“My Land Knows Me” vs ‘‘The Lost Land’’: An Interview with Filmmaker Rabii El Jaouhari

I found this interview of Rabii El Jaouhari on the Morocco World News site. Rabii El Jaouhari is the director of a new documentary film titled My Land Knows Me which is a response to The Lost Land by the French director Pierre-Yves Vandeweerd. Vandeweerd depicted the Moroccan Sahara issue in a very biased way in his film. This helped to generate many false ideas about Morocco’s history in Europe. As the name suggests, The Lost Land depicted a land that native inhabitants are struggling desperately to try to regain. This is the distorted European view of Sahara conflict. El Jaouhari worked to portray the North African view of the conflict in his new documentary. I found the interview of of the film maker particularly interesting and illustrative of the current situation in the Sahara. It also nicely highlights differences in European and North African thought. Here it is for all Eyes on Morocco readers.

Those who have seen both films noticed that you have not rewritten only the title but stylistic and aesthetic aspects of the French film. How can you explain this?

In his film, Yves Vandeweed constructs the security zone established by Morocco as the wall that separates Sahrawis from their lands and families which urged me in my film to refer more than once to the crimes of the Polisario, particularly those of kidnapping, with the complicity of Algeria the and Spanish media. Through my film, I want to tell the viewers that the security belt came to stop these crimes that were extensively practiced during the seventies and eighties under the European media blackout.

So, I rewrote the film of Yves Vandeweed by giving a voice to the activist Mustafa Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, to explicitly reveal many sensitive issues that were ignored by the Spanish and European media, such as the recruitment of children, the violations of human rights, and the involvement of Boumedienne and Gadhafi in these abuses. Through the story of Mustapha, I pointed out to the issue of freedom of expression within the camps; an issue raised by Mustapha was kidnapped and tortured due to his public support to the Moroccan resolution.

The movie ‘The Lost Land‘ separates the sound from the image, silencing its voice, as it does with the identity of the land through testimonies of people whose names are unknown, which leads us to question the credibility of the film’s content. We do not even see those people while speaking, which form an obstacle between the viewer and the theme. Such fallacy was justified by an aesthetic choice of the filmmaker, which he explained to European journalists. But, this approach was not robust and only resulted in forming a gap in the film. In my film, however, my main concern was to give voice to Mustapha Salma, producing an image to break all the barriers set up by the French filmmaker.

What are the main difficulties you faced while shooting your film?

First, I would like to mention that it was too difficult for me to enter Mauritania with my camera and professional equipment, so I had to use my mobile phone. Besides, I did not get the shooting license from the Moroccan Film Centre (CCM) on time. However, my mobile recording gave credibility and realism to the film, demystifying all the prejudices in the French film ’The Lost Land‘. Apart from some shots taken from Youtube, others were shot with a small 3ccd camera with the absence of lighting and sound equipment due to the refusal of Moroccan Cinema Center to fund my project about Mustapha Salma. These difficulties do categorize my film within the trend of “Imperfect Cinema”. It also has something to do with “Third Cinema,” which is characterized as works filmed with modest equipment and which tackle the marginalized themes.

Who are ‘My Land Knows Me’ interviewees?

My film traces the story of Mustapha Salma through interviews with Spanish, Polisario, and Moroccan interviewees. The points of view of Bouchraya Byoun, the Polisario representative in Spain and their former minister, the Spanish former minister, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and the journalist Ignacio Samprero, (who is known for his articles supporting the Polisario stance) are all presented in the film to provide different and contradicted attitudes to the viewers. These interviews reveal the complicity of Spanish media and journalists as illustrated by Ignacio Samprero’s words.

Don’t you fear criticizing the Moroccan Film Center?

No, simply because the CCM has already stripped me of any support. This, by the way, made people in charge at the CCM think that I might stop working on my documentary, which definitely wasn’t the case. I can use my knowledge about cinema trends that struggle against the odds and use modest equipment and ways to depict reality. The proof is what’s now happening regarding the Arab Spring and how the mobile videos compensate the professional camera that requires permissions and expensive equipment.

Interview of the Director Rabii El Jaouhari

Interview was conducted by Yassmine Zerrouki and editing done by Benjamin Villanti


Morocco’s trailblazing female golfer is going for Olympic gold

In early February of 2012, CNN published an article about Maha Haddioui, the first Arab woman to compete in a professional golf tournament. Maha Haddioui was born in Morocco and desires to pursue Olympic gold in Brazil. Golf will return as an Olympic sport in 2016 after an absence of more than century from the Olympic line-up. Haddioui’s life ambition is to follow in the footsteps of Morocco’s legendary middle-distance track and field athletes and bring Olympic glory back to her home nation. In an interview with CNN she stated

We have had some great Moroccan athletes like Hicham El Guerrouj that have made the country proud, and my dream is to follow in their footsteps.

Maha Haddioui is the first Arab woman to play golf in a professional tour event. She aims to earn her card on the Ladies' European Tour and LPGA in the United States.

Haddioui described her upbringing in the interview and stated that she was fortunate to be raised by a liberal family who did not insist on the traditional dress code. She was able to practice on a local golf course near their home in Agadir. Haddioui’s aptitude earned her support from Morocco’s ministry of sport. She then spent four years playing golf at Lynn University in Florida and earned accolades as a top-ranked NCAA Division II women’s golfer.

Her graduation from college in the United Stated coincided with the events of the Arab Spring last year. Haddioui stated her opinions about the events in Morocco stating

I am a big supporter for freedom and peaceful change. We had a couple of peaceful protests in Morocco which have led to major changes in the constitution of the country, but we have enjoyed our freedoms in Morocco for decades.

As a teenager, Haddioui would spend up to 10 hours per day practicing on her home course in Agadir.

I think that Maha Haddioui is a great role model for Arab women. She represents an empowered generation of women able to work hard to pursue their dreams. Haddioui’s success also indicates the freedom that women possess in Morocco. King Mohammad VI has addressed women’s rights throughout his reign and has helped to decrease gender inequalities. Many of the gender divides and inequalities in Morocco continue out of tradition. Haddioui stated that she was lucky to be raised by a liberal family. Her family’s supported allowed her to practice her sport and enter avenues where women had been historically restricted. One hurdle that remains for Morocco women is to overcome family traditions and deep-seeded societal practices. The King supports increased rights for women but now it is time for society to embrace these ideas. Strong female figures like Maha Haddioui will certainly facilitate this process of acceptance.

To read more: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/02/07/sport/golf/golf-morocco-haddioui-olympics/index.html

Proposal to have “National Chastity Day”

About “Chastitiy Day initiative stirs controversy in Morocco”- from Morocco World News: http://moroccoworldnews.com/2012/02/chastity-day-initiative-stirs-controversy-in-morocco/29364

Recently, a prominent Moroccan religious leader has called for the Moroccan government to support a new initiative aimed at cultural reform. Sheikh al-Idrisi Abu Zeid, Qur’an expert and leading member of the Islamist-oriented “Justice and Development” party and the al-Tawhid wa al Islah (“Monotheism and Reformation”) organization, calls for one day out of the year to be dedicated to the promotion of chastity.  According to Idrisi, this day will aim to counteract all the “unchaste phenomena” that has allegedly been invading Moroccan society lately/

Some researchers, such as sociology researcher Mohammad Boulouse, believe that one day out of the year will not be enough, stating that “we need campaigns that would last for weeks and months in order for chastity to become part of our society again and to counter all phenomena that are stranger to all society,” to Al Arabiya news channel.  Boulouse then went on to cite various examples within Moroccan society, such as films, TV channels and programs, festivals, and artistic expressions that are aimed at “sexual arousal” and indecency.

He also stated that “there should be a focus on curbing sexual desire and abstaining from all lustful actions,” according to Al Arabiya.

However, Islamic studies researcher Saeid Lakhal argues that the Tawhid and other movements advocating for the establishment of a “National Chastity Day” are interfering with the burgeoning cultural and artistic scene in Morocco, directly following a new electoral victory for the Justice and Development party.

He recently told Al Arabiya: “The movement and the party have always objected to festivals and cultural activities to no avail. Now they think they can do what they haven’t been able to do for years.”

According to Lakhal, the statements made by Idrisi and other party members, are intended to investigate how the Moroccan people and civil society might react.

In my opinion, the movement and the statements made by Idrisi are intended to examine exactly how Moroccan society will react; it is almost at if Idrisi and his movement’s supporters are far they can go until Moroccan society becomes privy to their deception.  Idrisi is party of the Justice and Development party, the same party that Prime Minister Benkirane is part of.  There is no doubt that his recent electoral victory, indicated to the party that the Moroccan public would endorse and accept the party that promised to completely fix the recent wave of unemployment.  Benkirane, his party, and the government have failed to do this, slipping away with a mere 1 percent point reduction in unemployment since the September 2011 election.  Still, now that his party has taken the Executive Branch, Idrisi, is taking advantage of its position in Moroccan Politics and advocating for a law that is clearly intended to infringe on the artistic rights of Moroccans.  Idrisi, much like his newly elected party, is well aware that the recent electoral victory could indicate a willingness by the Moroccan public to follow the party back in time.

Arab Art as an Early Indicator of Revolution

The New York Times published an article on October 5, 2011, about how looking back on Moroccan art and other Arabic art from the last decade can show the unrest that the people have been feeling. The works of art leading up to the Arab Spring revolution are truly moving and full of meaning. These works of art from the 2000s are great predictors of what was to come in 2011. The article goes on to discuss the depictions of true emotions in these works of art and how they indicate the future of revolution.


The article focuses on the Marrakech Art Fair, held in September and October of last year in Morocco. At this fair, the work of Moroccan photographer, Hicham Benohoud, was featured prominently. Here is the photograph that the article is centered around:

photograph of a child, physically tied to and trapped in his environment

Benohoud’s photography, along with the other works of art at the fair, capture the  yearning and longing that Moroccans have been developing over the past decade. Benohoud features children tied to their surroundings in his works; he is representing the entrapment that Moroccans experience in their society.

another photograph by Hicham Benohoud, featured at the Marrakech Art Fair

Here is another photograph from the show, featuring a Moroccan man and woman filled with yearning. The Marrakech Art Fair was a great predictor and indicator of the revolution that followed.

The works on show position Arab artists, whose desire for freedom was strongly reflected in their works, as visionaries of the changes these countries were to undergo.

Rapper’s Imprisonment Tests Moroccan Reforms – NPR

I found this NPR sound bite which compliments Christie’s post from 2/18/2012. The video further suggests that the rapper’s arrest was set up by the government to silence the young musician ‘s outcries against the government. Many of the rapper’s fans are outraged by the arrest and speaking out. I think the Moroccan government made a mistake in arresting  El-Haqed, or “the defiant one.”

Karim Tazi, a businessman and political activist, believes in a government conspiracy against El-Haqed. He stated,  “This case is a high-profile case. It’s a symbolic case. He’s only an artist — and they want to silence him.”

El-Haqed’s trial will test the new government’s revamped justice system. Human-rights groups have urged the new ministers of justice to carefully investigate all charges against the rap star. The Moroccan justice system needs to be extremely careful with how they handle the rapper’s trial because the freedom of El-Haqed is extremely important to the young people who have been leading the protests throughout Morocco. Wrongful imprisonment will only incite more riots and protests in the country.Tazi further illustrates this point with his suggestion that,

“If they free him, he is going to come back and sing again. If they keep him in jail, they are adding fuel to the anger of the movement and bringing the movement back to life, so they are losing anyway.”



Both traditional and modern styles of clothing are deemed socially acceptable in Morocco.

I found this article particularly interesting as I am fascinated by the role of women in Arab society and culture. Moroccan society seems to be unsure of the role women should play. King Muhammad has certainly supported womens’ rights throughout his reign as king. Women enjoy more freedom than they did prior to 1999. This is evident in the workplace where women have begun to enter professions normally reserved for men. Women in Morocco can serve as pilots, judges and even murshidat (religious preachers). Traditionally the role of murshidat has been strictly reserved for men. Morocco is one of the only Muslim countries where women can serve in this role. While women in Morocco can pursue a wide array of professions, a recent UNICEF study indicated that Moroccan women make 40% less than men with similar degrees and positions.

I found it surprising that the author notes that an increasing number of Moroccan women are wearing the hijab (headscarf/veil). One reason the author gives for this shift is post 9/11 backlash against Muslims. In Morocco, the hijab is not a symbol of oppression. Women who chose to wear the veil perceive themselves as modern, educated and even emancipated. The streets of Morocco are filled with women wearing modern, western-style clothing and women covered in the traditional hijab. Both styles of clothing are deemed socially acceptable.

The structure of the Moroccan family has also evolved to mirror the times. In the sixties, the divorce rate began to rise in Morocco until it reached 50% in the eighties. Divorce rates remained elevated until enforcement of a new family code in 2004. The new family code, sponsored by King Muhammad VI, forces husbands to pay alimony to their ex-wives and helps to guarantee fair treatment of women after a divorce. Before 2004, women could be left in dire economic situations following a divorce.  I think that the treatment and view of women in Moroccan society has greatly improved in recent years. This change has been largely catalyzed by King Muhammad VI’s policies that support gender equality. Women in Morocco exhibit many more freedoms than the majority of women in the Arab world. With this said, there is room for improvement and Moroccan employers need to address the startling pay discrepancy between men and women.


Moroccan Architecture and Art

Moroccan Architecture

This is an example of the typical Moroccan courtyard.The architectural styles of Morocco are revered for their extraordinary beauty, and reflect a diverse, cosmopolitan cultural fusion. The indigenous people of Morocco are the Berbers, who have lived in the land since at least 200 B.C. Yet, Morocco has also been occupied and ruled by other countries, including the Portuguese, the Arabians, the Spanish, and the French.  As a result, Morocco’s art and architecture have been influenced by the artistic trends of various cultures. Here is another Moroccan Courtyard

In many Moroccan cities, including Fez and Tangier, there is a quarter called the medina, or the old city.  This area of the city is characterized by its Moorish and Arab-style architecture.  Right next to the medina is the ville nouvelle, or French colonial city; the French colonizers built this section as part of an effort to develop the Moroccan cityscape in the early twentieth century. Here is a riad in Morocco. The two sections contrast each other in both city planning and architectural style.  In the medina, one might see narrow passages and streets that seem unplanned. These narrow streets extend in almost every direction. Interestingly enough, the medina strongly reflects Islamic architecture.

Since 685 C.E., Morocco has been an Islamic state, and thus has been transformed at the architectural and artistic level.  The Islamic architectural influence is apparent in the wide use of horseshoe arches, decorative mosques, and tall minarets. A key concept of Islamic architecture is the enclosed space for living and dining; derived from desert life, the idea was that one would be protected from a potentially hostile climate.  As a result, one will find the fountains, gardens, and decorative elements within the confines of the building, rather than surrounding the building (as one might observe with European architecture).  In Islamic architecture, the building is considered a part of the environment. As a result, private gardens and homes in the medina, called riads, usually have enclosed courtyards with gardens and pools. Because the medinas have their roots as virtual city-states that were built throughout Moroccan history, towers and crenellated walls typically surround them. These architectural elements protected against invasion, and are still present within the Medinas today.  The ville nouvelle has a very different architectural style to it; wide boulevards and grid-like streets characterize this part of the Moroccan city.

Moroccan Visual Arts

Moroccan wall decoration
Moroccan visual arts reflect a deep commitment to complex geometry, floral patterns, and calligraphic designs of simple, pastel colors. Because Islam prohibits the representation of people and animals in art, the use of abstract patterns and calligraphy are popular, and help focus the viewers mind.  At any medersa (Islamic universities), one will find calligraphic patterns carved in wood and stone, most of them taken from the Koran.  The backgrounds of these carvings are of incredible geometric complexity.  Walking through the Medina, one might also find complex tiles, called zellij mosaics, covering public spaces and furniture.  The riads, gardens and palaces, and medersas (Islamic universities) have inspired many artists, including western artist Delacroix and Henri Matisse. Moroccan artists today, such as Ahmed Cherkaoui and Hassan Slaoui, have seen a flourishing international status.

Ahmed Cherkaoui's Work

Hassan Slaoui's Work