Couscous, Tajine & Democracy

A Work in Progress

It’s grey outside. The sky seems to get darker by the hour. I’m alone in an empty office, in the second floor of a huge nursing home where I’m on duty for the day. I haven’t been called yet… things seem to be calm. There are days like these when everything seems oddly quiet; too quiet. Anyway I decided I’m going to restart blogging. Just put my fingers on the keyboard and just type whatever rubbish comes to mind…

The first picture to come into sight was a hot, appetizing smoky dish of couscous. You know, the kind of dishes that reminds you of the sweetness of childhood when you had no responsibility, cocooned as you were and self indulgent. So I decided that “couscous” will be the title of this post (or at least a part of it). No, really, I’m thinking about a lot of thinks at the moment; not able to prioritize since every single thought laps over the other in an intricate amalgamation of thoughts not that dissimilar to Moroccan cuisine.

Ok; a bit more serious…

I’ve been brought up in Morocco, a country I cherish and love to the point of addiction. In a society torn between tradition and an obvious desire for change and progress; with a deep identity crisis; proud of its past, yet eager to reach modernity; overwhelmingly tolerant, but not immune from fanaticism and violence; full of youth, energy and potential, but so inhibited and constrained by so much red-lines and rules most of which irrational.

As many others in my generation, my relationship with my own society evolved in -grossly- three phases:

I first tried to understand the world I was living in; a fascinating, rich and exciting world, yet full of contradictions, ambiguities and dark spaces that you’re not allowed to probe. Then the excitement grows bigger as years go by, when by virtue of work, social position and concern for the future, one considers that he/she has got a stake in his/her own society. You start asking questions and you’re faced with absurd answers. You’re politely asked to shut your mouth up, and reminded that you live in a land -virtually- owned by the ruler, his family and surroundings. You’re told that there are many things sacred that you’re not allowed to question even when you deem them silly, ridiculous, unjust or potentially dangerous.

Then comes the second phase when out of accumulated knowledge and personal experience you make your own opinion and you’re overwhelmed by that desire to act; to get involved in a way or another. You join a group of like-minded friends only to discover a world of self professed activism, full of intrigues and sometimes as corrupt and false as the society you’re humbly trying to influence.

And then, inexorably comes a third phase: a moment of apathy and detachment. You’re gradually invaded by a sense of indifference and numbness to all things political but not without a taste of guilt that accompanies you throughout. And when you’re, by chance, provided the opportunity to go abroad, you don’t think twice… you decide to get the hell out of here. ’cause you’re not a hero after all; never wanted to be a hero; your concerns stem from a seemingly altruistic interest but basically your fundamental motives are selfish: you want to live respectful of others, but free to unleash your creative energy, free to act, invent, create; free to question everything to challenge anything that seems at odds with your own egocentric interests.

But the sense of guilt never leaves you, it grows even greater as you comfortably assimilate yourself into your new environment. You find yourself trapped into a routinely standardized life; endlessly repeating identical cycles. Because homesickness and the memory of a tougher and arduous past keeps obsessively haunting you, you feel the burning need to do something meaningful. You’re then helplessly trying to find interesting people who you might emulate and share opinions with, platforms where you could express your mind. Internet gave me, as I believe many of my blogging peers, the opportunity to do just that.

Gradually a community of thought takes shape and your scope gets bigger and bigger. You finally have found the breathing space you were craving for and a community of people with whom you might agree or disagree; a commonwealth of free speakers.

So far so good…

But as a human being your compulsive insatiability for more freedom and emancipation tells you that that is not enough. You want to go beyond the quiet, anonymous, static exchange of thoughts over computer monitors; you want to get real; take a step forward; be effective; which involves taking risks.

It wasn’t my idea but I welcomed it and I thought it was long overdue. Fatima, la Marocaine as she likes to call herself, blogging on Agora first introduced me to the idea of an in-real-life meeting with fellow Moroccan bloggers. It would be a first face contact, an open meeting where we could discover each other’s faces as well as thoughts.

As agreed we gathered at Place St Michel, Paris, me arriving late as the good Moroccan I am. I have to admit, I had some apprehension about the whole thing since each one of us, as I’m sure, has undoubtedly made his own mind about the others, and has cooked up a definite idea about what the other might look like, or be like. You know the kind of disappointment that one might feel when discovering that the face of your favourite radio presenter doesn’t match the image that you formed in your mind: it’s just mind puzzling and it might affect your judgment of other people.

It was going to be the first Couscous-Tajinists -jokingly- meeting.

There was Fatima, Aymane, Anas, Karim, Mounir, Le Mythe and my humble me.

Anyway, we took lunch together, exchanged some thoughts, then thanks to Aymane, headed -in the pure Parisian tradition- to a Literary café, Librairie Avicenne , “the first exclusively Arab library of Paris”, located near L’institut du Monde Arabe, in the Quartier Latin, and run by an erudite Syrian Intellectual. We rapidly felt comfortable enough to unleash our thoughts and the discussion grew more and more passionate.

The Arab blogging community is undeniably growing in number and quality. In a region of the world most known for its failures and tragedies than for its accomplishments (and they are many), the blogosphere is a breathing space for this mass of people, young and old, men and women who mostly aspire -as any other human being- for a better life and a better future.

All those supposedly independent governments have promised so much and accomplished so little. After more than half a century of formal independence from former colonial powers (more than eighty years in the case of Egypt) all the countries of the region remain indecently underdeveloped, politically backward, economically and culturally tied to their former colonizers.

None of the basic aspirations of the people of the region have been really achieved.

Internally, the picture is reasonably comparable from Marrakech to Baghdad: creeping poverty, growing social disparities, slow attrition of the middle classes, mafia-like management and monopoly of whole economic sectors by the few rich. Power is a chasse gardée of the few who have seized it either by force or by hereditary transmission. Some proclaiming republic, others constitutional monarchies but all actually ruling against their people’s will, monopolizing the public space and denying their subjects basic rights. Religion is used and abused; an opium used to either anesthetize the masses or brain-wash them so that they can easily be subjugated or galvanized at will, sleep-walked in a procession towards an even grimmer future.

Externally the picture is seemingly depressing. Palestine crystallizes all the anger and frustrations of the Arabs (and non Arabs for that matter). The treatment of the Palestinian people, being let down by Arab regimes and governments one after the other in a disgusting display of obsequiousness and subordination to narrow but powerful interests and hegemonistic powers, has revealed the complete bankruptcy of the whole Arab leadership.

So as Couscous-Tajinists, and after a really enriching evening and for the aforementioned reasons, amongst unmentioned others, we all felt the need to meet again, and most important of all, to try to materialize our hopes. The idea of an association or magazine that would focus on the blogoma (the Moroccan blogosphere) and would monitor the restraints on freedom of speech online was proposed by Aymane on which -hopefully- we’ll be working very soon. There’s a work in progress here, motivated by a need for change. Watch this space.

Couscous Tajine First Committee

Couscous Tajine First Committee

20 thoughts on “Couscous, Tajine & Democracy

  1. C’est quoi ce sexisme ! Je suis vraiment déçue ! Je ne vois pas mes jambes !!! 🙂 ))))))))))))))))))))))

    Je n’ai pas encore lu le billet dans son entier. Je reviendrai.

  2. Pas de problèmes marocaine, je te prête une jambe. Comme ca tu seras bien dans la photo pour l’Histoire.

  3. @ Hisham,
    La réponse qui tue 🙂
    Ou peut être t’avais peur. Grande comme je suis (!) si tu avais mis celle où je suis on aurait vu ma tête même si tu n’aurais gardé que les jambes !!! Kikh kikh kikh 🙂 ))))))))))))))

  4. @ annouss,
    Merci pour ta générosité 🙂 Je n’attendais pas moins de ta part.
    Mais gentille comme je suis (chekkare rasso… 😀 ) je décline ta proposition pour ton bien être 🙂 ))))

  5. @ Fati:
    Lah yehdiik!
    Je suis en train de concocter une montage ou on nous verra tous… je ferai en sorte qu’on est tous la même hauteur si tu veux… mais çà risque d’être un chouia compliqué

  6. salut les artistes
    je reconnais mes chaussures mais je ne reconnais pas mon pantalon
    celui qui a pris mon pantalon qu’il le rende

  7. @ Hisham,
    Merchi merchi. Tu es tout pardonné 😉 🙂 )))))
    PS : tu vois que tes justifications ne tenaient pas la route 🙂 ))))))))))))))))))))))))))

    @ le mythe,
    Je te le rendrai la prochaine fois qu’on se verra 🙂 )))))))))))))))
    PS : contrairement à toi je reconnais mon pantalon, mes mocassins et ma veste

  8. I really appreciate the fact that you write in English. And you write well. Now that I’ve found you, I’ll be one of your regular readers!

    Expat 21 (American expat in North Africa)

  9. Great post Hisham. Your description is familiar, if I was a writer I would write something similar speaking of Iran.
    My best wishes for your future project. Looking forward to it.

  10. Thanks Homeyra;
    The picture is staggeringly similar Morocco to Iran and even beyond. The same kind of authoritarian systems produce not only the same frustrations but also the same human stories and trajectories…
    I’d love to have you again and again on my blog.

  11. @ Hisham : mon ami, tu me fais souffrir pour lire en anglais, doucement pour les ananglabète comme moi 🙂

  12. Pingback: Global Voices Online » Morocco: The Blogma’s Journey Continues

  13. @Mounir:
    حاشى أسِّي مُنير. ولكن آخويا ثِق بِيَّ… والله إِِما اُعياقا… غير خُوك ماعرت مالُو عندُو “les gènes” ديال النغلَيزية… مرحبا بيك في أي وقت يا رفيق…

  14. My advice: first of all, stop feeling guilty about settling in well to your new environment! Second, I love your photo of the group, just showing legs and feet! It’s wonderful!

    There are a lot of ideas in this post, but not any I feel free to comment on (since I live in the region).

    Anyway, all your ideas are well-written. I think the social conditions you describe from North Africa to Iraq are correct, and unfortunately, things will continue as you have described. Part of the reason I would attribute to “old-world” mentality vs. “new-world” mentality. Old-World Mentality is just what you have described here. As an expat, I’ve found that New-World mentality exists only in a few places, such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries of Northwestern Europe. There may be other places, but I don’t know of them.

    Expat 21 (Expat Abroad)

  15. @expat21:
    It is the struggle which is at the core of human advancement and the search for happiness and freedom isn’t it? Old vs. New. We shall be moving ahead hopefully… it’s only a matter of time.

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