Street scene in Casablanca
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Street scene in Casablanca
Last updated: September 22, 2014
In Morocco, it is not about what you know but who you know

"The middle class that often absorbs the shock between the very rich and the very poor is gone"

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Morocco may technically be in the 21st century, but in some respects it remains in the Middle Ages. Individuals are not recognized for their knowledge, experience and contribution but for their tribal identity: to which big and influential family they belong.

Indeed, when you meet people for the first time, in many instances, they will ask you who you are and if you give them your first name only, they will look disappointed and dismayed because you did not satisfy their curiosity about your tribal position in the Moroccan social cartography.

The classification of influential family groups of Morocco are as follows:

1. Makhzen (government and official) families:

These families were traditionally in the service of the Sultan and his government as civil servants or political, financial or military advisers. They were living in the palace precinct because the Sultan could ask for them anytime. The make up of these families saw a dramatic change after the fall of Grenada in 1492 following the reconquista and the exodus of the Andalusians to Morocco and neighbouring countries. On their arrival to Morocco, they immediately offered their services to the Sultan who could not refuse such an offer, so he integrated them in his permanent royal staff instead of the Amazigh (Berber) personnel and this was the beginning of the animosity between the two ethnic groups that is still going on today. Besides the Andalusians, the other ethnic group that rose to prominence, then, were the Jews, who became the financiers and the businessmen of the Sultan. They were to be known as Tujar Sultan (Sultan’s businessmen).

2. Tujar (merchants) families:

These families controlled trade and commerce with the Europeans and had permanent agents in Madrid, Paris and London and also owned ships and financial institutions. They had the money and the power and the friendship of the Europeans, so in a way they wielded lots of power and had access directly to the Sultan. There were times when thy did not see eye to eye with the Makhzen and, as a result, withdrew staple products from the market such as flower, sugar, oil and tea, which led to riots in the cities that were quelled in blood and fire and led in some cases to the deposition of the Sultan.

"If you give them your first name only, they will look disappointed"

3. 9ouyad (governors) families:

They comprised the governors of the Sultan in the provinces, who wielded lot of power and ruled these areas ruthlessly by the sword and by organized racket. They often amassed colossal fortunes through corruption and coercion. This group included, also, the military chiefs who racketed the population in the name of the Sultan and considered this to be a privilege of their profession and position.

4. Amghar (Berber tribal chiefs) families:

They are the lords of Amazigh tribes, very powerful and pretty charismatic. They are, generally speaking, elected by the different five clans of this social institution, for one of two reasons: wealth based on land and water rights ownership, and/or noble origin, meaning descent from a family of religious scholars and saints known as imrabdhen and, as a result, they are widely respected by all tribesmen. The Amghars are so powerful that they can declare war on any other tribe or decide to kick out anyone from the tribe for insubordination, murder, adultery or thieving.

These family categories were referred to in historical documents by the term khassa, meaning they are very special citizens as a result of their wealth, power, proximity to Makhzen, or religious influence. And the rank and file were called flatly 3amma (commons or the common people.)

Because in ancient Morocco, the khassa were powerful and rich, they were known commonly as ahl l7al wa l3a9d, literally those who can make a knot on a rope and also untie it, thus being mirrored as decision makers and problem solvers.

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In Modern Morocco, nothing has changed in that regard, only appearances did. The khassa make decisions, exploit the riches of the country, guarantee employment to their offspring and especially inheritance of their government position and all rentier privileges, which means that the power and influence of their genitors will be passed on to them.

So, in perspective, Morocco has remained tribal and patriarchal in spite of the veneer of modernization and development and to, a certain extent, that is true across the Arab world, too. And the advent of the ill-fated Arab Spring is the result of this, and so is the resurgence of Salafist movements from the circles of poor and angry 3amma populace.

This division of society into two classes, Khassa and 3amma, then, has a mirror image in today’s society, likewise. Even the tiny middle class that existed in the 70s and 80s of the last century is, by now, history. So the middle class that often absorbs the shock between the very rich and the very poor is gone and turbulence can take place at any moment in the country, that is why the World Bank called on Morocco to work towards the fair distribution of national wealth, to allow the creation of this much-needed middle class that is the true defender of the established order.

"Morocco has remained tribal and patriarchal in spite of the veneer of modernization"

Because the khassa have a pronounced predator mentality, they have always preyed on the poor to take their little money, humiliate them (7ogra) by exercising on them their unlimited inherited power and at the same time racket them to add riches to their colossal fortunes. Thus, they institutionalized corruption. You want a service, you pay for it and, as a consequence, corruption became a normal practice to access so-called rights. Ultimately, there were no more rights, only privileges, in a way.

Rentier privileges of the Khassa also bred another immoral practice: that of nepotism which is the result of the famous tribal belief of « me and mine first ». Nepotism has almost become a constitutional right in the sense that ministers, today, when they take office, get as a welcome pack five job opportunities to offer to their family, friends or ultimately sell in the black job market.

If you want to get things done in any circle of everyday life, you need to have a piston (known in the Middle East as wasaata (intermediary)), who is a khassa, who can yield power to make things happen to get your request fulfilled in no time and to your heart’s desire. That is why when people ask you for your family name, they want to know if you are important enough in society to request your help as piston, if need be.

You can be a doctor, or an engineer or a professor or else, but if you are only a 3amma, you can be of no use to the population at large. Morocco, and by extension Arab countries, will remain tribal and undemocratic as long as they don’t recognize people by their merit but by their descent, position and wealth.

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