Cult of Personality and other thoughts on Moroccan Monarchy

“A cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”

“Moroccan youth are organizing a march for love to renew their pledge of allegiance to the king and to publicly express their gratitude for his reforms and development projects”. Only 3 days after its start, the Facebook group “March for love” gathered almost 25000 supporter for what some (yours truly) has called: A royal gay pride. With slogans such as “People burn their countries to get rid of dictators, we burn the world to protect our beloved King”, I couldn’t help but ask myself,  are we watching an extreme personality cult?

Probably one of the strongest dogmatic doctrines in the history of Moroccan monarchy

Moulay Ali Cherrif. First Alaouite King.

was the “sainthood” of the Alaouite dynasty. Monarchy’s claim of descent from the prophet Muhammed himself has been held by Moroccans, to this day,  in very high regard. The Sherrifian (Saint) Alaouites possess a Baraka (divine blessing) that, according to Moroccans, was elemental in helping the Sultans unite all the tribes and rule righteously over the populate.  Make no mistake, in a traditional predominantly Muslim society where “black magic” is popular even among the intellectual elite and where illiteracy is still rampant, the Baraka is a valuable concept.

The full extent of this doctrine’s influence is better observed during the Revolution Of The King And The People. After Mohammed V’s exile in 1953 by the French protectorate, The “ruling” Istiqlal party exploited the naivety of rural Moroccans at the time to circulate a famous narrative about seeing the King’s face on the moon. The fact that Monarchy was cloaked in so much myth and mystery allowed for the rumors to spread like wild fire; Moroccans across the country confirmed that they also witnessed the sight. This state of mass hysteria and delusion, led by the nationalist Istiqlal party, eventually caused the disenchanted Moroccans to precipitate the return of the Moon king.

If you cant see the king's face on the moon then you dont love your country.

On the other hand, Sheriffian Alaouites exist today in significantly bigger numbers than they did back in the early days of Moroccan monarchy. To put things in perspective, Moulay Ismail(1645-1727), the second ruler in the dynasty, is said to have fathered more than a thousand child in a way reminiscent of Genkhis Kan’s “DNA conquests” of central Asia.  This prolific, and indiscriminate, spreading of sainthood “seeds” however, has clearly dampened the allure of the Alaouites, a title that once was exclusively associated with a small privileged elite, has now transcended the barriers of social stratification to be also claimed by the poor and the middle class.

The Sherrifian nature of Alaouite dynasty is one aspect among many of the personality cult surrounding the Moroccan monarchy. The average citizen is confronted with so many imageries during his/her lifetime that its almost impossible to escape the state propaganda. In every major city across the kingdom, billboards are plastered with portraits of his majesty and slogans glorifying and idolizing him. Newspaper often allocates entire pages for corporations to praise the king every national holiday. Ministers, governors, ambassadors and even regular Simos are paraded in front of the royal throne kissing the king’s hand and renewing their allegiance’s pledge. And who can omit the overdramatized Mustapha Alaoui’s TV commentaries filled with , often nonsensical, adulations of the king during every little official outing of his.

Speaking of TV, A powerful tool also used by the monarchist propaganda machine is portraying the king as the sole inaugurator of developmental projects across the kingdom.  For the naive minds and the politically oblivious, his majesty takes full credit for all the newly built hospitals, universities, orphanages, mosques, water purification stations etc… Hence the popular argument: “the King is doing a good job because he’s building the country”.

In the Moroccan collective consciousness, the young Mohammed 6 instantly assumed the not-so-bad cop role in a lame Good Cop/Bad Cop routine after the end of his father’s repressive regime. Hassan II , his father, ruled the country with an iron-fist and eradicated opposition with all means necessary in an era plagued with blatant breaches of human rights. And what better regime to enforce a cult of personalty than a police state of a megalomaniac monarch?  Nonetheless, most Moroccans, like a low self-esteem girlfriend in an abusive relationship, exhibits (while looking over their shoulder) a deep respect for the old king whom they view as a father figure who governed using “tough love”.

Monarchy however was able to reinvent itself post-Hassan II by introducing the Equity And Reconciliation Committee to make amends with the violent past, without really pointing any fingers. The rosy period was, alas, only temporary after the Makhzen (government) started cracking down again on journalists, activists and dissidents. As the Moroccan proverb goes, “Hlima went back to her old habit”.

Allah, The country, The King. What if Im only loyal to the country ?

Imagine growing up around these imageries. Singing the national anthem every Monday before class and screaming, in harmony with every student at the school, its last part at the top of your lungs

Make the world witness,

That we here live
With an emblem of:
God, homeland and king.

The indoctrination starts at a very young age by teaching kids to pledge allegiance to God, the country and the king, as if they were inseparable entities. Three principles considered as sanctities by the Moroccan law which deems “insulting” them a criminal offence. Even the very fact of questioning this “holy trinity” is a recipe for an oncoming legal trouble.

The powerful propaganda tactics exerted over Moroccans since birth serve one purpose: to fortify the image of infallibility that the monarchs hide behind and to make criticism a thoughtcrime. The self-censorship exhibited by Moroccan journalists and the overly naive herd mentality behind the youths of the “march for love” show that so far the propaganda is unfortunately a great success.

I remember watching a documentary about North Korea where National Geographic’s Lisa Ling went undercover with a Nepalese doctor who specialized in cataracts surgeries. The most striking scene in the documentary was when the patients started removing their bandages.

“…immediately after regaining their sight, rather than thanking the doctor, people started crying and bowing and giving thanks in front of pictures of the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung as hundreds clapped and cheered in unison. I never saw such an extreme personality cult before.” Lisa Ling

Sounds too familiar…

Further reading:

Of saints and Sherifian kings in Morocco: Thee examples of the politics of reimaginning history through reinventing king/Saint relationship. By Fatima Ghoulaichi (PDF file).

A Monarch Oriented To the West. By Joseph.R.Gregory

This entry was posted in Moroccan Politics, Morocco and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Cult of Personality and other thoughts on Moroccan Monarchy

  1. Merlin_Pimpim says:

    Great start! Can’t wait to read the rest.

  2. Oh shit.
    I can’t see the king on the moon. Bad moon rising? Or Am I just a feckless bad patriot?

    Keep up the good work :-D

  3. mouka says:

    I already posted somewhere else in your blog that you have just earned a fan for life.
    I must admit that I was absolutely right in making that decision.
    My only complaint is that this post is not a book. I was literally drinking every word.
    I will come to visit your blog every day. I hope to see a lot of posts in the future.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!!!

  4. karim says:

    Awesome job!

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