Throughout this first day in Rabat I have been trying to think of cultural references to Morocco in the British cultural landscape; the best that I have come up with is the Prince of Morocco in the Merchant of Venice (though there are Moors in other plays of the period, Othello, Aron in Titus Andronicus and so on). In other words, since the 1500’s Morocco has been a go to for authors looking for a recognizable, but at the same time, distinct, Other.
So while visiting the offices of Huffpost Magreb, as well as a new cultural centre in downtown Rabat, and various national landmarks like the Chellah and Mauseleum of Mohammed V, and especially over lunch with a group of young professionals, it was interesting to reflect on the question of how Moroccans see themselves.
Time and again, whether in relation to questions about regional development priorities, or the cultural landscape in Morocco, the phrase South-South was presented, almost as a mantra for raising Morocco as a regional and global player.
So in relation to development, South-South refers to the idea that Morocco can and should look to African neighbours like Mali as being partners for the future, providing support and advice as appropriate. While in the field of cultural expression, it is mentioned in relation to the fact that historically, Morocco’s connections to the South were as influential as those to the North and that this Southern link has shaped Moroccan cultural traditions. For instance, and something which I had not considered before, Essouira, the southern seaside resort was once the end of a slaving caravan route and the unfortunate slaves who ended up there before boarding ships to the Americas brought with them their musical traditions. These traditions have now been incorporated into mainstream Moroccan cultural.
However, the thing which will stay with me most I expect was watching Moroccans at play: this afternoon we wandered through part of the old town. Groups of young people, couples, families, old men and women, sitting and walking, enjoying the evening together; children delighting in fishing mint leaves out of cups of steaming tea; young men in wetsuits clutching surfboards heading home from a day at the beach; people enjoying walks along the promenade. It all felt familiar.