The debate about the status of Darija versus Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), is an ongoing one in Morocco. And it is complicated by the fact that many well educated Moroccans preferring to speak French, despite it being the language of the previous colonial rulers. And then, of course, there are the Amazigh languages. But now the debate surrounds politicians and their ability (or not) to speak good Arabic
Some politicians are fluent in what can be described as pre-French Darija which is spoken by older and more conservative people. It is the dialect that can be found in texts and poems of Malhoun, and Andalusi music for example. Later, in the 1970s, traditionalist bands like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala followed this course, and only sang in "classical Darija". However, for politicians MSA is required in parliament.
While Darija rules in the streets and Amazigh languages predominate in some rural and mountain areas, in business French and MSA battle it out for the top spot. And all the while English is growing as the second language of choice of many modern younger Moroccans. The push for English has been boosted by it being a requirement for many hi-tech and tourism jobs.
Back in the parliament the struggle with MSA is causing some red faces and a fair amount of amusement to the public. Several news sites, including Morocco World News and news outlet Alyaoum24, have been reporting that Moroccan ministers are struggling to make speeches in Arabic. It is unclear if this is because they belong to the circles who prefer to speak French, or simply a lack of what is supposedly basic education.
In the majority of their speeches and presentations, either before the parliament or during their general meetings, some Moroccan ministers display a weak command of Arabic, which continues to shock Moroccans, and sometimes even trigger their mockery.
Among these Arabic-unfriendly ministers, Alyaoum24 mentions, is the businessman Moulay Hafid El Alami, who’s been appointed minister of Commerce, Industry and New Technologies.
According to the same source, Mr. El Alami started off one of his presentations on his ministry’s budget saying, “Please, bear with me, this is my first presentation in Arabic after 53 years.” The Minister is 53 years old.
During his presentation, the minister endeavoured to speak in Modern Arabic, making a number of major grammatical mistakes, which led him to eventually continue his presentation in Moroccan Arabic.
Iike his fellow minister of Commerce, Industry and New Technologies, the minister of National Education in turn made a bunch of major mistakes while presenting his ministry’s budget, which made some MPs wonder what would happen if some students learned of the major mistakes the minister of Education himself makes.
Comment in the cafes of Fez is pretty standard "They should be proud to speak Darija," says Youssef a forty-two year old businessman. "If they stuck to our own language they would not embarrass themselves."
In her small hairdressing salon, Ayicha is not impressed by the linguistic gaffs. "In any case we speak Amazigh at home. But the politicians probably don't understand it. So they should speak Darija".
While Arabic remains Morocco’s official language, its use in the government does not reflect its status and importance as an official language.
On the other hand, Moroccan Arabic, an unofficial and unwritten language, and the language predominantly spoken across the kingdom, is the one that seems to enjoy considerable prestige within today’s Moroccan government. And why not? It is, after all, the language of the people