are very much part of the imaginative fabric of my life in Morocco.

Today I was walking along Avenue Hassan II on my way to lunch, and I stopped outside the shop where I took the original photograph. I stopped without any conscious reason for stopping, in fact without being fully aware of having stopped at all. But I saw suddenly that the mannequins in front of the shop had changed dramatically, and I found myself face-to-face with a line of besuited male figures wrapped in silver foil, like a line of joints ready for the oven. If you look carefully in the photograph, you can still see the line of their jaw and the sweep of their hair, under the shiny gift-wrapping.

It felt as though someone had painted the Tour Hassan pink, or hung Christmas lights on the DGST headquarters. As though my life in Rabat was coming to an end, its imagery subverted. I took it rather personally, in fact, as a foreshadowing of my departure from Morocco at the end of this coming summer. “Roll up that chap,” as Pitt is whimsically alleged to have said of Fox, “we shall not need him these ten years.” Well, wrap him in baking-foil, anyway.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that if it is a reference at all, it is a reference not to me but to the young man, the quintessential Moroccan. Old and chipped isn’t good enough any more – Er-rajul has to be slick and modern, his familiar, battered old face turned into an anonymizing attempt at arty chic. A bit like Morocco itself, I reflect, as I look out towards Salé over what used to be the soulfully beautiful, desolate floor of the Bouregreg valley, now a clutter of meretricious building to which has recently been added the control tower of a heliport.

Change must come, I daresay, but I am delighted to have seen the tail-end of Rabat as a truly lovely city –  with its strange interstitial population of kohl-eyed teddy boys.


Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one

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The Arabist

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London Review of Books

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A personal view of Maghrib and Mashriq

Jadaliyya Ezine

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