Following Morocco’s fantastic run in Qatar’s recent World Cup tournament, the BBC and The Economist separately ran racist articles on who are the Moroccans and who, more generally, are the Arabs. Both of these outlets were trying to impute that Arabs are mongrels, not quite kosher, not quite house-trained and are fit only to be extras in Humphrey Bogart’s Casablanca or to play all those camel jockeys that meet all too predictable ends as they gallop over all those sand dunes in all those dreary French Foreign Legion movies.
Although Morocco only gained independence in 1956, given that Cleopatra’s family once ruled the roost there and that it was also once a Carthaginian client state, Morocco has quite the back story that those august outlets might like to brush up on.
The real bee in their bonnet seems to be that Arabs, Qatar, Morocco and Saudi Arabia in particular, seemed to have enjoyed good World Cup runs and that Africans, amongst others, are happy for that. The Saudis have reason to be cheerful. Not only, as they were quick to remind the world and his mother, did their team beat Messi and Argentina but, as Ronaldo will now grace their own leagues, they will have something more to cheer about for the next year or so. As the Qataris ran an excellent tournament, that will put some old canards about the Arabs’ organisational abilities to bed.
But what of the Moroccans? Who are these characters who had the gall to challenge France in the tournament’s semi-final after knocking out some other fancied European hot shots along the way? As Morocco’s official Arabic name translates as ‘The Kingdom of the Western Place’, they may be said to be representative of both the farthest Western place (al Maghrib) and places further east, Arab places from the Atlantic to the edges of Arabian Asia, to be precise.
That being so, all Arabs, including the Asian Arabs of Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Qatar, Palestine and Saudi Arabia are quite entitled to also rejoice. As, of course, are the Berber, from whom the name Morocco is derived and who still live in the region.
As are all of Africa for Morocco is the first team in FIFA’s African grouping to have made it so far in a competition Europe, Argentina and Brazil dominate. The thinking with the ultras of Nigeria, Cameroon and Senegal would be, if the Moroccans can make it thus far, so can we and, with luck, a bit further as well. It is a poor show that such thinking is beyond the ken of either the BBC or The Economist but that is where we are.
Although Morocco is an integral part of the Arab world, it is also African, at least as far as FIFA’s organisational structure goes. Not only that but it boycotted the 1976 Olympic games in solidarity with other African countries protesting against apartheid. As Morocco has a respectable record in boxing and athletics at those Games, that was no trivial show of solidarity.
But, to get back to the beautiful game, we have to go back to the 2002 semi-finals to find out the last time non-Europeans or Latin Americans (read Brazil and Argentina),Turkey and South Korea to be precise, made it that far, and no further, as it happens. Although Turkey plays in FIFA’s European sector, it is a transcontinental country located mainly on the Anatolian Peninsula in Western Asia, with only a small portion of its landmass on the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. South Korea is a powerful East Asian country with as little in common with many other Asian countries as Moldova has with Monaco or Morocco has with Malawi.
Morocco, in other words, is not unique., It is not Mars, just one of a large number of countries with a diverse past and an equally diverse present.
England is no different. Though members of its Royal Family have competed in horse jumping and other sports in the Olympics boxing, sadly, has not been among those other sports as that is generally the preserve, not of their Royal Family but of tough English kids from tough towns like Coventry and Sunderland.
But even in boxing, things are not really fair and on the level. Although the Irish have been successful at boxing, they and other privileged competitors enjoy training advantages African and other opponents do not have. Together with the British, Australians and others, they have targeted exotic and esoteric sports that few are interested in and that, with massive investment, medals are there to be won.
Because the Africans and Asians do not, as a rule, enjoy those logistical advantages, victories like those of Morocco at football are all the sweeter, as was Syria’s bitter sweet run in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
And so, to return to who the Moroccans are, they are a country whose football team has helped crack stereotypes for all Africans and Arabs in the recent World Cup tournament and that is something they can be proud about and build upon in coming decades.