Prejudices are the things best shared between Morocco and Algeria

The famous phrase of Descartes — “common sense is the best shared thing in the world” — does not apply to Moroccans and Algerians these days. They take pleasure in their mutual prejudices and arguing over couscous, kaftans, zelliges, or even the figureheads of their common history: Tarik ibn Ziyad, the Almohades, ibn Batouta, and so on... They sink a past tense in breakable skins of the discontinuous present. The two countries have a common fabric: Families, tribes, zaouias, traditions, dialects, and customs overlap and interpenetrate. But some of the opinion makers in both countries are so blinded by the prism that distorts immediacy that they refuse to see the obvious.

Moroccans are outraged to see zellige patterns — even though they are from Tlemcen — on the jerseys of the Algerian football team, and a manager working for anAlgerian airline is sacked for having distributed leaflets referring to Moroccan architecture. There is incontestably a misinterpretation of historical facts and of the solicitation of phenomena in a way that is detrimental to the reason and to the complexity of the history.

The confusion often stems from the fact that the word 'Maghreb' in Arabic means both ‘Maghreb’ and ‘Morocco.’ Thus ‘Bab al Maghariba,’ the door to the mosque of al Aqsa, means both ‘North African’ and ‘Moroccan’ in Arabic.

Morocco is evidently not a replica of Algeria, nor is Algeria a replica of Morocco — and each of the two countries has its own particularities, both culturally and historically; but that cannot be a reason to reject the common past and the common thread.

The evidence is likely to shock more than just one. Once, the chamberlain of the Moroccan Royal Court caught me scrutinising the moulded stucco in the enclosure of what is called ‘Qubbat Annasr,’ the emblem of Moroccan sovereignty — that is to say, a place where major decisions and ceremonies take place. It was during a time when I officiated in the mysteries of Moroccan power. “Where does this stucco come from?” the chamberlain asked me? “From Tetouan,” I hastened to reply; “it differs from the chiselled style of Fez.” “Error,” retorted the chamberlain, “it comes from Tlemcen,” adding that it was the Fqih Al Maamri who had brought back the maallam of Tlemcen, in the ‘30s of the past century, to put the moulded stucco which makes the ornament of the Qubbat Annasr. The Fqih Al Maamri, who was director of the Royal Cabinet and tutor of the princes, was from Kabylie in Algeria. He had accompanied the reign of Mohamed V and was, the day after Morocco gained independence, appointed prime minister of the Royal House.

It is likely to startle sensitive minds to discover that the prime minister of the Royal House was Algerian and that the person in charge of protocol — in this case, Kaddour Benghabrit — was a native of Tlemcen. At the same time, the first president of independent Algeria — in this case, Ahmed Ben Bella — was of Moroccan origin, from the vicinity ofMarrakech. We could have fun listing the Algerian politicians who have had high office in Morocco — and vice versa; we would not end it. Quite a normal phenomenon between two neighbouring countries and two peoples who descend from the same stock, and are pretty much the same people.

Not only do Moroccans and Algerians share the same customs, but they are also pulled down by downward trends and sociological movements so similar that they differ only in their degree and not in their nature.

One might also be surprised to see that a Moroccan from Rif has more in common with a Kabyle than he has with a fellow citizen of Marrakech — and that a Fassi shares more similar habits with someone from Tlemcen than he does with his neighbour in the Atlas. This means that the reality is much more complex and that it will be necessary to demonstrate lucidity to comprehend a complex reality. Moroccans and Algerians have a lot in common. To perceive them as mutually exclusive is a juvenile sin.

Should we remember that two of the historical leaders of the Algerian revolution — Mohammed Khider and Krim Belkacem — rest for eternity in the Chouhada cemetery in Casablanca and that Mohamed Boudiaf lived in Kenitra, Morocco, before assuming the presidency of the high state committee.

Whenever I look at the state of affairs between Morocco and Algeria — not without bitterness — I remember certain passages from 'Son of the Poor' by Mouloud Feraoun when the two brothers turned their backs and were plunged into an irreversible state of feebleness to the great chagrin of their respective children.

Perhaps this squabble over the jerseys of the Algerian team will remind the two peoples of their common past and, above all, of their common destiny.

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