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The Frenchification of Morocco is Almost Complete

posted on: Jul 25, 2018

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

‘Arabization is our future’!  ‘We will be truly an Arab country in a few years’!  French influences will soon be an apparition from the past’! – were the phrases that I heard over and over again when I first visited Morocco in 1961, a few years after the country had gained independence from France.

All across the country, in the cities and even the small villages, there was a mass demand from the general public for the Arabization of the country.  It was almost a mass movement for a change in the use of Arabic. In the almost half a century the French had been in the country everything had been Frenchified – from the writing of cheques to almost all government business.   Most of the elite were more comfortable in French rather than in Arabic.

At that time a friend of mine who was teaching in one of the country’s universities was gung-ho about the Arabization of the country, thinking that in a few years the Arabization of Morocco would be a fact.  However, that was not to be.  In fact, what happened was the opposite.

In Morocco, for years, language has been and still is a big problem.  Even though many of the Moroccans talked about their country’s Arabization, I now believe they were not serious.  In the ensuing years, I visited the country more than a dozen times and every time I noted that Arabic was little by little disappearing as a living language of the country.

Today, the once all-encompassing talk about the Arabization of the country is only a whisper and very few Moroccans with whom I spoke actually believe that Arabic will one day become the language of the country.  In fact, the Frenchification of Morocco is in full swing and it appears that in a few years Arabic will be another of the lost ‘Languages Of Africa’ only spoken in the colloquial with a strong mixture of French by the poor and the uneducated.

As the years rolled by, to my amazement, my professor friend had sent his children to French schools and then, to complete their education in France.  Today, even though they are avid Moroccan nationalists, they are more comfortable in French than in Arabic.

To an outside observer it seems that Arabic is being gradually eliminated from the daily life of the people.  During my last trip, while in Marrakesh, I walked on Mohammed V1 Avenue in the affluent heart of the newer part of the city, reading the signs – rarely did I see an Arabic word.  The rich who lived in this wealthy part of the city apparently thought of themselves as French rather than Arabs. Roaming the country from Tangiers to Marrakech and beyond, I found that in the majority of good restaurants the menus were only in French. If one does not know French, even to Arabs from the Middle East, it becomes quite difficult to know what to order or what to eat.

I believe that the mixed colloquial nouveau langue of Arabic/French will eventually die out and the people will become French-speaking Muslims.  As an indication of this phenomenon is the answer of a Moroccan friend when I asked, “When you see a sign in Arabic and French which language do you read?”  Without hesitation, he replied, “Of course! French!” Another time, I asked in Arabic a traffic officer in the town of Souk El Arba, “What is the way to the town of Ouezzane?”  He answered, in response to my Arabic, in French, “a gauche!”

he majority of people with whom I spoke in Arabic in Morocco, regardless that their mother tongue was Moroccan colloquial Arabic, it seemed to me that every one of any phrase they spoke, contained French words, the Arabic words themselves being pronounced in French style if not already Frenchified.  For one like myself who knows very little French, the language is impossible to understand. There is little doubt that French has become the tongue not only of the educated but also of ordinary people. When they meet a stranger even the poorest of the poor almost without fail addresses him/her in French.

In spite of the fact that Arabic today is the official language of the country, French is in fact, the language everyone uses. For the vast majority of the educated class, Arabic has become synonymous with fanatical Islam.  I will never forget what Fatima Mernissi, the famous Moroccan feminist answered me when I told her that I loved most things about her country, that is, with the exception of the Frenchification of Morocco. She smiled, “ You want us to learn Arabic so that you can put us back in the harem.”

At that time I thought that she was joking but there must have been for years many Moroccans who believed the same, thus ensuring that Arabic was not to become the real language of the country.   This equating of Arabic to fanatical Islam has solidified the French culture in the country and helped to erode the support for Arabization.

It is a strange Moroccan phenomenon!  A good number of Moroccans told me that Arabic will not die out, and, indeed, when I check the newsstands I find that there are more Arabic newspapers than in the past.  Who reads these journals? I have no idea since I rarely met a Moroccan who knew the classical Arabic language.

Alas!  Hopefully, I could be wrong, but I believe that the Frenchification of Morocco is now irreversible.  In my view, the omen for the future of the Arabic language in the country looks bleak. Perhaps many Moroccans will disagree with my analysis, but my belief has a good number of supporters.

Colonialism has left deep imprints on the former European colonies.  The British left their language – more by default – to some extent, in the lands they occupied.  The French, on the other hand, set out purposely to Frenchify their colonies and in this, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams – witness Morocco.