Thoughts about Morocco

1. Fez is perhaps the place in the world with the clearest continuous connections to the time of late antiquity.  Maimonides and Ibn Khaldun worked there, and walking through the medina that is not hard to imagine — you can dine in a small restaurant in the home of Maimonides (recommended, most of all the vegetables).  Fez has the world’s oldest university, dating from the 859, and the world’s oldest continuously operating library, from 1359.

2. The country has been remarkably stable relative to the rest of the region, whether you take that to be the Middle East, MENA, or Africa.  But the nature of the associated stability lessons remains unclear, read more here.

3 Social capital is higher than it was during my last visit twenty years ago.  That said, every transaction is still a potential swindle waiting to happen.  And if any English-speaking Moroccan climbs into your train cabin, and claims his brother is the most wonderful guide in town and offers up his phone number…simply decline any further contact.  Especially if the guy has a scar on his face.

4. From the OEC:

The top exports of Morocco are Cars ($2.95B), Insulated Wire ($2.46B), Mixed Mineral or Chemical Fertilizers ($1.83B), Phosphoric Acid($1.14B) and Non-Knit Women’s Suits ($1B)…

It could be much worse, but the dangers of premature deindustrialization are real.  Their exports are too dependent on Spain and France, two countries with many other trading partners and also relatively slow growth rates.  Agriculture still accounts for 40-45% of employment.  Tourism continues to grow, but service culture in the country is not top-notch.  They export a lot of marijuana too.

5. The country has the (distant) potential to evolve into an Atlantic economy — check the map — and I don’t just mean the history of Rabat/Salé as a pirate state.  Nonetheless the actual trade of the nation paints it as a Mediterranean economy, and most Mediterranean economies have not done very well lately.

6. Moroccans do not seem very religious.  Counterintuitively, that may be why, when they are living in Europe, they are especially vulnerable to radicalization. They are not already “filled up with belief,” and experience anomie, which is then exploited by terror groups.  Arguably the same is true for Uighurs in China, by the way, who are recruited by the thousands for foreign ISIS crusades and the like.

7. More and more of the country’s gdp is concentrating in and near Casablanca, which is underrated as a visit.  The famous Grand mosque, as Yana pointed out, in fact resembles a cavernous mosque-clock tower-opera house-French railway station, with even some elements of a medieval cathedral.  Not all devout Muslims are happy with it.

8. The best bistillah is in Meknes, where it is moister and less sweet.  In Casablanca I recommend the seafood stalls in the Grand Marché, and the roast chicken joints, always with french fries.


This post has everything I want from a Marginal Revolution post. Really... just fantastic.

Indeed, a fascinating post.


Yes, thank you.

Yup, I must rush to Morocco to eat chicken'n'chips.

For 3, Tyler... Certainly this must be an empirical conclusion. Is there a story?

#4 could use some fleshing out, also. What are the risks? Are they really that large for a country that never actually went through a major industrial phase in the first place?

I assume #3 is a reference to Paul Bowls. Is that a Straussian reading?

Morocco is to phosphorus what Saudi Arabia is to oil. Given that it is essential to life and the gating factor for Earth's biosphere, that's nothing to sneeze at

The textile industry in Morocco sells to Inditex, not Spain. Inditex is headquartered in Spain but sells to 90+ countries.

Really good post. I suspect Moroccos "religiousness" is like its neighbor Portugal, 50 years ago. very conservative (towards women,sex,etc.) but not actually very religious. I think the only thing missing in this post, is that moroccans abroad are really looked down upon. nobody likes them. And while one part is due to the "exports of marijuana", I think their attitudes towards women are the elephant in the room, they seem stuck in the 50s or worse... so no wonder, nobody wants to hire them...Obviously this is also due to the fact these emigrants come from the poorest parts of Morocco...

Interesting. Are their attitudes towards women dated even with respect to the region, or do you mean in comparison to European countries they tend to immigrate to? Do they do a poorer job of integrating than, say, Algerians?

One of my friends is an Algerian (highly educated, has a good job in Western Europe)... but he just got an arranged marriage. Nuff said... I think its a problem in whole region, and its a problem of islam, lets be honest. What were they doing in 1960s ??? I don't know...I am not very familiar with their history.

Edit: I am mostly familiar with the situation in Benelux area. Not sure about France, Spain. But I notice a big percentage of Islamic terrorists is from Tunisia a country in the same region...

"Fez has the world’s oldest university, dating from the 859,"

It seemed to teach mostly Islamic and related subjects since inception, and now a days some language too. From the wikipedia article, "In addition to being Muslim, prospective students of the Qarawiyyin are required to have memorized the Qur'an in full as well as several other shorter medieval Islamic texts on grammar and Maliki law, and in general to have a very good command of Classical Arabic." Moreover, "Teaching is delivered in the traditional method, in which students are seated in a semi-circle (halqa) around a sheikh, who prompts them to read sections of a particular text, asks them questions on particular points of grammar, law, or interpretation, and explains difficult points."

So what exactly makes this a university and not a Madrassa? Just the scale?

Grammar, law, interpretation. Replace Classical Arabic with Latin and it could as well be an European Medievel university. You may have heard of them.

Unfortunately that doesn't answer the question.

You think you need a different word to call the Medieval universities?

"students are seated in a semi-circle (halqa) around a sheikh, who prompts them to read sections of a particular text, asks them questions on particular points of grammar, law, or interpretation, and explains difficult points."

My college classes in Greek and Latin literature followed this model precisely.

Evidently, you studied at a madrassa. So did A. E. Housman and Samuel Johnson.

... just to belabor the obvious, this is roughly the model for most seminars in anything. You have primary texts to learn, and the first pedagogical move is to question students about them.

Anyhing newer than Plato's dialogues is Islamic extremism.

Moroccans do not seem very religious. Counterintuitively, that may be why, when they are living in Europe, they are especially vulnerable to radicalization.

For every other religion, the elite response to fanaticism usually involves attacking (that) religion. For Islam alone, they not only find ways to exonerate it, but also to claim that the problem is with the lack of it.

The pattern is hard to miss: the elites were all for absolute free speech until Islam made them look for more "nuanced" statements, they never credited Christian institutions with developing science but credit so much science and mathematics to Islam, and so on.


Hindu and buddhist contributions to islamic golden age are underrated

I would like an unbiased study of how much of "islamic math and science" were islamic contributions as opposed to mere translations or rehashes of Hindu, buddhist and jewish works.

There used to be an Iranian chap on the internet who insisted that such Golden Age as there was should be attributed to religious minorities and to Persians whose attachment to Islam at the time was pretty light. He seemed to view Arab moslems as capable of little but destruction. But was he right?

A lot of those contributions somehow did come from Persians in central Asia (yes, central Asia used to have many persions, not many of who are left now). But also from places like Algeria, in some sort of mediterranean cultural orbit.

He wa right.

Of course you are right, what with the west still teaching numerals as Arabic numerals.

But they are harsh on their own culture, how does one expect them to do justice to Dharmics? Look at this guy Tom above, he thinks that Christian universities which taught theology and arithmetic and astronomy right from the beginning are at par with a Madrassa from medieval times that continues to teach useless subjects to this day as far as being deserving to be called university is concerned. That is the level of delusion.

Oh, God. "Philosophy is the servant of theology"
The guy talked about LAW, GRAMMAR AND INTERPRETATION. Which apparently put their interests above yours. Sorry, I am not interested in playing identity policy. If you need someone to hold you in on their lap, you will have to ask someone else. Maybe you should ask Indians (and the Chinese) to stop persecuting people celebrating Christmas.

"LAW, GRAMMAR AND INTERPRETATION" - only partially correct. They taught math and science as well.

And funnily enough, immediately after claiming to be uninterested in identity politics, you have done just that.

"The first Western European institutions generally considered universities were established in the Kingdom of Italy, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of England, the Kingdom of France, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Kingdom of Portugal between the 11th and 15th centuries for the study of the Arts and the higher disciplines of Theology, Law, and Medicine."

Because arithmetic, astronomy, geometry and logic were considered arts.

We still do not know if Christians in India should be able to calebrate Christmas without being terrorized by their government and if it is lack of Hindu faith that makes them being terrorized.

Arts redirects to Except for Mathematics, how is it different from Law, Grammar, Text Interpretation? Again, calling it a Madrassa is like calling All Souls or Balliol Anglican seminaries or Bologna a Catholic seminary.


Contrary to the perception you are trying to create, Christmas is well on its way to becoming one of the top 5 Indian festivals, celebrated by many hyper secularized Hindus.

I have many relatives who have Christmas trees in their house. And these are people who hail from orthodox brahmin families.

Dear @shrikanthk: The Christmas issue is not salient to the debate, it is a "Do you still beat your mother?" kind of question,in the sense of being an irrelevant point inserted just to distract.

I get that. But nevertheless a neutral reader can get an incorrect impression about Christmas and India by reading these "irrelevant" comments.

It is important to set things right, even if they are not germane to the debate.

You might check on whether the guy who proved Hindus invented airplanes has a few spare hours to work up this study. He'd be unbiased in the way you want.


Once you distort the other person's position into an absurd absolute, you have lost the argument:

blah - Exactly.

That's as ridiculous as a response can get on MR.

Guys - I am just genuinely curious here. Maybe the Arab Muslims did indeed contribute great things to math and science. Based on my understanding of the period, I am a little sceptical. And I feel the contributions of other cultures have been, in my view, deliberately understated.

Read up these. The Barmakids of Balkh weren't Arabs. They were Buddhist neoconverts to Islam. With a cultural inheritance that had nothing to do with Islam.

'the elites were all for absolute free speech'

Well, when it didn't involve a FCC broadcast license, or jeopardize a media property's advertising stream that is.

'they never credited Christian institutions with developing science'

Yep, and the non-Christian ancient Greeks are completely ignored when highlighting Islam, right? Almost as if it took the Christians a good 1500 years or so to get their science developing institutions cranked up. Oddly enough, roughly at the same time that Christian institutions started losing their ability to control what people thought.

It is a fact that many Christian institutions historically actively contributed to science (just like Muslim institutions did), ignoring that and responding to imaginary accusations doesn't help your case.

'It is a fact that many Christian institutions historically actively contributed to science'

Copernicus might just be wondering about that - 'The astronomer published “De revolutionibus” in March 1543, after more than a decade of revisions. The book included a letter to Pope Paul III arguing the legitimacy of the heliocentric theory. He died two months later.

“De revolutionibus” initially met no resistance from the Catholic Church. It was not until 1616 that the church banned the book. The ban continued until 1835.'

And that from someone trying to point out how the Church was not all that interested in suppressing Copernicus's scientific work.

Christianity has a long history, of course, as does its institutions - would you point out the 500 year stretch where various Christian institutions were not actively involved in trying to suppress science which was considered to be a threat to its faith? For example, you could let us know about the vast number of Christian institutions that supported Darwin's groundbreaking work during his lifetime.

Look, both Christian and Muslim institutions have contributed to science. And both Christian and Muslim institutions have suppressed science. There is no contradiction here, just you mixing issues.

'Look, both Christian and Muslim institutions have contributed to science'

Still not talking about the ancient Greeks, are we? Lots of people have contributed to science over the last 3000 years.

'And both Christian and Muslim institutions have suppressed science.'

Yes, yes they have.

'There is no contradiction here, just you mixing issues.'

Still not talking about the ancient Greeks, who undoubtedly would have fun with your seeming inability to recognize any contractions to what you write, regardless of how nuanced you try to be.

Ancient Greeks (and the fact that they are celebrated) are irrelevant to the point, and present no contradiction.

Also the much bemoaned Christian Dark ages when the Sciences and the Arts stagnated in the Western World also has a lot to do with Islam and the disruption it introduced in the region, which greatly weakened the Byzantine empire and the Mediterranean in general.

Unfortunately this is a topic that is "taboo" for discussion lest you be labeled an Islamophobe.

You were talking about how and if "elites were all for absolute free speech". At least, you pretended to. What you were really talking about was obvious.

"You were talking about how and if “elites were all for absolute free speech”.

Yes, this much is correct. But, doesn't mean my point had anything to do with corporate actions based on revenue stream. Not a good idea to make presumptions based on stereotypes and then call that "obvious".

I see, must another elite. But I am curious. Who are forcing you to make nuanced declarations?

Who would have thought that their top exports would be cars?

Perhaps due to its historical relationship with France, Morocco has 2 French car plants, Renault-Nissan and PSA. Also, its second-largest export, "covered wire," is all wiring harnesses for cars built in Europe. So automotive in total is even more massive in Moroccan exports than the headline OEC numbers indicate. Think of Morocco:Europe as Mexico:USA in terms of being a nearby, "offshore," low cost, relatively stable production platform. Turkey performs a similar role for the EU auto industry, as does/did Thailand etc. for Japan (China is shifting that equation). Wiring harnesses are extremely labor intensive to make, so they are often outsourced to low-wage nations. See short YouTube video: Increasingly there are attempts to automate WH assembly, but so far wires are tricky for robots to handle.

" you can dine in a small restaurant in the home of Maimonides (recommended, most of all the vegetables)"

Not somewhere you would expect a good restaurant (because presumably most of the most diners are there for Maimonides and don't care much about the food quality). How did this one get away? Pure luck?

Kosher, I assume?

In 2010, Morocco also exported some 710 tonnes ofcannabis resin (hash). The streetvalue of 1 gram of hash is currently 9.85 euro. Total street value is thus 7 billion euro, more that twice as much as cars, the nr 1 legal export.

There can only be one conclusion: Morocco is a narco state.

So, little comment re: ethnic cleansing? Ridiculously PC, Tyler.

Ethnic cleansing? Are you referring to their slave raids on SW England, Ireland, and Iceland? But that was stopped about two centuries ago.
Presumably their slaving in black Africa went on longer. But I can't see why either could be classified as ethnic cleansing. I think you'll need to enlighten me.

Suppression of Berbers, explusion of Jews and pied-noirs.

Fair enough. I'd assumed that the Moors largely were Berbers. I associate pied-noirs with Algeria - did much the same thing happen in Morocco?

You're confusing Morocco with Algeria. Algerian Jews were expelled en bloc in 1962. The pied noirs population fled in panic, more or less. Morocco's European population consisted of a rotating corps of civil servants and soldiers (who left when their posts were eliminated) and of a small corps of agricultural colonists (who liquidated their holdings and left in increments between 1956 and 1971). Morocco's Jews did leave for Israel, but gradually over a period of many decades.

Yes, Art Deco,in Morocco at this time there are 2500 Jews (250000 in 1948), in Tunisia 1700 (100000 in 1948), in Algeria virtually 0 (more than one --I know him--, less than 50, to be sure). Many Morocco's Jews went to Israel, but many also to France. In Algeria and Tunisia, the large majority flew to France. Also, what you say of the European population is right. Morocco was not a colony to be populated, like Algeria was, and it never attracted a significant European population (French Tunisia did a little bit more, attracting quite a few Italians).

Something which is difficult to apprehend, about Morocco, is the differences and tensions (if any), between the Arab and Berbere communities. Has our host some light to shed about this?

By bistillah do you mean pastilla? You can find quite good ones within the medina of Fez as well.

Random Spanish towns where you can get a similar feeling as Fez regarding history: Salamanca, Oviedo and Santiago de Compostela. All have medieval universities too, and good food that doesn't travel well internationally.Of those, only Santiago gets a noticeable number of foreign tourists. Architectures can charge starkly within a mile: You are once surrounded by buildings that are over a thousand years old, 4 streets away you see the 18th and 19th century architecture, with all its decadence, and as you walk along, you can see early 20th century brutalism, and, if you look in the right places, the puzzling nonsense of very modern design.

Morocco is a country worth skipping. The people are annoyingly aggressive with large numbers of unemployed young men hanging around looking for mischief. The food is alright, somewhere in the middle of the class by world standards. The sights are generally unremarkable -- some mosques, markets and scenery. As compared to say Egypt the food and general organization are better but the people and sights are much worse. As compared with say Spain, Morocco is deficient in every category. The malicious aggressiveness toward foreigners is unusual for a Muslim country. According to Clifford Geertz, who did some of his fieldwork in Morocco this behavior has gone on for centuries and has to do with their perception of themselves as the farthest western bulwark of Islam, the defender of the faith against the infidels. My recommendation is just to read Geertz and skip the visit. Hard to believe that Morocco will sort out well with high unemployment and not much in the way of industry -- though this has been the situation there for quite some time. Presumably the more able emigrate to Europe & drive taxis or whatever and the rest hang around and pester foreigners.

The share of value-added attributable to Industry in Morocco is 29.5%. That more specifically attributable to manufacturing is 18%. That's quite near the global average.

The country suffers from low labor mobilization. The ratio of employed persons to persons over the age of 15 currently stands at 0.35 (v. 0.44 in Spain and 0.60 in the U.S.). That's bad, but it's not a novelty. The Maghreb's long been notorious for this sort of dysfunction.

+1. Presumably most readers of this blog are men. The harassment of women is particularly bad.

But as Coase might say: sexual harassment is a reciprocal problem. Penalizing men fromcatcalling imposes a cost on cads

Re: Religion in Morocco ... I have just finished reading Rodney Stark's The Triumph of religion, and highly recommend it as a well-researched, statistically focused book on what has been happening in the world, largely, though not totally focused on Gallup survey's since 2000.

Anyway, at the beginning he has the results of the survey questions
1. Did you attend a religious service in the past seven days?
2. Is religion an important part of your daily life?

In Morocco, 55% had attended a religious service. This compared to 46% in the USA, and an average of 58% across Islamic Nations (those with more than 50% of the population Muslim). 95% said that religion was important for their daily life (cf to 66% in the USA and 90% across Islamic nations).

In the comments someone mentioned Portugal, the equivalent figures for that country were 39% and 67%, and for Spain they were 31% and 44%.

> whether you take that to be the Middle East, MENA, or Africa.

Why not "Mediterranean"?

This post is vintage Tyler...

A fascinating development is the emergence of Hindu supremacists on this board - who claim based on a few isolated examples of achievement, status equivalent to the Western model. Or if that is not immediately laughed out of court, a perch above the Muslims, since we know the both the West and the Chinese supercede these historic laggards.

As a westerner, you must first learn to spell "supersede" properly.

Also do learn to use latin words appropriately rather than throwing them about carelessly. "Supersede" (which means "replace" or "supplant") hardly fits in this context.

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