As my time in Morocco dwindles to a close, I have begun the journey of reflection. And in doing so, though last week I compared the two countries I visited while on this trip, I was asked again to write about a specific difference.
Thankfully, the long bus rides where I just stare at the rushing world beyond the window (lacking in productivity once again) became useful.
When we were driving from Rabat to Marakesh this past weekend, mountains rolling by and roads stretching infinitely, we would stop every so often at checkpoints. When it seemed as though we were the only ones on the blistering asphalt, it was surprising sometimes to then look out and see 5 extra lanes full of cars idling by in sun. As a bus full of students, we would work through the checkpoints much faster than other cars, and especially compared to bigger cars (min-van style). I really thought nothing of these checkpoints, besides the fact that they resembled toll roads but with policeman standing guard at each gate, employees going to cars and checking physical verification, and the wait just a tad bit longer. But when I remembered driving cross-country in Tunisia, I realized that here in Morocco there seemed to be an abundance of checkpoints. And then I realized the vast difference in airport security: when arriving at or departing from the Casablanca airport, it is wise to carry your passport as if it’s your phone. The customs center and its employees thoroughly check your arrival/departure paper and ask questions for confirmation or clarification. Every so often a security guard will check your passport and ticket, including multiple times while boarding. At least for my more or less untraveled soul, this was more security than I was used to. But it was interesting to compare it with that of Tunisia. When we arrived in Tunisia, though we filled out an arrival slip, customs barely glanced at the form and passport before stamping approval. It was quick, and our passports weren’t as readily-needed. I can’t say it is a lack of security as it is just a different method. But it is insightful to apply those differences to the question of overall national security, especially in a greater context of comparing two of the most politically-intriguing countries in the Arab World.
The week we spent in Tunisia, we were studying the political, social, and economic environment post-revolution in 2011. Tunisia is arguably the only success from the Arab Spring, establishing a democracy and organizing effective fair and free elections (for both the president and Parliament) since 2014. People choose to lead a religious life if they so want; they choose their leaders. And, as exemplified by the Tunisian Revolution (which actually started the whole Arab Spring), the people are willing and able to protest and demand change for what they determine necessary. As such, walking around Tunis, the capital, people mill about with a larger sense of freedom. Some type of art adorns most bare walls, small businesses stand proudly along busy streets, and people walk, dress, and act with a confidence, or energy of some sort, different than in Morocco. Though Tunisia stands as a beacon of hope and optimism for the Arab World and the region itself, doubt lies not far beyond — doubt in the stability of the democracy. And, the largest number of youth to join the Islamic State or conflict in Libya and Algeria originates from Tunisia. For as much progress that has graced Tunisia, it still faces significant challenges. So, when observing security — just basic security at the airport, through the cities, on roads — it is difficult to not consider how this system of security operates in the greater context of not only protecting its own citizens, but also that of foreigners, and how these systems either help prevent or act as a cause for youth joining the jihadist movement. It is important to note that similar to Morocco, Tunisia’s economy is partly dependent on tourism. Of course, about 2 million more tourists flock to Morocco rather than Tunisia, but the country still prides itself in providing security to those who do choose to travel there. With the most recent terrorist attack at the end of June of this year, the country, as well as others, still grapples with the challenge of neighboring terrorist groups. But, that is the very alluring complexity: that for all the safety concerns, according to professors and academics at our conference, the Tunisian people don’t really worry about terrorism. Rather, their greater fears concern the economy, unemployment, living standards — challenges that the average Tunisian faces every day. So, in a country that one would assume to have increased security doesn’t as much, it seems. When considering the democratic political scheme though, one might argue that the lack of intense security represents the freedoms citizens are now guaranteed. A heavy military presence signifies repression, especially in the Arab World, as nations such as Egypt emerged from the revolution not as a democracy but rather as a collapsed authoritarian military regime. But, once again, compared to Morocco, a more stable, regionally safe location and powerhouse of tourism under the Islamic guidance of the Alaouite monarchy, King Mohammad VI, and the Islamist party, PJD, Tunisia might have decreased security because of it has no desire to mitigate inevitable protests. It governs based on its citizens. As is a democracy, if the ruling elect is no longer in favor with the people, then someone else, another party, is selected. Governance is therefore held accountable to a certain degree. Conversely, the Moroccan king must utilize repression in certain ways to substantiate religious legitimacy when it falters. Protests this past April demanded the release of 42 activists who had rallied against corruption in the monarchy and Parliament and unemployment. In talking with a few local Moroccans in Fes, holding the king accountable is something almost unfathomable. One may determine the king to be oblivious to his people’s demands, but they more often than not continue to accept his leadership due to religious legitimacy. It is this question, then, of religion that carries most significance. Muslim citizens struggle in the concept of accountability because of the role religion has in legitimizing certain authorities: how are you to criticize a leader that claims to be a descendant of the Prophet or someone that represents religion in politics, essentially how are you to criticize religion in the name of politics?
Whatever the answer, if there is one, or if one will eventually materialize, I am incredibly grateful to have had this experience. It was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Thank you to each and every person that shared their wisdom and kindness.
And I hope that these blogs have been able to share just some of the beauty I’ve been able to observe. It’s a great world out there…and I am so lucky to be able to explore parts of it and hopefully many more.