Though Morocco is technically in the 21st century, yet in reality it is in the Middle Ages because some of the common practices of today are, alas, tribal and patriarchal. Individuals are not recognized for their worth, merit, knowledge, experience, contribution, and etc. 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/social position in the Moroccan social cartography.
The classification of influential family groups of Morocco is as follows:
- 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 monarch could ask for them anytime. The make-up of these families knew a dramatic change after the fall of Grenada in 1492, following the Reconquista and the exodus of the Andalusians to Morocco and neighboring countries. On their arrival, 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 these two ethnic groups that is still going on today. Besides the Andalusians, the other ethnic group that rose to prominence, then, was the Jews, who became the financiers and the businessmen of the Sultan. They were to be known as Tujjar as-Sultan (Sultan’s businessmen).
- Tujjar (merchants) families: These families controlled trade and commerce with the Europeans and had permanent agents in Madrid, Paris and London and, also, owned ships, trade posts and financial institutions. They had the money and the authority and the friendship of the Europeans, so, in a way, they wielded lots of power and had direct access to the Sultan. There were times when thy did not see eye to eye with the Makhzen and, as result, withdrew staple products from the market ; such as : flower, sugar, oil and tea and this tactical move led to riots in the cities that were quelled in blood and fire by the government and, ultimately, ended, in some cases, in the deposition of the Sultan.
- 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 crime and 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.
- 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 tribal territory 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 the Makhzen, or religious influence. And the rank and file were called flatly 3amma (commons or the common people,) those who obeyed and followed.
Because in ancient Morocco, the khassa were powerful and rich, they were Known, commonly, as: ahl lHal wa l’aqd, literally those who can make a knot on a rope and also untie it, meaning decision-makers and problem-solvers.
In Modern Morocco, nothing has changed in that regard, only appearances did, alas. The khassa still 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 their power and influence will be, automatically, passed on to their children, thus, perpetuating the power of the family.
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 of most of the Arab world, too. And the advent of the ill-fated Arab Spring is the result of this flagrant social anomaly, and so is the resurgence of the 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 midde class that exised in the 70s and 80s of the last century is, by now, history. So, the middle class that traditionally absorbs the shock between the very rich and the very poor is gone and turbulence can take place at any moment in the country. Alarmed by this troublesome state of affairs, the World Bank duly called on Morocco to work towards the fair distribution of national wealth, to allow the creation of this much-needed middle class that is, no doubt, the true defender of the established order.
Because the khassa have a pronounced predator mentality, they have always preyed on the poor to profit from 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, somehow, institutionalized corruption. You want a service, you pay for it and, as a consequence, corruption became a normal practice (the name given to it Hlawa “sweetness” does not denote any malevolent practice) to access the so-called rights that were no more rights but became privileges, in a way, to be purchased.
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 and foremost. » Nepotism has almost become a constitutional right, in a way, in the sense that ministers, today, when they take office, they get as a welcome pack, apparently, five job opportunities to offer to their family, friends or, ultimately, sell in the job black market for money.
If you want to get things done in any circle of everyday life, you have 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 desire. That is why when people ask you for your family name, they want to know if you are important enough, in society and in the establishment, to request your help as piston, if need be.
Equality is fiction
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 and worth, but by their descent, position and wealth.
For most people, today, in Morocco, equal opportunity, constitutional rights, equity and equality are mere concepts of fiction and not reality though it is written in gold in the 2011 constitution:
The law is the supreme expression of the will of the Nation. All, physical or moral persons, and including the public powers, are equal before it and held to submit themselves to it.
The public powers work for the creation of the conditions permitting the effectiveness of liberty and of the equality of citizens [feminine] and citizens [masculine] to be made general [généraliser], as well as their participation in political, economic, cultural and social life…