To Let the Young and the Old, the Past and the Future Meet and Discuss

A Ben M’sik and Tangier Stories Exchange Project

Stories Exchange Project Morocco is working to help realize the potential for social and economic development in an historic linking voiced on June 17, 2011 by His Majesty Mohammed VI. “Constitutionalizing the Amazigh [Berber] language as an official language of the Kingdom alongside Arabic,” the King recognized the dynamic interdependence of Morocco’s diverse cultural-linguistic traditions. And he simultaneously expressed a keen desire for young Moroccans “to learn the world’s foremost international languages within the framework of a coherent strategy that would bolster national unity.”

The Prague-based first round of the Stories Exchange Project was about learning to live with cultural differences. The Project focused primarily on building better relations today among members of the Romani (Gypsy) minority and the Czech majority in order to help overcome widespread minority unemployment and prevent violations of civil rights. Our work with leaders and members of the Czech Jewish community on their first-hand experience of the Holocaust was designed to provide incentive for all citizens of a new post-Communist democracy to develop mutually beneficial respect for people of all backgrounds.

Stories Exchange Project Morocco is working with young and older Moroccan men and women of diverse backgrounds to develop skills in communication and cooperation with others: practical, hands-on knowledge which should help them get jobs and start their own enterprises and projects for bettering the conditions of life in their communities. Three – and in some cases four – generations of men and women who grew up in rural regions as well as cities in Morocco will collect stories from their families and neighbors. These will be stories about their own experiences of overcoming difficulties: not only by taking the initiative themselves, but also by seeking advice and cooperation from family members, neighbors, and men and women of different backgrounds whom they have met as fellow students or at work. Project participants will then work together to develop public performance-discussions of these stories: adaptations of halqa, the traditional Moroccan form of participatory popular theater, which can engage audiences throughout the country in discussing the stories and adding their own.

These presentations will also counterpoint and energize stories of productive interaction among people of different backgrounds today with stories about the personal example for such mutually beneficial partnerships which was set by the grandfather of Mohammed VI.

This component of the work will be a focus of 70th anniversary commemorations in January 2013 of an extraordinarily influential personal conversation in Casablanca. On 22 January 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt invited the future Mohammed V, then Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef, to dinner at his villa. It was on his own initiative and repeated insistence that F.D.R. hosted the Moroccan leader, and the President worked out a seating arrangement with his naval aide which would allow him maximum opportunity to speak frankly with his guest of honor. The young Sultan had himself already given far more extensive demonstrations of personal initiative in negotiating the complex political situation of what was then French Morocco. He had skillfully staged his own commitment to ensuring that – as his own deeply felt understanding of Islamic tradition demanded – Moroccan Jews would continue to be recognized as full-fledged citizens of Morocco by the Vichy French government of the Protectorate as well as by their fellow Moroccans. The American President knew of these efforts, and his special assistant and close friend Harry Hopkins would tell Grand Vizir el Mokhri on the following day, the Jewish Sabbath, that F.D.R. considered his guest of honor on that Friday evening “a man of character and force… a great man.”

It was in the context of this respect for his guest that the President made his proposal to Mohammed ben Youssef at table on 22 January. He suggested that after the war Moroccans and Americans could form mutually beneficial partnerships. American technical experts, he said, could help train farmers and entrepreneurs to develop the agricultural productivity of Morocco and to improve the lives of all its citizens. This would be done in the spirit of the New Deal, with which he and his Administration had led the United States out of massive unemployment, social and political fragmentation, and widespread despair caused by the global Depression. According to Hassan II, who, at fourteen, had also been a guest on that Friday evening at Dar es Saada, this conversation helped galvanize his father’s sustained campaign for Moroccan independence – to be achieved thirteen years later.

January 2013 should provide opportunities for Moroccan and American leaders and members of business and civil society organizations as well as government agencies to have their own conversations over dinner. At that time they can present and discuss examples of how citizens as well as leaders today are beginning to realize F.D.R.’s projections of Moroccan-American cooperation in bettering the lives of people on all economic levels. One of these examples will be the partnership that the Stories Exchange Project is developing with the Ben M’sik Moroccan-American Studies Program and Community Museum at Hassan II University, Mohammedia, and the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.

In May 2012 OBIE Award-winning playwright Robbie McCauley, Artistic Director of the first Prague round of the Stories Exchange Project, will begin training men and women in Casablanca and Tangier to collect, analyze, and present effectively stories told by their families, neighbors, and colleagues. These will be stories about various kinds of informal partnership which they have themselves begun to develop with friends of many backgrounds. Presentations of the stories will also include responses by participants and members of their communities to the continuing inspiration embodied by Mohammed V’s own theatrical, even halqa-like demonstrations of commitment to all his subjects.

The work-in-progress generated by the Ben M’sik and Tangier teams in May will be further developed in the two cities for presentations in January 2013, and documented for television and Internet dissemination.

These media programs will re-articulate in contemporary terms the pragmatic mutual respect voiced by the President and the Sultan in January 1943. They will demonstrate the capacity of members of local communities to improve the quality of their own lives by working with people of diverse backgrounds, traditions, and experience.

Such programs can in turn help inspire further development of home-grown, participatory, neighborhood-based projects: state-of-the-art counterparts to the expert-driven technical partnerships in agriculture discussed seven decades ago by two artistically gifted, spiritual as well as political and social innovators.


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