A Little History
oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, is an important religious, intellectual, and cultural center. It is renowned for its traditional crafts and, because of the extraordinary reputation of its religious university, it is known by many as the “Athens of Africa.” The population of Fez, which was 150,000 in 1940, currently stands at nearly a million. It is particularly dense in the medina, Fez el-Bali, and in Fez el-Jdid. The migration of the rural population into the city, combined with rapid population
growth, has made Fez Morocco’s third-largest city.
The city has much to offer in terms of history and culture. There are treasures
everywhere, from the newest cafés of the Ville Nouvelle to the oldest
tanneries hidden in the heart of Fez el Bali. The city doesn’t yield its
secrets easily and exacts a price for every treasure revealed. Fez is not quick
and clean, nor is it easy to navigate. Its physical and social areas take time
to discover and appreciate, and you must be patient and willing to adapt to
often unfamiliar and slower-paced ways living.
Moroccans, led since 1999 by His Majesty King Mohammed VI, move from
ultra-modern to ancient modes of doing things with the same ease and dignity
that they shift from French to Arabic to Berber (and often English and
Spanish). The country’s geographical location within eyesight of
Europe, where hundreds of thousands of Moroccans work, and Morocco’s
recent history have contributed to the cosmopolitan quality of the country
and its people. Furthermore, it is a country of pronounced tolerance, where
foreigners are normally held in high esteem and made to feel welcome.
Traditinal dancer, Fez
like many other countries in the region, is undergoing complex and often
painful socio-cultural adjustments, the ramifications of which are
exacerbated by economic strains, especially unemployment. On a psychological
level, numerous Moroccans, especially the younger generation, are going
through a kind of identity crisis in which they may be simultaneously attracted to and
repelled by Western culture, which translates itself into uneven attitudes and,
at times, moodiness. You are encouraged to show sensitivity and to avoid
articulating too many comparisons between the United States and Morocco. Do not
be surprised if many young Moroccans seem to be pressing you for information
about the possibilities of emigrating or finding work abroad.
Linguistic Situation: |
The linguistic situation in Morocco is both fascinating and confusing. Although you
will be studying colloquial, unwritten Moroccan Arabic, it is helpful to know
what else to expect as far as language is concerned.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Moroccan Arabic (CMA) derive
largely from the same basic source (so-called Classical Arabic), they are in
many ways two distinct languages. MSA is the language of the news media,
written correspondence and documents, literature and formal speeches. As
strange as it might sound, MSA is not a language spoken fluently by the
majority of Moroccans. Though few educated Moroccans have difficulty reading
Arabic and understanding Arabic news broadcasts, few of them feel truly
confident in using it in oral communication. To further complicate matters
for Dartmouth students wishing to practice their CMA outside of class, many
Moroccan professionals have been educated in France or in a French mold, so
that in discussing more intellectual or technical topics, they may have
difficulty expressing themselves without resorting to French. It is not
uncommon for a Dartmouth student trying to make conversation with a Moroccan
in MSA to have unrealistic expectations about chatting in literary Arabic
with the corner grocer-whose native language may in fact be Berber!
also be aware of the typical Moroccan attitude toward CMA: it is not regarded
as a language in the formal sense of the word, and Moroccans may be quite
bewildered by the fact that you are studying it in class. For them, only MSA is
a written language with formal rules and conventions. They may express
astonishment if they see you studying in ALIF CMA course books, and even make
remarks suggesting that CMA is not “real” Arabic. In sum, educated
Moroccans will speak CMA and French, and may be more comfortable in the latter.
They will be able to read MSA and with effort converse in it. Some will know
Berber. They may also know English. Less-educated Moroccans may have
conversational French, English, Spanish, even Dutch, but will be most
comfortable in CMA or Berber.
|Back to the FSP Guidebook Index|