It’s been a little over 48 hours and I’m still vibrating. As it seems, this is a large part of the Moroccan capital, from where I write.
With just six football matches, Morocco’s Atlas Lions have managed to do what hundreds of highly paid consultants and think tanks have failed to achieve for many years: unite Moroccans around a common goal and show the world the essence of Moroccanness. This year’s World Cup in Qatar launched a new relationship with the country of my ancestors. I don’t usually care about football, nor do many of my peers, but the portrayal and political twist it has taken has captivated me.
My family comes from Morocco. Ten years ago, I left London to join a Rabat-based diaspora outreach institution, created by royal decree in hopes of building a “New Morocco”.
First-generation immigrants like my father were attached to their country of origin, and remittances were a key pillar of the Moroccan economy. But with me and my peers of a new generation, born in foreign lands, the dynamic changed. What would make us want to return to our parents’ country of origin and participate in its economy? What measures, policies and incentives could the Cherifian Kingdom put in place to create a patriotic (and money-generating) sense of belonging? I wanted to sit at the table and be part of this game-changing conversation. The professional experience and social understanding I had gained in France and the UK was relevant and I was eager to contribute my expertise.
The drama and hogra that I met shook me.
Hogra in Darija (the Arabic dialect spoken in Morocco) means discrimination, social contempt. Despite many claims that MREs (French acronym for Moroccans Residing Abroad) were as Moroccan as those living in the country, I was denigrated and dismissed. My skills and abilities were put to the test, and I was reminded that I didn’t belong and didn’t understand the “codes”. My accent and my short pixie hairstyle gave me away wherever I went. I was called a zmagri Where beurette, both of which are pejorative identity terms. The first is used to belittle working-class immigrants; the other to describe girls of North African origin and also a french porn Category.
Ironically, I was too French for the Moroccans and too Moroccan for the French. The ass between two chairsas they say: sit between two stools.
As the Lions climbed the competitive ladder in a David vs. Goliath battle, Morocco welcomed me into their squad as their virtual twelfth player, alongside their misfits and their inspiring and daring coach, Walid Regragui, dual nationality born in a French suburb like me. Finally, I was offered a ray of hope.
If the conditions are met, dual citizens can bring their skill to the country that gave birth to their parents, if they wish. Then: Hello again “New Morocco”!
Does being attached to your parents’ homeland mean you spit on your own homeland? Is this choice discriminatory? Surely not.
What the Moroccan team has demonstrated, both through the backgrounds and current affiliations of many players, is that identity, belonging and attachment are too complex and subtle to be left in the hands of endless study commissions and hateful polemics. By framing it with a Where rather than a andwe are missing out on the wealth it can bring to societies.
In Rabat, my friend of Moroccan origin Ilham, a university professor, was in tears when the The Atlas Lions lost their semi-final against France Wednesday, in a mixture of joy and sadness.
“I never imagined that I would feel what the people who did the Green March felt,” she told me, referring to the 1975 mass demonstration. She felt “a sense of pride and greatness”.
Her 10-year-old binational son, Anir, is however inconsolable. He framed photos of three of his favorite players with a handwritten note: “Allah. The nation. The king”.
“What have you learned from this World Cup? we asked.
He replied in impeccable French: “I can become what I aspire to”. I too can become who I aspire to be.
The Moroccan team will now face Croatia in the 3rd place qualifier on Saturday, but they have already triumphed by changing the narrative and inspiring millions to dream big. Representation matters. A Muslim, African, Arab Berber country can make its way to the top level, with hard work, collective spirit and an invincible dream. Call it the Moroccan dream, made of inclusion, resilience, misfits, mothers rejoicing on the pitchsongs of support from the Palestinian camps to migrants in French street camps and other outcasts around the world.
This FIFA World Cup has given Morocco a fantastic opportunity for soft power, worth more than any public relations or advertising budget. Hundreds of people with dual nationality can now imagine traveling in the opposite direction to that of their parents in the 1960s and 1970s. Moroccanness is “in”. Morocco is a new land of opportunities.
Morocco, the ball is now in your court. We watch.
Fatiha Hajjat is a communications and accountability strategist, ideas curator, and founder of TEDxLyon.