The well-known Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui has emerged into the public sphere to question the implications of a new report about the necessity to give the Moroccan dialect—darija—a more prominent place in the early stages of a Moroccan’s education. Darija is what people in Morocco speak at home and in the streets; but once in the classroom, they are forced to learn in classical Arabic (fussha) or French. The kids, and later Moroccan citizens, remain spread across two or more language systems—one for everyday life and the other(s) for business and/or cosmopolitan connections.
In this show, Laroui is debating Nourredine Ayouch, president of the foundation that issued its recommendations to the government. At times, and most ironically, he switches to French to find the right expressions. He seems to agree with the basic premises of the report, but warns that adopting the darija as a national language would turn Morocco into a cultural ghetto, disconnected from the global language of Arabic, spoken by more than 300 million people. Ayouch, however, keeps insisting, with good humor and a charming use of the darija, that the darija is the language of creativity in Morocco. He should have mentioned that Turkey did the same thing earlier in the 20th century—it cut its ties with Arabic and the Arabic script and grew into an economic and political powerhouse in the decades that followed. Turks remain Muslim, but they have left much of their Arabic past behind. German is mostly spoken in Germany and a few pockets here and there; yet Germany is a power on all fronts.
To say that the language issue in Morocco is charged would be an understatement. People of Laroui’s generation and education are more Francophone than Arabophone; Islam claims that the Koran, revealed in Arabic, is the word of God. But there is not doubt that Morocco has yet to consecrate its national language, one that speaks to Moroccans.
This, at least, was my view in 2004 when I first wrote about this issue.