Monday, June 16, 2014

Fes Festival Forum ~ What does it mean to be Moroccan?

The question of Morocco's complex cultural diversity and what it means to people of different ethnicities was the theme of the 3rd forum at the Batha Museum this morning 

Morocco's Culture Minister Amine Sbihi told the audience that cultural diversity occurred after Independence and national identity is now recognised in the Constitution. The Minister emphasised that cultural diversity does not mean multiculturalism, but is plural and inherent in the democratic right of the country.

Continuing in this theme, Gabon's Culture Minister shared the experience of her country. Ida Reteno outlined the success of cultural diversity in her small country which includes 50 different ethnic groups and 3 major religions.

"All these people of different cultures live in coherence and peace. It is a land of peace and stability."

The Minister stressed that a country's cultural identity does not reject old cultures but rather discovers others, but she acknowledged there are challenges. She pointed out those cultures that hurt the dignity of others must be brought to task and she gave the example of child marriages.

For Morocco, there are challenges too. Sociologist Younes Ajarri described an ethnic mosaic that constitutes the country dating back centuries including Berber tribes, Jews, Arabs, Africans and the Europeans. Ajarri asserted that the past was often full of pain and violence and this must be acknowledged. Ajarri also explained an external diversity that modern Morocco must accept and address. He believes the arrival of people from sub-saharan Africa after Europe closed its doors poses a challenge to Morocco's social fabric.

Academic Salida Bennani warned that the heritage of the country must be linked to national identity. The buildings, the architecture, the medina's and also the artisans, the food and cooking of Morocco. Bennani argued that more money is needed to preserve this aspect of Morocco's culture.

From the floor, writer and journalist Maati Kabbal (pictured above) delivered a robust critique of the forum, asserting that diversity is part of civil society, and he took aim at the Fes Festival. He pointed out that the forum's are held in French and English and he argued that they should be presented in Arabic and Berber. He was also critical that there were no Moroccan women on today's panel.

It was a lively exchange of views with moderator Abdou Hafid engaging the panelists and the audience with insightful humour.

Tomorrow: Peace in the Middle East
Text and photographs: Stephanie Kennedy

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