A good editorial in TelQuel this week, an issue otherwise devoted to analysis of Benky 2 (laborant montes … ). Fahd Iraqi writes in his editorial about the now famous Baiser de Nador, the Nador Kiss, which has outraged and titillated Morocco this last fortnight. To recap, two teenagers kissed at the school gates in Nador, and a photo appeared on Facebook. That’s it, just a teenage kiss. Except that a bunch of self-important busybodies had them arrested and taken into care, charged with outraging public morals. Naturally the outrage has raced around the internet, making Morocco look rather silly, with demonstrations in Paris, support groups set up everywhere and bewildered coverage in the international press. Page after page of snapshots of kissing couples on the internet cock a cheerful snook at Morocco’s osculatory regulations. “The procureur of Nador has every interest in dropping these charges … if he doesn’t want a national kiss-in outside his court.” Culture wars, in other words, over a kiss.
This episode is a fascinating little glance beneath the surface of Moroccan society. It is a society of kissers and non-kissers, drinkers and non-drinkers, fasters and non-fasters, peoples of very different worlds. They rub along together, more or less, because they live different lives and much of the time can largely ignore each other, but they do it within a legal framework set for the comfort of the do-notters, which could be, and as Nador shows, sometimes is, invoked at any time. It was said of Ba’thist Iraq when I lived there in the 1980s that everyone had committed an offence, whether they knew it or not, and that punishment could therefore be called down whimsically upon their heads at any time. Much of the public morality legislation of today’s Morocco is a bit like that – whole ways of life are a technical offence which can be called in when the do-notters reach the necessary threshold of splenetic outrage.
Iraqi writes that he lives in a country “where the authorities excel in the art of covering us in shame.” This is to credit too much intentionality. But what he is really talking about is the dissonance between tradition and modernity, the pretence that the two can readily coexist in a sort of tourist-brochure synthesis, when in reality “Crying up the values of modernity to reassure the West and a progressive middle class, while hanging onto religious archaism so as not to lose the mass population and to cut a good figure with our generous brothers from the Middle East, is a balance almost impossible to maintain on the scale of a whole society.”
Of the Nador episode itself Iraqi concludes with a wonderfully scathing epigram playing upon a dismissive distinction famously drawn by the French colonial power: elle revele que la ligne de fracture entre le Maroc utile et le Maroc inutile n’est pas uniquement d’ordre economique. Elle est surtout societale: it reveals that the fracture-line between ‘useful Morocco’ and ‘useless Morocco’ is not just economic: it is above all about society.
These are what Hassan Aorid recently described as two camps, “giving way too often to an infantile and dangerous game – provocation by one side, and demonisation by the other,” lamenting the absence of a social contract, brokered and refereed by the State, that would allow compromise and coexistence. It’s perhaps a tall order for a State that plays both ends of the court, but without it, society is fragile, diaphanous and vulnerable to a stolen kiss.
A letter from Agadir in the same edition of TQ forms a very good tailpiece to what I wrote last week about the Rabat demonstration and the depressing risk-aversion of young Moroccans. The correspondent writes: “To insist on working in the public administration becomes an aberration when one knows that the public administration is collapsing under the weight of civil servants, many of whom spend their day mucking about or taking small sums of money even to get up off their backsides. I work for a private company which has trouble finding staff. Perhaps the state should propose to these unemployed graduates some training which would allow them to join the private sector, which has trouble hiring in some specialisms.”