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Berbers and the Nation-State in North Africa  

Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Throughout history, North Africa’s native Berber-speaking populations have been central to the mix of political, social, cultural, and linguistic attributes that rendered the region distinct. At the dawn of the 20th century, Berbers still constituted a substantial majority of sharifian Morocco’s population, and a significant minority of French Algeria’s Muslim populace; their numbers were smaller in Ottoman Libya and smaller still in France’s Tunisian protectorate. Nationalism began to spread in North Africa during the first decades of the 20th century. Each nationalist movement was shaped by a particular combination of factors; all of them, however, foregrounded the Arab and Islamic components of their collective identities, downplaying or ignoring the Berber ones. Berbers actively participated in the struggles for independence in both Algeria and Morocco, often in leadership roles. This pattern would continue during the decades after independence, even as both the Algerian and Moroccan states placed supreme value on the Arabization of the educational system, and of public life in general. The state’s overall view of Berber identity was that it should be consigned to the realm of folklore. However, even as the number of Berber speakers continued to decline, there arose a modern Berber (Amazigh) identity movement that demanded a reexamination of the underlying premises of their countries’ collective identities, one that would bring the Berber language and culture to center stage. It also demanded genuine amelioration of the dire conditions of poverty that characterized much of the rural Berber world. As ruling regimes struggled to maintain their legitimacy after a half century of independence, the Berber “question” now took on a new salience in North Africa’s increasingly contested political space.

Article

America’s Interactions with Islam and Judaism in North Africa  

Lawrence A. Peskin

Encounters between Americans, Muslims, and Jews in North Africa played a foundational role in Americans’ early understanding of Islam and Judaism. At a time when the United States population had few Jews and virtually no free Muslims, North Africa was one of the places Americans were most likely to meet individuals from these groups. Initially, American sailors and diplomats encountered North African Muslims and Jews as the result of frequent ship captures by Barbary corsairs beginning in the colonial period and culminating in the 1780s and 1790s. After 1815, the sailors and diplomats were joined by missionaries journeying to the Mediterranean region to convert Jews and Muslims as well as non-Protestant Christians. These encounters prompted a good deal of literature published in the United States, including captivity narratives, novels, plays, histories, and missionary journals. These publications reinforced two dominant views of Islam. First, the early focus on Barbary corsairs capturing American “slaves” reinforced old notions of Islam as despotic and Muslims as “savages” similar to Native Americans. Missionary accounts prompted more thoughtful approaches to Muslim theology at the same time that they reinforced existing notions of Islam as a deceitful religion and revivified millenarian hopes that the declining Ottoman Empire foretold the Second Coming. As a result of the captivity crises, Americans often had to deal with the area’s small but influential group of Jewish merchants in order to get terms and credit to free their countrymen. These fraught negotiations reinforced older European stereotypes of Jews as sharpers and Shylocks. As with Islam, the missionary period brought more thoughtful consideration of Jewish theology as Americans engaged in chiliastic hopes of bringing the Jews to Jerusalem. After 1850 or so, Americans interested in Jews or Muslims looked less frequently to North Africa. Growing immigrant populations, first of Jews and then of Muslims, meant that Americans could encounter people of all three Abrahamic faiths at home. At the same time, missionary interests moved east, into the Holy Land, Syria, Turkey, and ultimately East Asia. Nevertheless, the early impact of North Africa on American thinking retained its influence, as is evident from President Barack Obama’s 2009 speech on American-Islamic relations delivered in Cairo.

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Migration Cooperation Between Africa and Europe: Understanding the Role of Incentives  

Abu Bakarr Bah and Nikolas Emmanuel

The issue of mass migration and north–south relations are increasingly becoming complicated in international relations. In the case of the interactions between Africa and Europe, irregular migration has become a major problem that is also breeding new forms of relations between the two continents. Migration into Europe through the western Mediterranean corridor from Morocco into Spain is a central part in the development of this new relationship. In these changing relations, it is important to ask how the security concerns of mass irregular migration, the emergence of diverse efforts to manage mass migration, and the forms of collaborations that have emerged between the European Union and Spain on the one hand and Morocco on the other hand have had an impact on overall south–north human flows. In particular, this line of inquiry focuses on the way incentives (aid-based, diplomatic, legitimation, etc.) are deployed by Spain and the European Union to ensure that Morocco prevents irregular migrants from crossing into Europe. Overall, it is important to address two kinds of questions relating to the security issues in mass migration and the forms and nature of international collaborations to manage mass migration from Africa to Europe. The intersection of security issues with pragmatic collaboration in international relations is critical to examine. In terms of security, mass irregular migration is tied to human, cultural, and state security concerns. In terms of the management of migration, the various forms of incentives, mainly development assistance and diplomatic support, are used to get Morocco to enforce stringent anti-immigration practices. However, the system of incentives created by actors in the north also creates a form of mutual dependency between Morocco and Europe in a way that enhances the agency of Morocco in its relationship with Spain and the European Union as a whole.

Article

Environmental History of the Maghreb, 1800–Present  

Brock Cutler

North Africa is a diverse region with a rich history and society, part of a set of varied landscapes that make up a compounded and multiplex socio-ecosystem. Its position as a meeting point—of the desert and the sea, of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, of North and South, of East and West—makes it a complex and rewarding area of study. This multiplicity of environments and societies means there is no one history of North Africa, it is rather a structure of imbricating stories, no one of which records the whole. The environmental history of the region is no different, as the many different ecosystems—and human relations within them—give rise to different stories and different ways to tell them. Indeed, the strength of the environmental approach to the history of the region is that it allows scholars to introduce important factors into the narrative that are otherwise left out. If history is to capture the richness of past lives, tell a compelling story of people in the world, then it needs to embrace those elements of the world that were important to people. These can be the everyday concerns with watering a garden, the spectacular catastrophes of multiyear drought, or the contemplation of what factors make a place one place and not another. While there is this bottomless well of potential stories to tell within the environmental history of North Africa, there are some centripetal forces that hold it together. One is the geographical setting, defined by the desert, seas, and Atlas Mountains. Within this setting the relative aridity of the region is its central concern; each history has a place for water within it. The other generalizing trend over the modern period is the increasing centralization of decision-making about the management of that aridity: since 1800, small-scale and localized knowledge, practice, and control over hydrology has been eroded. More and more the local ecosystem has become the regional ecosystem, managed according to a logic shared on a global scale. The tension between these generalized trends and the multiplicity of local ecologies and stories is what gives the environmental history of North Africa its power and appeal.

Article

The Islamic State in the Maghreb  

Zacharias P. Pieri

On June 29, 2014, The Islamic State (IS), also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, proclaimed the establishment of a caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria. IS is a Sunni Muslim extremist movement that was under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi until his killing in 2019, and it is driven by a vision to unite all extremist Muslims under its caliphate, which was grounded in Syria. IS was, for a period, the most robust and adept insurgent force in Syria and Iraq, and by 2015, it controlled a landmass and population larger than that of many existing states. At the height of its power, it included a vast coastline in Libya, a portion of Nigeria’s northeast where affiliated Boko Haram declared an Islamic territory, and a city in the Philippines. Beyond this, IS was able to establish franchises in different parts of the world including North Africa and the Sahel. Leaders of IS called on extremist Muslims from across the world to leave their homes, and to travel to the so-called caliphate to take up residency there as jihadists and citizens of a proto-state. Those that could not physically join were encouraged to participate online, and others were instructed by Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the IS’s chief spokesman, to find an infidel and smash his head with a rock. IS, from its inception, has looked to the Maghreb and the Sahel as strategic geographic areas for the expansion of its ideology, incorporation of territory into its caliphate, and operational purposes. It is clear that the notion of an Islamic state was popular for a segment of the population in the Maghreb, with many leaving the countries of Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and beyond to join, train, and fight with IS in Syria and Iraq. Tunisia had the highest number of IS foreign fighters, estimated at approximately 6,000; Morocco had 1,200; Libya and Egypt had 600; and Algeria had 170. Returning fighters are destabilizing North Africa. Libya was an early focus of IS due in part to the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011, and the ensuing political chaos, which caused a weak and fragile state. Libya served as the first addition to the territories of IS’s caliphate outside Syria and Iraq. Tunisia faced several large-scale attacks linked to IS activities in the country. In 2015 a number of terrorist attacks were carried out, including the massacre of 38 tourists at a beach resort in Sousse, the bombing of a bus containing presidential guards in Tunis, and an attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis. Algeria has had to monitor the country’s borders to prevent the entry of jihadists affiliated with IS who operate in neighboring countries. At the time of writing, concerns were being raised about different franchises of IS that are seeking to better integrate and to take advantage of insecurity in the Sahel, especially around the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and into Niger and Nigeria.

Article

The Qanat System of Iran and the Maghreb  

Ahmad Abbasnejad and Behnam Abbasnejad

A qanat is a kind of subterranean horizontal tunnel and usually excavated in soft sediments. It conducts groundwater to the surface at its emerging point. In addition to the tunnel, each qanat contains anywhere from several to hundreds of vertical wells for removal of dig materials and ventilation of the tunnel. These wells get increasingly deep until the deepest and last one, which is known as the mother well. According to the literature, qanat was first developed around 800 to 1000 bc in northwest of Iran and afterward was utilized in many other countries in Asia, Africa, southern Europe, and even (through independent invention) in the Americas. The areas utilizing the qanat have three characteristics in common: the shortage of surficial water (streams) indicating an arid or semiarid climate; suitable topographical slopes that help conduct groundwater to the surface for a distance by a gently sloping tunnel (qanat); and the presence of unconsolidated sediments (usually alluvial) that both act as subsurface reservoirs and as material that can be easily excavated using primitive tools. In another words, dry areas with mountain-plain topography, alluvial fans, and stream beds (wadis) are suitable for digging qanats. Major parts of Iran and some parts of the Maghreb have such conditions. This is why these two regions have been somewhat dependent on qanats for their water supply. Although the invention of qanats helped human settlement and welfare in drier countries, it had some negative impacts. The presence of humans due to qanats directly impacted the wildlife and vegetation cover of those areas. And in some cases, changes in the groundwater regime caused wilting and drying because of limited water resources for plants and wildlife. The history of qanat development may be viewed as undergoing three major stages in the dry zones of Iran and the Maghreb, as well as in many other countries where they are present. During the first stage, from 1,000 to 2,000 years after their introduction (depending upon the region) qanats rapidly proliferated as technology spread to new areas. During the second stage, new qanat construction halted, as they had been developed in almost all suitable areas. In the third stage, beginning in some places in the early 20th century, such factors as increasing demand for groundwater, technical developments in water well drilling, and problems with qanat maintenance and urban sprawl caused many qanats to dry out; their numbers in operation have dropped. This decline will continue with varying rates in different countries. Unfortunately, the rate of decline in Iran, the home country of qanats, is more than many other places. This is mainly due to mismanagement.

Article

Berber-Arabic Language Contact  

Maarten Kossmann

Since the start of the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb in the 7th century ce, Berber and Arabic have been in continual contact. This has led to large-scale mutual influence. The sociolinguistic setting of this influence is not the same, though; Arabic influence on Berber is found in a situation of language maintenance with widespread bilingualism, while Berber influence on Arabic is no doubt to a large degree due to language shift by Berber speakers to Arabic. Linguistic influence is found on all levels: phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. In those cases where only innovative patterns are shared between the two language groups, it is often difficult to make out where the innovation started; thus the great similarities in syllable structure between Maghrebian Arabic and northern Berber are the result of innovations within both language families, and it is difficult to tell where it started. Morphological influence seems to be mediated exclusively by lexical borrowing. Especially in Berber, this has led to parallel systems in the morphology, where native words always have native morphology, while loans either have nativized morphology or retain Arabic-like patterns. In the lexicon, it is especially Berber that takes over scores of loanwords from Arabic, amounting in one case to over one-third of the basic lexicon as defined by 100-word lists.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: Morocco (1510-1822)  

Stephen Cory

Between 1510–1822, Morocco went through significant changes that laid the foundation for its modern nation state. Most noteworthy among these changes was a shift from the Berber dynasties that had dominated the country for almost five hundred years to governments headed by shurafā’, Arab leaders who claimed lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad. A combination of external threats (e.g., colonization from Portugal and Spain, and the threat of Ottoman expansion) and internal developments (e.g., the rising influence of murābitūn and shurafā’ within the country), along with the perceived inability of the Berber Wattasids to meet the Portuguese challenge, contributed to this dynastic change. In the five hundred years leading up to the early 21st century, two separate sharifian dynasties have governed Morocco, and the country has vacillated between periods of strong central rule and times of unrest (fitna) and weak central government. However, since the rise of the ʿAlawi dynasty in the late 17th century, ʿAlawi supremacy has not been seriously challenged, even during extensive periods of fitna or foreign colonization. Although Morocco developed a flexible system of government that helped unify the country during this period, it still fell behind European states in terms of technology, science, economy, and military strength. A degree of intellectual and social stagnation set in, such that European visitors in the 19th century perceived Morocco to be a country stuck in its medieval past. This weakness vis-à-vis its near neighbors to the north (particularly England and France) eventually set the stage for the direct colonization of Morocco by Europeans in the early 20th century.

Article

Women in Morocco  

Fatima Sadiqi

Women in Morocco have a rich, complicated history. In the past, they expressed themselves through creating designs in rug-weaving and related arts such as cloth making, tattoos, jewelry, collecting and safeguarding oral literature, building one of the first universities in the world, and serving their communities as political leaders and saints. In the postcolonial era, women have continued to produce oral and written texts. Such texts have been used to resist colonization; others have called for girls’ and women’s education and participation in politics. Since Morocco gained independence, women have continued to be present in the public sphere and have built one of the strongest women’s-rights movement in the Arab world by constantly adapting to historical, political, and social changes and endeavoring to network beyond ideological and political “redlines” that have characterized postcolonial Morocco. Using approaches that may be termed secular, Islamic, or a combination of both, Moroccan women organized themselves in the public sphere and advocated for social, economic, legal, and political reforms. In this way, they succeeded in marking important eras in modern Morocco and became crucial players in the public landscape. In the aftermath of the 2010–2011 uprisings that shook North Africa and other Middle Eastern countries, Moroccan women have produced new forms of movements and activism and given new meanings to their actions. More importantly, they are reinventing their identities, using new strategies and methodologies, and continuing the creativity and resilience that has marked their long history of agency. With the 2011 formalization of Amazigh (Berber) language as an official language in Morocco, women’s ancestral knowledge has come full circle not only as part of Moroccan women’s voices but as a central feature of Morocco’s homegrown identity.

Article

The Tangier American Legation Museum  

Diana Wylie

The Tangier American Legation Museum reflects the evolution of Moroccan–American relations over two centuries. Morocco, the first country to recognize the independence of the United States (1777), became the site of the first overseas American diplomatic mission in 1821 when the sultan gave the US government title to the museum’s current home—8 rue d’Amérique (zankat America)—in the old city of Tangier. The building went on to house the US consulate (1821–1905), legation (1905–1956), a State Department Foreign Service language school (1961–1970), and a Peace Corps training center (1970–1973), before becoming a museum dedicated to displaying art and artifacts about Morocco and Moroccan–American relations (1976). Despite the official story of the origin of the forty-one-room museum, its holdings and activities since the late 20th century derive more from unofficial American relationships with Morocco than from US government policy. The private actions of individual Americans and Moroccans, with some State Department support, led the museum to become in the late 20th century a research and cultural center serving academics and the broad public, including the people in its neighborhood (Beni Ider). In 1981 the US Department of the Interior put the Legation on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1982 it became the only site outside the United States designated as a National Historic Landmark due to its past diplomatic and military significance, as well as to the building’s blend of Moroccan and Spanish architectural styles.

Article

The Making of the Maghrib: 1147–1500  

Allen Fromherz

The Maghrib, “land of the setting sun” in Arabic, is the region of northwest Africa consisting of the countries of Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and, often, Mauritania. Even in flat, desert regions and plains of the Maghrib, the dominant geographical feature of the Maghrib is the Atlas Mountain range, looming over the horizon. These mountains not only create the geographic conditions for the desert, in terms of human geography, but they also form a massive, natural backbone and fortress from southern Morocco into Tunisia. For most of classical history the Atlas Mountains have been a great stumbling block for rulers. This changed in the early 12th century with the coming of the Almohads, who controlled the mountains and turned them into the heart of their empire. Before the Almohads, no power, not even the Romans, could claim to control the mountains. Instead, successive rulers tried to go around the range or to build fortifications at mountain passes, often in vain. Originating within the Atlas Mountains and maintaining their power all along its spine and into the southern Sierra Nevada of Iberia, the Almohads were the first to use the Atlas Mountains to their advantage. In doing so, they created the first unified, single polity across the Maghrib, originating too the idea that the Maghrib could be a politically united geographical space. Connections with Sahara and the Mediterranean could also now be strategically controlled. This era of Almohad unification, however, did not last long, a short fifty or sixty years from 1147 to the first decades of the 13th century, when the Almohad empire faced defeat from external forces and began a process of breaking apart into successor dynasties. Despite many later attempts to revive the Almohad model, no subsequent power was able to effectively restore the Almohad Empire’s reach across the Maghrib. Nonetheless, that unlikely and extraordinary success created the dream, or memory, of unification, one that continues to influence the people of the Maghrib.

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Women and Gender in French North Africa, 1830–1962  

Julia Clancy-Smith

The workings of modern empire can better be viewed through the lens of gender because gendered hierarchies illuminate broad, intersecting aspects of the colonial project. Community, kinship, household economies, religion, education, sexuality, social engineering, nationalism, and transnational reform movements were all inflected by imperial patriarchy in various guises. This perspective is especially rich for “French” North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) from 1830 until 1962 since the region and its peoples were subjected to intense forms of “European” settler colonialism. From the start, the “woman question” assumed particularly fraught and contentious dimensions whose repercussions can be detected even today. Nevertheless, colonial North Africa did not represent a self-enclosed container. Transimperial and global processes shaped the sociopolitical terrain, and in turn. Policies, practices, and resistance in the Maghrib exerted a powerful torque far beyond its limits. Key to understanding women, gender, and settler colonialism is the state of the “archive,” the sprawling corpus of records, writings, words, things, and images left in an empire’s wake. The voices of women, children, and “ordinary” people, those labeled “the colonized,” have until recently been missing in conventional narratives. As Antoinette Burton observed, the archives themselves structure “the conceptual frameworks of women’s and gender history.” In the imperial historical context, the task of recuperating and restoring lost voices is all the more problematic, yet urgent. One might also add that the fundamental question is “whether ‘women’ is a category at all.”

Article

The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade  

Ralph A. Austen

The almost two-millennium-long forced overland movement of several million Black Africans across the Sahara desert toward the continent’s Mediterranean coast was, at its base, an economic undertaking. On its receiving end, this commerce was driven by the demand for various forms of private and public services in Mediterranean as well as in Saharan societies; on the supply side it depended upon the willingness and capacity of Saharan and Sudanic forces to seize people and exchange them for imported goods. The basic technology and institution of trans-Saharan slave-trading—the cross-desert camel caravan—did not change radically during the many centuries of its existence, although it did undergo important transformations in specific times and places along its broad and ever-expanding landscape. The combination of regulations under Islamic law and the deployment of most slaves—the majority of them female—in domestic rather than agricultural labor allowed them to enjoy better prospects of manumission and even social advancement than the New World African plantation workers to which they are often compared. But, paradoxically, such relatively liberal treatment of the already enslaved produced an increased demand for new captives, all subjected to the harsh and often fatal transition of the great desert and, in the case of many young men, the additional ordeal of castration.

Article

U.S. Foreign Policy and Religion  

Malcolm Magee

The United States has been uniquely God-centered among Western nations, and that includes its foreign policy. From George Washington to the present, all presidents and policymakers have had to consider God in varying degrees either for their domestic audience or because they believed in a version of Providential mission in the world. In the beginning, the new United States was filled with religious people whom the founders had to consider in crafting the founding documents. In time, the very idea of the United States became so entwined with the sense of the Divine that American civil religion dominated even the most secular acts of policymakers.