Friday,22 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)
Friday,22 February, 2019
Issue 1210, (21 - 27 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A legendary love

Ayman Abdel-Aziz, Al-Maghrib bi Uyoun Missriyya (Morocco in Egyptian Eyes), Cairo: Dar Al-Hadara, 2014. pp208. 

The media blackout on Arab countries that is forcefully imposed on most Egyptians, whether premeditated or not, has always been a source of trouble for travellers and intellectuals. Before reading this book, while having a strong desire to visit Morocco, I for one had zero information on its traditions and culture. I knew very little of its great cities. In addition to the media blackout, lack of curiosity among Egyptians in general could be attributed to their limited ability to travel abroad, yet even for travellers who can afford expensive trips, Morocco is hardly a popular destination.

The first book by a journalist at the foreign desk of Al-Ahram, the talented Ayman Abdel-Aziz, Morocco in Egyptian Eyes is more than a travel guide. Its six chapters provide not only a wealth of information of use to the traveller but also an account of the author’s intensive experience of Moroccan cities through repeated visits in the period 2007-13.

Dealing with such topics as “legends of sex and entertainment”, the Moroccan hammam and Moroccans’ “eternal love for Egypt”, the book is a deeply engaging narrative. As a travel guide it can be confusing, however, something the author attributes to the deeper motive behind his frequent visits to Morocco: the desire to find a Moroccan wife. Though the procedures are complicated, some 2,500-3,000 Egyptian men marry Moroccan women every year. His belief is that Moroccan women are special, more independent, realistic, joyful, warm and feminine than their Egyptian or Arab counterparts.

Abdel-Aziz’s first shock on arrival at the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca is the sight of Moroccan women looking self-possessed in traditional costume. When he takes the train he is staggered to realise that the driver is one such woman (Moroccan women have driven trains since 1999). This theme carries through, with the author relaying a conversation with a prostitute he encounters in downtown Casablanca about the legendary abilities of Moroccan women in bed.

The book is full of interesting and funny anecdotes in this vein, with several passages devoted to the difficulty the author has with Moroccan Arabic. The dialect is more different from Egyptian Arabic than Spanish is from Italian, and not as widely understood in the Arab world as Egyptian, Levantine or Gulf Arabic even though Moroccans themselves, to their annoyance, tend to understand those dialects. The author includes a glossary of over 500 words in the Moroccan dialect with their meanings in classic Arabic.

Further complicating the picture are the Amazigh languages, which prevail in addition to Arabic throughout the Atlas mountains, in the north and the east and pockets of the south, and having to resort to body language to communicate. Television channels, the author explains, broadcast in four languages: French and Spanish as well as Arabic and Amazigh. Such multilingual norms make for a heterogeneous culture that is difficult to integrate into the rest of the Arab world, Abdel-Aziz contends, which accounts for the fact that Moroccan Arabic cinema, for example — though of extremely high standard — is hardly ever heard of outside the Maghreb.

In the third chapter, the author cites different aspects of daily life in Morocco: the tea- or attai-drinking custom, outdoor cafes, the presence of the police in daily life, the means of transportation and the travel bug with which most Moroccans are afflicted. The fourth chapter deals with Moroccans’ perceptions of Egypt.

Unlike Egyptians, Moroccans in general are interested in Egyptian news, with the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution closely followed by the average person.

The next chapter features tours of and tales about Casablanca, Fes, Wajda, Marrakesh and other cities, written in an autobiographical style. Information about the cities is uneven, with a detailed account of Marrakesh’s Jewish district known as Al-Mahallah and its 16th-century Al-Badie Palace, for example, but little information on Fes.

The book is a sound overall portrait of Morocco with many handy tips for the traveller (the relatively high price of cigarettes, for example), and an excellent introduction to the country (and its women). But it lacks maps, and it has no information on the contemporary culture of Morocco.

The last chapter, entitled “Four Days in Tangiers”, is a well-written description of the city that features the story of the author’s long awaited meeting with Nadia, a Moroccan young woman, whom he has met on the Qiran-a marriage web site. The book ends somewhat abruptly with a picnic with the girl and her friends, a meeting the author descried as “the surprising joy”. It’s a joy he has managed to communicate to the reader, who by now is more eager to discover Morocco.    

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