My 6-year-old daughter watched the Allegiance to the Moroccan King Ceremony on National Television and asked me: “why are they bowing down to that man’s horse like that, mom?” I said: “Because they choose to, but it is wrong. A human being should never behave like that, people are born equals and should act accordingly, even if forced to do the contrary”.
Twenty years ago, I used to ask similar questions to my mother. Every year, Watching men prostrate themselves before the King’s horse as another man “blesses them” on his behalf (too important to waste vocal energy doing it himself). As he sits up on a horse protected from the sun by a red umbrella, senior Moroccan officials stand in the heat for hours before comes out, some wearing adult diapers for the circumstance, they then proceed to methodical prostration and bowing when called upon, their backs forming a 90 degree angle with the rest of their body (and the lower, the more devout, the better rewarded) as they stare at the ground, lowering themselves in degrading ways to receive blessings in rows, organized by regions of Morocco.
Every detail of the ceremony is meant to instill submissive values to discipline near slaves that were meant as the Makhzen’s subordinates and the King’s servants in his Kingdom, not as representatives of the people
These rituals were created long before the country had known recognized borders at a time Moroccan sultans sought to bend the tribes so they can govern and reign over larger chunks of the country, then were pushed to this extent as the Makhzen thought they could create and maintain myths, mixed with ideology and idiosyncrasy that would serve their interests over why they exist and are superior. They didn’t see the Information Era coming.
Young doctor, friend and fellow activist Amine El Majhad wrote on facebook today that such a ceremony is as disgraceful to keep as the old appalling Moroccan ritual of “Izar”, a ceremony that used to take place the morning after weddings and sometimes on wedding nights, forcing the bride to deliver a blood-stained sheet immediately after the celebration, proof that she remained a virgin. This horrendous practice and many more were eventually recognized as encouraging rape and, well, wrong on so many levels. They weren’t kept today just because they existed in the past. It is time to recognize that not every symbolic tradition practiced in the past is a « heritage » to be valued. Sometimes it’s a sign of weakness that people were not able to get rid of it sooner and replace it with better thought respectful symbolic traditions. If there was a list of such shameful practices (and there should be several) the Allegiance to the King ceremony would score in the top three.
The Makhzen may be overly stubborn in holding on to inappropriate rituals, but Moroccans are more critical about them today. They are also more aware of how it is religiously forbidden to bow to anyone other than God as the Makhzen has tried to use this argument through Palace-molded-and-shaped Religious Clerics. Moroccan Minister of Islamic Affairs even tried to compare this allegiance to the one Prophet Muhammed’s companions experienced more than 1400 years ago, comparing the King’s red Umbrella to the tree under which the Allegiance took place. But today’s information availability through Satellite TV channels and the net are quick to deny such claims. It is noteworthy to mention that the Allegiance to the Prophet himself is reported to have been crowned with each companion shaking his hand. So when I heard Mr. Toufiq try to link the two, it made me feel like he was insulting Moroccans’ intelligence and uttering what sounded like a blasphemy/joke.
Things are changing, not only is This Allegiance Ceremony watched by non-Moroccans on the net, creating an uneasy feeling about this among Moroccans, but the repression of a Protest titled “Allegiance to Liberty and Dignity” organized the next day in front of the Parliament in the capital to criticize the Makhzen’s humiliating practices was covered by several Press Agencies. An AFP Journalist was beaten while several activists were hit by police. The Minister of communication apologized to AFP but failed to do the same to Moroccan Reporters and Activists, stirring even more anger among people. These rituals and the repression will soon be more than unacceptable to the majority of Moroccans when the feeling of ridicule and humiliation will overwhelm fear.
Back when I was my daughter’s age, asking the questions she’s been asking me, my mother would panic, look at me with wide terrified eyes and would shout-whisper: “SHHHHT!!!!!!!!”. I understand that today, having read about all the torture that went on during what is known now as the Years of Lead, and all the people who have been killed and those buried alive by the late King Hassan 2nd. But I sure live in a different, less isolated world and hope for a much better future for Morocco and its people. I would rather teach my daughter that we must hold our heads high and be proud citizens, and that Moroccan officials must become the proud people’s representatives, not the submissive King and Makhzen’s subordinates. This must be reflected in new symbolic ways and traditions.
Today, it is true that we are past the Years of Lead, and that activists are only victims of fake trials, with teenagers imprisoned for up to 5 years for protesting, tortured but never beyond broken bones and a few deaths. Morocco is certainly progressing since its unfair practices and rotten justice system now operates out in the open, and information is available regarding such individuals, their location and even the names of their weak/corrupt judges that have become one with the Makhzen in ways that kidnappings are no longer needed to sanction individuals for practicing their civil liberties.
Today, our king has revolutionized Morocco without shedding a single drop of blood (except for a few liters by the rotten security system, and all the torture that’s been outsourced to our secret detention centers where alleged terrorists received special treatment, but what’s a few liters and bottle-raped men compared with, say, Bashar Al Assad’s practices). We now have a newly palace granted constitution drafted and finalized and dropped on Moroccans in a smashing top-down manner, approved through a referendum that was preceded by Makhzen lead campaigns of “Vote YES to the new constitution”, with many yelling outright “Vote yes to the King’s constitution”. We have a new oblivious fake government and ministers with virtually no prerogatives beyond bureaucratic mediation and attempts at conflict resolution between directors from different political parties within each ministry.
In brief, we have a constitution that begins with :
« Morocco is a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and social democracy. » And article 22 goes on to emphasize that « The physical or moral integrity of anyone may not be infringed, in whatever circumstance that may be and by any person that may be, public or private. No one may inflict on others, under whatever pretext there may be, cruel, inhuman, [or] degrading treatments or infringements of [their] dignity. »
They must have forgotten to put P.S: Senior representatives from all Moroccan regions have to physically bow down to the King(‘s horse) and prostrate themselves yearly while a man sanctifies them on his behalf and approves of them as representatives in our shiny democracy.
In today’s hybrid and confusing archaic-wannabe-modern Morocco, owned and run by the Makhzen the way a control freak would, more than half the population is illiterate, with the only revolutionary measures being taken to relieve the current and future intellectual hemorrhage are the King’s Speeches: words. They keep him on top of all-things-good while the Makhzen around him proceeds to choking all initiatives that would strengthen civil society or instill dignity in the people beyond the King’s institution and King-Lead projects. The regime is resisting change, pretending to be the leader of the democratic transition and promoter of Human Rights whilst officials bow down to the king and go on to beat reporters and the very breath of freedom in Moroccan Youth celebrating dignity and liberty in a demo the next day.
I’m writing this in respect of article 25 of the new constitution: “The freedoms of thought, of opinion and of expression under all their forms[,] are guaranteed.” Hoping that will suffice, waiting for prisoners of opinion to be released. But given all of the above, I’m not holding my breath.
Hopefully, my 6-year-old daughter won’t have to write similar articles whist future officials bow down to Hassan the 3rd’s horse.