“There is not one Morocco, there are many ‘Moroccos’” – Mr. Medhi Meradji, head of the Chambre Française de Commerce et d’Industrie du Maroc, related to our Lauder French track on the eve of our one-week visit to Morocco in June. Many of us received these words with bewilderment, wondering what exactly this description implied. Sparing our curiosity, Mr. Meradji proceeded to introduce the many unique dimensions that characterize present-day Morocco; he portrayed a nation with a vibrant and accelerating economy with close ties to Europe and sub-Saharan African that nonetheless proudly guarded the age-old institutions of monarchy and Islam. Our eight-day trek through the Moroccan cities of Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakech provided an insightful glance at the many “faces” of Morocco as the nation continues to evolve and grow into the second half of the decade.
Our journey through Morocco began in the capital city of Rabat. Most members of our group had elected to stay with Moroccan host families in the Agdal quarter of the city, not far outside the walls of the royal palace, the current seat of King Mohammed VI. The experience of staying with a host family offered something a bit different for everyone – but above all, it lent itself to a personalized education in Moroccan history, family dynamics, cuisine and the beloved tradition of aromatic mint tea and cakes. As if to honor the spirit of the capital city, our guest lecturer Professor Maati Monjib granted us a formal introduction to Moroccan politics and global affairs, specifically highlighting the lingering vestiges of the French colonial period in Morocco which formally began under the status of “French protectorate” in 1912 until Morocco regained independence in 1956. What our group truly appreciated, perhaps most of all, was Professor Monjib’s open and frank discussion of significant social issues such as the nation’s struggle against the illegal drug cultivation and trade in the northern regions and resulting inflationary effect on land prices and the politics.
In Casablanca, the economic capital of Morocco, our group began with a visit to the majestic Hassan II Mosque perched on the Atlantic seaside. Following the brief tour of the mosque, we opened a chapter on Moroccan entrepreneurship in a meeting with Omar Tazi who launched an e-commerce startup in Morocco in 2008 called Omnidata after several years of entrepreneurial pursuits in Silicon Valley in California. Having begun his career in the United States, Omar was uniquely poised to share lessons from his work in entrepreneurship and “big data” in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) market. He homed in on the lack of consumer credit system and difficulty securing cash payments in general in Morocco as two chief challenges he has faced in his years running a business in Morocco.
Our Moroccan immersion trip concluded in the inland Berber city of Marrakech, where we spent a day touring such significant heritage sites as the UNESCO registered Jamaa el-Fnaa Square, the architecturally striking Médersa Ben-Youssef theological school dating from 1570 and finally the 360-room Palace El Badi reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
By Tim Racine (Lauder Class of 2016, French)