Street scene in Casablanca (archive photo)
© Wiki Commons
Street scene in Casablanca (archive photo)
Last updated: October 5, 2014

Eid in Casablanca: A shadow of economic inequality

Banner Icon In the backdrop of celebrations for Eid, you cannot help but notice the poor, explains Abul-Hasanat Siddique in a letter from Morocco: "For Syrian and Iraqi refugees, life in poverty is even more alarming."

As Muslims around the world mark Eid al-Adha, Morocco is building itself up for the big feast. This is my first time in a Muslim-majority country on Eid and the vibe is warm, hospitable and friendly. In Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, there is anticipation as families and friends get together for the holiday that begins on October 5 in the North African country.

EID AL-ADHA, a festival that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to God, is a time for prayer, fun and feasting. Just like Christmas, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, it’s a time to be thankful and spend precious moments with loved ones.

"On 'Eid Eve', Casablanca’s streets are busy"

On “Eid Eve,” Casablanca’s streets are busy — families shopping, young couples spending time together and children out playing. With mothers and fathers in a rush to buy presents and food, the medina and other neighborhoods around town are more packed than ever. Stall owners in the souq (market) shout out their best offers, in a bid to entice last minute shoppers. Morocco certainly has its fair share of last minute shoppers, just like the late ones on Christmas Eve.

Around Casablanca, whichever street you walk down, you’ll probably stumble upon “pop-up” sheep stalls. Yes, there are pop-up stalls that are selling sheep, calves and cows. Ironically, one of these stalls has turned a burger shop into a temporary outlet with about a dozen or so animals inside, as fathers turn up with their children to haggle a price — it’s actually amusing watching a young child run away from a sheep.

Once bought, the animal is loaded onto a small truck and taken home, before being slaughtered for a feast — an act that is supposed to commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael. Now, I am not a vegetarian — far from it, I love my kebabs too much — but I really wonder what goes through the poor sheep’s mind at that point. Nonetheless, Eid al-Adha in Morocco is certainly a moment full of joy, love and laughter.

IN THE BACKDROP OF THIS, however, you cannot help but notice the poor. The people who sit at the side of the street in no shoes and tatted clothes; the people who rummage through the trash in the hope of finding food; mothers who stand outside mosques begging for spare change, as they need to feed their children; or young men who shine shoes to earn a buck or two.

In Morocco, as with other countries in North Africa, inequality is striking. In Casablanca, you might walk along one street and see a flashy Maserati, only to walk down another to see a homeless man sleeping on the floor with derelict buildings around him — such drastic and differing conditions in the quality of life are shocking. While 1.7 million Moroccans moved out of poverty over the past decade, there still remains a visible divide between the haves and the have-nots. Without tackling wider socioeconomic issues in the correct manner, including illiteracy rates and an education system that needs a complete overhaul, there is a clear risk of poverty increasing instead of decreasing.

"In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a disparity in wealth was a key factor behind uprisings in 2010-11"

Morocco is not alone here. In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, a disparity in wealth was a key factor behind the uprisings in 2010-11. According to CAPMAS, Egypt’s poverty rate stood at over 26% in 2012-13. Due to a variety of reasons, including migration from rural towns to urban cities, there are sizeable populations in each of these countries that live in poverty. When poor people living in rural areas move to a metropolis like Rabat, Tunis, Tripoli or Cairo, they will continue to live in unbearable conditions but with different surroundings. In fact, there are many Moroccan women who move from small villages to cities such as Casablanca, only to find out that they can’t put food on their children’s plate — some of these women even end up in prostitution as a result.

FOR SYRIAN AND IRAQI REFUGEES, life in poverty is even more alarming. Many Syrian families have married off their teenage daughters — most likely forcing them — so they can have a better life. Some of these girls are as young as 13 years old. Having been displaced by war since 2011, Syrian children will spend Eid either living under bombardment or in refugee camps. In fact, Iraqi Christians will probably spend Christmas living in refugee camps or in exile, having been forced from their land by radical religious zealots of the Islamic State — and then there’s Iraqi Yazidis who were threatened with extinction.

The Moroccan government must ensure that rural migrants are well-prepared before moving to urban cities. While Morocco isn’t the richest of the bunch, governmental and nongovernmental organizations are required to educate citizens in rural regions, so they are able to find suitable jobs in cities such as Rabat and Casablanca. Initiatives in empowering women, education and entrepreneurship will be key. If left untreated, underlying problems that lead to poverty will result in a continuation of inequality that could spiral out of control.

As Eid al-Adha and Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, are commemorated on the same day around the world — a rare occasion that happens once every 33 years — it is important to enjoy the festivities, food and laughter, but to also remember those who are faced with unimaginable hardship.

Abul-Hasanat Siddique
Abul-Hasanat is an author and journalist. He is the Managing Editor at Fair Observer, a US-based nonprofit organization. Abul-Hasanat is co-author of The Arab Uprisings: An Introduction (2012) and of the forthcoming book, The Youth of the Middle East (2016).
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