- Contributing to a Culture of Debate in Morocco
Morocco is a land of many languages. Its citizens speak a variant of Arabic and a number of Berber dialects. Classical Arabic is Morocco’s official language; French is taught from primary school onward. Although Arabic became the medium of instruction in the 1980s and is increasingly spoken by Morocco’s youth, French remains the primary language of a large number of intellectuals. Today, English enjoys tremendous popularity, and Spanish is also studied, particularly in the north, which shares historic ties with Spain. By virtue of its geography and multilingualism, Morocco stands at the crossroads of two distinct cultures, a fact that is reflected in the output of its intellectuals. Some intellectuals express themselves exclusively in Arabic, others in French, and still others in both Arabic and French. Thus the need for an exchange among these different voices.
Morocco is a country with an oral tradition, and although access to schooling has been widely available to the younger generation, the overall literacy rate today stands at about 50 percent. The publishing industry is still quite young. Indeed, it was only as recently as the [End Page 157] 1970s that publishing houses enjoyed a real boom, thanks to a public that was becoming more literate and thus more interested in the written word.
Publishing companies devoted to scholarship and culture, however, suffered initial setbacks. Journals did not last for a variety of reasons. They encountered financial difficulties, since the state provided no subsidies and entrepreneurs were not particularly interested in the cultural domain. Journals tended to be published by academic institutions for academics; by their very nature, they did not touch the lives of the larger public.
One must add that, even today, there is no real link between serious publishers and the public. The quality of newspaper cultural supplements leaves much to be desired, and there are virtually no broadcast channels on either radio or television that discuss recent books and articles. Meanwhile, in the world at large, foreign-language publications about our country and the Middle East are growing more and more numerous. Abroad, works in the social sciences and humanities proliferate; at home, most Moroccans have no access to this growing literature.
In most Muslim countries, the need for change is real and is felt by large sections of the population. The common man, however, is prevented by underlying conditions from contributing to such change. In the face of political and ideological repression, certain intellectual currents—among them, those attached to democratic values—have no opportunity to express themselves. As a result, there remains an urgent need for a sincere and sustained debate about the fundamental challenges confronting our societies.
Toward a Civil Society
In light of these conditions, a group of Moroccans were convinced of the need for a publication that would allow intellectuals and others to express themselves before as wide audience as possible. In 1993, they founded Prologues: revue maghrébine du livre, a quarterly journal that reviews books on scientific and cultural topics. Prologues offers a forum for dialogue at a time when social and political transformations are paving the way for the emergence and growth of civil society. Before saying more about Prologues itself, I would like briefly to describe the sociopolitical context in which our journal was born.
Since gaining its independence from France 40 years ago, Morocco has been a multiparty state. As a result, opposition forces have matured significantly, despite years of repression. A symbol of national unity, King Hasan II possesses temporal authority; as head of a body of believers, he also wields religious control. This has enabled [End Page 158] him to marginalize Islamic fundamentalists. Recently, he has consented to a democratization of the regime, including a modernization of the monarchy. Since March 1998, Morocco has been governed by a democratic coalition installed in accordance with the agreement of the king. The danger of social unrest, the worrisome economic situation (the unemployment rate is 17 percent), and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism have all propelled reforms.
What are the factors that have helped pave the way for the birth of civil society? The democratic opening approved...