- Cinderella, CVs, and Neighborhood Nemima:Announcing Morocco's Royal Wedding
His Majesty Mohammed VI is inscribing the Moroccan monarchy into modernity. For the first time in this country the king has chosen his wife, presented her to the people, given her a title, and considered that after the wedding, she might exercise a profession.—Bahia Amrani
One must admit, this occasion (the royal wedding) is unquestionably the most important event that the kingdom and the Moroccans have experienced since His Majesty Mohammed VI came to the throne. This observation has nothing to do with gossip "a l'eau de rose" of the national and international "people press" kind; it is eminently political.—Fahd Yata
In early 2002, at a time when the "war on terror" was focusing attention on the Arab world, when the young Mohammed VI had to address the Palestinian question, upcoming elections, and the nagging issue of the Western Sahara, it might have appeared odd that many people pointed to his wedding to Selma Bennani as his most significant political action. Indeed, for those unfamiliar with the practices of past kings of the sharifian kingdom, the Moroccan royal wedding might indeed have appeared to be just another item of passing interest for the society pages, tabloids, or beauty salon conversation. Yet, as the journalist Fahd Yata remarked, to reach these conclusions would be to miss the political statement involved in this marriage and its presentation. Indeed, before this event no previous Moroccan sovereign had ever even mentioned having a wife, let alone published her photograph and biography for everyone to examine. Mohammed VI's mother, for instance, was seen only once on television, in the background at the party following her younger daughter's wedding. Hassan II, who ruled from 1962 to 2000, referred to her only as "the mother of my children."1 Like many other rulers in the Arab world, but unlike those of other North African states, the former king left no doubt that this woman was one among many in his harem, part of a private world that he called his "secret garden."2 But in 2002 all of this changed when Hassan's son Mohammed chose his "princess" from among the people, then publicly validated his choice by providing his subjects and the international media with extensive evidence of her personal morality, intelligence, accomplishments, and beauty. Pictures of the new princess alone, with the king, and with his family were published. The "Cinderella" story of the couple's meeting or accounts of her intellectual abilities and professional experience were liberally disseminated [End Page 525] in the national and international press. Given the total absence of a royal couple up until this time, it is easy to prove that showing "her highness" alone, alongside her husband, and with members of their respective families was a major shift in the representation of political power in Morocco. But did it indicate, as Yata suggests, that this is only one step in Mohammed VI's move to "allow Morocco to enter even more clearly into a healthy and positively experienced modernity in a society in which the weight of the past, of traditions, of customs and belief will not inhibit development and progress because they will be intelligently apprehended by an enlightened sovereign"?3 Indeed, while writers and commentators like Yata have underscored the importance of the wedding as a political statement, they are mistaken if they persist in thinking that this means the wedding has nothing to do with "the gossip" of the "people press." In what follows, I argue that the seriousness of this event cannot be disentangled from the world of tabloid gossip and soap-opera fame. I suggest that this involvement in the universe of what Yata calls the "eau de rose" (literally, rose water) of the "people press" does not mean that it is not also a performance of something like modernity. A close reading of how the Moroccan and international press reported the engagement of the royal couple shows that attention to celebrity infuses the sorties of even the most staid and "serious" publications. The interviews I carried out with people of many walks of life in...