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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 March, 2005, 17:34 GMT
Young in the Arab World: Morocco

By Mounira Chaieb
BBC Arabic Service

Rabat, Morocco's capital, is a very quiet, clean city, of grand old buildings. But it is surrounded by slums.

From its position in North Africa - 15 kilometres across the sea from Spain - Morocco is on a major African migration route to Europe.

A woman wearing a traditional gown or
Moroccan women are still seen in their traditional attire in modern Rabat
Twenty-three-year-old Tarik Azgui's work involves organising the transport of textiles from Morocco to a Spanish fashion house in Spain.

This puts him close to the human desperation which leads young Moroccans to risk illegal immigration - many of them dying in the attempt each year.

Tarik says that he has to check and double check the truck loads time and time again for any stowaways.

"I've seen so many young children, about 15 or 16 years old, grab to the track to Tangier," he stated.

With Morocco's tantalising proximity to Europe, many young Moroccans leave the country to find work overseas


But some, like Lamia Hejaj, are returning, in the hope of reversing the flow.

In the past year Lamia has returned to Rabat after years of studying and working abroad - in France, Spain and the USA.

She is part of Morocco's French-educated elite. Not a fan of Moroccan TV, she watches French programmes on one of the hundreds of channels available via satellite.

A McDonald's in Rabat
Morocco's middle classes opt in to western consumerism
In many ways she is adjusting to life back in the family home. But it does have its advantages.

"I don't have to take care of anything actually," she said.

"I just come eat, sleep, go out. I'm just so privileged it's really not a problem."

Choosing to come back to Morocco, Lamia feels as though she is going against the tide.

"I was scared of coming back. I feel that when you are here you have to prove yourself even more than when you are abroad.

"I have to do something that will be meaningful, not only for me, that will change something and hopefully improve it."

Without the safety valves of emigration to Europe - and more recently, to the USA and Canada - coupled with families' willingness to support the young who are out of work, Morocco would look far less stable.

Meanwhile, the drift to the cities from the backward countryside is unlikely to slow.


Tourism was just recovering from its slump since the events of 11 September 2001 when it was hit by terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003.

I noticed that numbers of young women wearing the Islamic headscarf, and young men with long beards dressed in loose clothes, have increased since the last time I visited Rabat five years ago.

But generally in Morocco, there is an easy-going religious atmosphere - and this is why the Islamist suicide bombings of 2003 came as such a shock to the majority of the population.

Hind Belouadi and her son Mehdi
New family laws should improve the lives of Morocco's women
Tarik prays five times a day, seeing it as a way for him to "recharge my batteries for the rest of the day".

"There is work, and problems - you go to the mosque and you feel like you've taken a spiritual shower," he explains.

He disagrees with external calls for modernising Islam.

"I think it's a wrong point of view," he says.

"If we are not developed it is because of ourselves.

"Our religion tells us we should work hard, be the best we can. We should help the others. It feels like other people, who don't really understand Islam, are telling us to change our religion.

"I just want to tell them that the violence is only the behaviour of some Muslims, not the religion."

Tarik's Islam is like that practiced by many of Morocco's young - devout, tolerant and at the heart of lives that are more and more modern.

He shares music files on his computer with friends, and uses it to watch episodes of the American series, Friends.

He is a devout but tolerant and open-minded Muslim, who sees no contradiction between Islam and modernity.

Human rights

Morocco is a country attempting to modernise its human rights, especially for women, who have lagged far behind - while not alienating conservative Muslims.

Hind Belouadi is a divorcee at 23, exploited and cruelly treated by her husband's parents.

She hopes to benefit from the new family laws - introduced in Spring 2004 - which should grant her an accommodation allowance from her ex-husband.

In particular, it is the plight of rural women that needs to be improved.

Naima in Ouled Sbeita
Naima hopes to send her daughter to school
News of these family laws doesn't seem to have reached the village of Oulad Sbeita, only 20 kilometres from Rabat.

But the problem in Morocco is that with 85% illiteracy among its rural women, many of them - like Naima al-Jeyed, who doesn't even know her exact age - will never know what their rights are.

Naima is very shy in front of a larger audience of relatives - including her husband, mother-in-law and cousins.

She can't even sit next to me without her husband's nod of permission. Naima has had no education

At least Naima and Hamid intend to send their daughter Omeima to school, so there is hope that by the time the next generation grows up the lives of rural women in Morocco will have improved.

The final in a four-part series, "Young in the Arab World" - will be broadcast on the BBC World Service on 2 March.


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