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Morocco; the Islamist Awakening and Other Challenges
By Marvine Howe, published by Oxford University Press, Inc, New York

This book is an attempt to explain the internal politics of contemporary Morocco and most especially how this democratic Muslim kingdom saluted by all the leaders of the Western World as a role model of tolerance, freedom and peace could produce citizens who would be responsible for the Casablanca suicide bombings of May 2003 and the Madrid train bombings of June 2004. It is the work of a journalist, not a historian; enlivened by a series of interviews and character portraits.

Marvine Howe first came to Morocco in autumn 1950 as an au pair for a French family in Fez. Before her first year in Morocco was up she had begun to file reports on the stirring incidents of this period. She subsequently established herself as a journalist and broadcaster with access to many of the leading figures of the Moroccan struggle for Independence, balanced by an understanding of the political spectrum within the French colonial society. She maintained this position as a trusted commentator for the American media until the early 60's when the animosity between the two leading figures of Moroccan post-independence political life, King Hassan II and Mehdi Ben Barka, made her presence unwelcome. She knew both men well. Her personal insights into the political manoevres of the 50's and 60's alone make this book a valuable and fascinating testimony.

She clearly delighted in the company of King Hassan II when he was a relaxed, inquiring and accessible Crown Prince, indeed her first book on Morocco was published under the title, The Prince and I'. She is also an honest-enough observer, (of herself as well as others) to admit that she felt slighted by Hassan ending their friendship once he became King.

She is not alone in considering Ben Barka the most remarkable, clever and animated man of his generation. The Moroccan national hero, King Muhammad V, employed Ben Barka as a mathematics tutor to his son and then as a minister in the first national government. Her description of the sub-criminal events surrounding Ben Barka's abduction in Paris and his torture, defilement and murder at the hands of General Oufkir (the Moroccan Minister of Interior who had flown into France to personally participate) is the martyrdom that is at the centre of her whole narrative.

Using an impressive range of source, testimony and intriguing anecdote, Marvine Howe creates a palpable sense of regret that the heady days of national unity immediately after Independence have been warped from what could have been their true pattern. Instead of Morocco converting itself into a constitutional monarchy under the dream ticket' of Muhammad V and Ben Barka we have the tale of the wicked prince, of the creation of the Makhzen system, an inter-linked web of corruption, royal hegemony, nationalistic adventures and security service tyranny - that has nearly stifled Morocco over the last forty-five years. The result, according to Marvine Howe, is a mismanaged economy hampered by endemic corruption which fails to attract enough foreign investment to create sustained economic growth. A series of inept governments have allowed the slum suburbs of Casablanca to fill up with the ill-educated and the dispossessed, a recruiting ground for the foot soldiers of a future Islamist movement. That this has not happened already is largely due to the true heroes of modern Morocco, a discordant clamour of writers, journalists, aid workers, doctors, teachers, feminists, berber-revivalists and philanthropists, who have filled the absence of government with over 30,000 non-governmental organisations and associations such as the Moroccan organisation of Human Rights, the anti-corruption movement Transparency International, the Committee for the Families of the Dissappeared, the street children's charity Bayti or the 12 micro-finance associations that have already lent over 500 million dollars to 450,000 of the poor. In this survey, Marvin Howe creates a fascinating portrait of Morocco's diversity and enterprise, not the least of which is the observation that it is possible to be both a university educated professional woman and a veil-wearing Islamist.

She challenges the young king Mohammed VI to place his trust in Morocco's emerging social democracy and totally disband the Makhzen system created by his father. Her book is a war cry for humane liberal principles, for social involvement, for a vigorously engaged society. Not for a moment does one doubt Marvin Howe's veracity or her deep affection for Morocco.

If she has a flaw, it is her failure to place the challenges of Morocco against the deep-rooted geographical absolutism of North Africa; a land where the best laid plans are destroyed by the unpredictable climate, where a summer rainstorm can prove as equally destructive as drought. She also fails to assess the Moroccan experience against that of her Maghrebi neighbours. For it is salutary to realize that despite the very different political structures of Tunisia, Algeria and Libya and their very different economies (two of which are based on abundant oil revenues) all suffer from the same underlying concerns. Of the power' that sits in the shadow beside the supposed instruments of the state, of massive unemployment, of a lack of water not of land, of a disempowered youth, of the endless debate between the linguistic influence of Europe and Arabia, the underlying rivalry between the cities of the coast and the rural hinterland and the diminished status of the indigenous peoples of the Sahara.

These near insurmountable problems will belittle the achievements of any state, be it Islamist, socialist, a revolutionnary state of the masses, the old Makhzen regime or a constitutional monarchy. As to the bombers of Casablanca and Madrid their concerns are neither domestic nor social. They look to a far distant horizon for their anger, they die as martyrs in the fight against Israel, the USA and its client allies, not for better drains, employment opportunities and access to the world market place.

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