Saturday, August 15, 2015

Does Casablanca Need A Crime Fix?

According to the huge Numebo database, Casablanca now ranks as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Some blame the upsurge on a group known as the Tcharmil. Ibn Warraq has been looking at the media coverage...

Numebo’s Crime mid-year Index for 2015 ranked Casablanca number 67 out of 416 cities, with a crime index of 61.61 and a safety index of 38.39. Homicide, pre-meditated murder, corruption, delinquency, and violence combine to cause the city’s elevated level of violence.

According to Numebo, 69% of Casablanca residents and visitors have worries of being mugged or robbed. 58% are concerned about being assaulted, 64% of encountering people using or dealing drugs, and 82% have worries of corruption and bribery.

Casablanca is also the third most dangerous city in the Arab world. It was only preceded by Algiers and Libya’s Benghazi in second and first place, respectively.

Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea is ranked the most dangerous city in the world with a crime index of 93.61 and a safety index of 6.39. It is followed by South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg and Maracaibo in Venezuela. The murder capital of the world – San Pedro Sula, Honduras – saw 187 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, and is ranked fourth.

The Tcharmil

One of the main concerns, real or perceived, of Casablanca residents is a group known as the Tcharmil - a word taken from the spicy charmoula sauce common in Moroccan cooking.

The Tcharmil style has been around for a number of years, but suddenly became trendy four months ago in Casablanca. For some, the trend is mere entertainment — on the various Tcharmil-related Facebook pages, groups of teenage boys and girls show off, much like anyone their age, their new sneakers or football jerseys. Others, who see a link with the increase in crime and delinquency in Casablanca, see Tcharmil as a real threat.

According to Yassine Majdi, a journalist for the Moroccan magazine “Tel Quel”, Tcharmil is particularly popular among lower-income, maladjusted youths. “Many of these young people liken themselves to Tony Montana, the hero in ‘Scarface’, who is for them a sort of fantasy, a model for upward mobility. Like their heroes, they see bling, easy money, and violence as a means of acquiring respect. They do this to such an extent that it is difficult – even impossible – to determine who is really hiding behind these young men who boast of having committed terrible crimes: mere insecure fools, or highway robbers?"

Tcharmils, (who call themselves "mcharlines"), a mostly male group, believe they add "spice" to life in a country where, according to the World Bank, about half of Moroccan youth are neither in school nor in the workforce. It is unclear how many young people follow the Tcharmil trend. The Tcharmil lack any formal organisational structure.

Mounir Bensalah, an engineer who lives in Casablanca, says, "Insecurity in Casablanca, or any other large Moroccan city for that matter, is by no means new. Insecurity and crime were already rampant well before Tcharmil came along. Physical attacks and armed robbery have been problems in Morocco for many, many years. This is not surprising, given the level of inequality in our society.

"Personally, I don’t find these “mcharlines” very credible, mostly because those who adopt the Tcharmil codes are not always very discreet. They act out and boast of their exploits on social networks, which isn’t exactly what real criminals would do. Not only do such boasts harm them, as they are seemingly admitting their guilt, but they also provide the residents of Casablanca an easy group to blame for the violence in their city."

Since the Tcharmil phenomenon has come about, Mr Bensalah says the streets of Casablanca are abuzz with all kinds of rumours. "Lately, there have been reports of sabre attacks in some stores. I believe the authorities are partially responsible for this mass delusion. This type of rhetoric stirs up unjustified fears. Certainly, violence is a reality and a serious problem, but the policy dialogue on this issue should be more dispassionate."

Frankie Stiles, writing for Al Jazeera, reports that the Tcharmil are frustrated with what they describe as a lack of opportunities and respect. "These youth have found a new way to get the country's attention: brandishing swords in public and committing petty robberies. Many sport the "faux-hawk" haircut popularised by Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo."

"Tcharmil is expressed by young people deprived of things they want," said 20-year-old Moade Bouzide, who spoke to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym. In his Facebook profile photo, he brandishes three knives. "I would rather die than to live without honour. I cry because I am a man, but I feel I am treated like an animal."

Last year, Morocco's King Mohammed VI urged the interior ministry to take strict measures against delinquents, a move followed by mass arrests, including hundreds of Tcharmils. In April, Ahmed Elbhaoui, 26, reportedly committed suicide while in police custody after allegedly having his head shaved by the authorities.

The daily Al Massae reported that during Ramadan there was an upsurge in Tcharmil related incidents.

While some Tcharmils have been accused of muggings and robberies, others say they have simply adopted the group's look to express frustration with a lack of jobs, opportunities and respect for youth in the North African kingdom. According to Taieb Belghazi, a Mohammed V University professor who studies social movements, the Tcharmils reflect the discouragement felt by many Moroccan youth.

"These are young people who want to seek some kind of recognition," Belghazi said. "Taking actions that make them feel empowered or powerful enables them to get some feeling of notoriety; of importance." Belghazi, who has studied the Tcharmil phenomenon, says Moroccan youth - and especially those who adopt the Tcharmil look - are considered a threat by many Moroccan residents.

"[Many Moroccan] young people are very much into hooliganism … unruly attitudes and so on," he says. Tcharmil youth, Belghazi added; are "... getting back at the people who construct them as awful to gain some sense of being and of recognition."

Some Tcharmil post their daily "takings" on Facebook

Tcharmil Simo, a 23-year-old Tcharmil who spoke to Al Jazeera under a pseudonym, said the group provides an alternative to what he considers an otherwise mundane and dissatisfying life in Morocco. "I find Tcharmil as a way to escape from my problems," he said, citing family discord and financial struggles.

But many Moroccans have little sympathy for young people who rob and steal - no matter how unfortunate their home lives may be.

"Financial and social problems aren't a good excuse to be a Tcharmil," said Rachid Bouamri, a Moroccan lawyer who has seen many Tcharmil cases involving theft and assault go through the courts. "Most of the Tcharmil commit the same crimes again and again," he said. "They consider jail home."

Interior Minister Mohamed Hassad has acknowledged the problem with Morocco's Tcharmils, noting in a statement last year: "The government, in cooperation with the police, are doing our best to stop those who make people unsafe and fearful, so we are organising security campaigns all over the country to bring safety back."

Some Tcharmils, meanwhile, say the trend does not have to entail a life of crime. To them, it is about being stylish, boasting on Facebook about their Tcharmil identity and in some cases, pretending to be a criminal.

The government is organising security campaigns

"Tcharmil is the perfect way of life," Mourad, a member of the movement who did not provide a last name, told Al Jazeera. "Stylish and free is what I want to be." Belghazi said few Tcharmils have become actively involved in politics, despite their dissatisfaction with life in Morocco. In the past, he noted, young Moroccans could migrate to Europe in search of a better future. But between 2008 and 2012, migration from Morocco to Spain dropped by about two-thirds.

"Before all the tightening of migration regulation by the [European Union] … migration could be a way out of the social and economic problems that young people had," Belghazi said. "What you had since the tightening of these restrictions is a lot of young people not having the possibility of an exit. The Tcharmil is one of the possibilities for the young people to gain a voice."

The group's methods, however, may be hampering their chances further - and some Tcharmils readily acknowledge this fact. Simo said he regrets leaving school, and expressed remorse for his lifestyle and choices. "I still love Tcharmil and post pictures on Facebook, but I know this life is not healthy," he said. "Now it is too late to change my life. I hope [other] youth will have a better life and a chance to build a healthier life."

Image posted by a so-called  Tcharmil from Bendebab in Fez is probably fake

Further investigation supports the notion that the Tcharmil problem is widespread in Casablanca, and the phenomenon has also spread to other cities. Residents of Fez say that there are "large numbers of Tcharmil" in the area around Bendebab. However, many are said to be simply "fashion followers" and not hard core.

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