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Casablanca: Is It A Nightmarish City? – Analysis

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Foreigners visiting Morocco are not attracted, in the least, by Casablancai and common Moroccans are always baffled by that attitude and want to know, why on earth, they do not like this modern and sophisticated city, but they, generally, do not get any satisfactory answer. In reality, foreigners seek traditional Moroccan culture, to get to know better the country, its soul and way of life and they are, also, after exotic experiences, which Casablanca is, alas, unable to offer at all.

For the locals, it is the biggest and the most modern city, for visitors it is the noisiest, dirtiest, most chaotic and most crazy place. It reminds them of their bustling big cities, but riddled, on top of that, with more woes, such as: pollution, heavy traffic, lack of transit transportation and complications of modern life, minus attractive traditional vestiges of magnificent millennial Morocco.

By camparison, Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, which is also very modern, is very clean, organized and very friendly. It has an excellent road network, an attractive and functional mass transit transportation system, a lot of greenery, many well-structured and designed malls, beautiful parks and countless cheap eating places, but most importantly it is safe day and night, with places and attractions open around the clock. Foreigners are almost considered as sacred visitors. The local government always makes sure that visitors are well treated, to ensure that they come back over and over. Not far from Kuala Lumpur, there is Singapore, this city-state with a mighty economy where visitors are treated like gods, to say the least, and they always get their money’s worth in accommodation, food, shopping, hospitality and quality of stay.

What Is Wrong With Casablanca?

Morocco's Hassan II mosque.
Morocco’s Hassan II mosque.

What is wrong with Casablanca? Honestly, almost every thing. The city is basically two cities: the coastal part rich and affluent and the surrounding part poor and unruly. The poor work during the day for the rich in their homes, businesses or factories and retire at night in their insalubrious shanty towns to take drugs, watch tasteless TV programs, to while away the time, or just indulge in making babies to have some fun and forget about their daily misery and mistreatment. They are underpaid, looked down at and, often times, loathed by the rich, to say the least. So lots of them, in times of crisis, resort to petty crime to feed their families or just to take revenge on the selfish and hateful well-to-do citizens of the city.

In a word, Casablanca is a bizarre place, not to say a city suffering from schizophrenia and double identity. The national government is more interested in security, bearing in mind, mainly, that in the past it was the hotbed of leftist militantism and in 2003, it was rocked by Islamist terrorism originating from its own belt of poverty, Sidi Moumen’s bidonville. An excellent film was made by Nabil Ayouch on this particular event; It is entitled: “ Horses of God.”ii As for the local government, it is most of the time, embroiled in partisan feuds, a state of affairs that keeps the city development on its back burner, not to mention that often times members will initiate programs that might not be feasible or beneficial for the city, in the long run, but friendly to their own pockets and interests.

As such, the roads are very bad everywhere; full of potholes and the ugly sidewalks invaded by wild car-parking pushing the pedestrians to walk in the roads and, thus, are victims of terrible car accidents given that drivers are careless and have no respect for the walking public.

Greenery is almost inexistant because the blocks of cements of voracious urban developers have duly invaded every possible green space. During the day the city suffocates and asthma is very high among the population, especially the young of age and babies. Traveling during work days from one part of the city to another is almost impossible because of horrendous traffic jams and unpleasant bottlenecks. The city has not planned ahead of time for the increase of vehicles. Some business people make their business decisions while being chauffeured to their companies’ headquarters.

City Of Inhuman And Wild Capitalism

The city is gripped by this modern malady called inhuman capitalism: people want to make money fast at whatever price and in the process they lose their humanity, sense of compassion and the virtue of sharing and become fast- gain zealots: wild, inhuman and terribly dangerous.

Banks, insurance companies, holdings, companies, factories, malls make tons of money fast but spend zero dirham on the social welfare of the city and its people. Worse, they refuse to pay one miserable dirham to the self-appointed car park guardians, they chase beggars or haggle over the daily wage of poor women cleaners. For this and more, the city does not seem to have a soul, in the least. With more construction, it is getting bigger and bigger every day but also wilder, aggressive and uglier.

Most of the big businesses of the country are headquartered in this city: banks, insurances, holdings, companies, factories, etc. and has the biggest port of the country. In a word, Casablanca is the capital of business but also the capital of much poverty and despair.

Aerial view of Casablanca
Aerial view of Casablanca

In short, it is the capital of the Golden Triangleiii of Morocco where wealth is concentrated has as sample of the Morocco of Despairiv in its ranks, but it is, also, the noisiest, ugliest, dirtiest, richest in money but the poorest in compassion, solidarity and responsibility and nobody seems to care about its welfare, aesthetics and functionality. Business leaders, government officials, be they local or national and even some citizenry do not seem to be concerned, in the least, about improving their city’s lot.

Recently some association, surely sponsored by the government, started a bizarre publicity campaign calling the city WeCasablanca and aiming apparently to highlight or improve the image of this big urban center but only by semantics, not action or deeds. However, this campaign does not seem to have viable objectives and feasible programs of intervention, it is merely a campaign of self-glorification, empty in meaning and useless in content.

Humphrey Bogarts’ Casablanca

Poster for the movie Casablanca
Poster for the movie Casablanca

For many Western people the city rhymes with some sort of romanticism represented by the film of Michael Curitz “Casablanca“,v released in 1942, in which a cynical American expatriate Humphrey Bogart (whose famous quotations from the movie remain vivid and eternal quips: “Here is lookin’ at you, kid!” and “Play it again Sam,”) plays the role of the selfless American white male (Rick Blaine) sacrificing himself for his beloved Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa.)

Rick runs a nightclub in Casablanca (Rick’s Café) during the early stages of WWII. Despite the pressure he constantly receives from the local authorities, Rick’s Café has become a kind of haven for refugees seeking to obtain illicit letters that will help them escape to America. But when Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), a former lover of Rick’s, and her husband, show up to his cafe one day, Rick faces a tough challenge which will bring up unforeseen complications, heartbreak and ultimately an excruciating decision to make.
Humphrey Bogart says that he came to the city for the waters, but today the coastal waters of the city are polluted and so is the air and the city is a pale copy of the one encountered in Rick’s Bar.

In today’s Casablanca.it is all about making fast money even if it takes crossing the red lines of legality. The city is morally corrupt and corruption is the name of the game in its wheeling and dealings. So romantic Casablanca is very much a gross joke today, and the city’s image needs mending badly.

A Way Out

The city has the money but does not seem to have the intelligence, the will and the responsibility to restructure itself and organize its drive to become a bountiful and beautiful urban center of Morocco. Today it looks more like Cairo than Paris.

How things can change:

  1. Elect a new local government with a real development plan, selfless spirit and willingness to work hard to improve things;
  2. Evaluate the city needs in infrastructure, housing, employment, welfare and put pressure on businesses to sponsor development programs and not just care about making money;
  3. Central government must come up with an emergency plan to help develop the city and control the local government’s work; and
  4. Link various development programs to an external evaluation and audit scheme whose findings could be used to maintain a given program or drop it and keep a responsible official in place or fire him.

If this approach fails after ten years, the government has to put the city under the authority of general with a precise and clear development program like what happened with Djakarta, the capital city of Indonesia once upon a time.

Casablanca is a great city with great people, a great potential and needs urgently great decision makers, managers and planners to make it move ahead and not empty campaigns with messages of self-congratulation, like WeCasablanca.

Will this materialize? Only time will show.

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

Endnotes:
i. Casablanca (Arabic: الدار البيضاء‎, translit. ad-dār al-bayḍāʾ; Berber; local informal name: Kaẓa), located in the central-western part of Morocco bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is the largest city in Morocco. It is also the largest city in the Maghreb, as well as one of the largest and most important cities in Africa, both economically and demographically.

Casablanca is Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent. According to the 2014 population estimate, the city has a population of about 3.35 million in the urban area and over 6.8 million in the Casablanca-Settat region. Casablanca is considered the economic and business center of Morocco, although the national political capital is Rabat.

The leading Moroccan companies and international corporations doing business in the country have their headquarters and main industrial facilities in Casablanca. Recent industrial statistics show Casablanca retains its historical position as the main industrial zone of the country. The Port of Casablanca is one of the largest artificial ports in the world, and the second largest port of North Africa, after Tanger-Med 40 km east of Tangier. Casablanca also hosts the primary naval base for the Royal Moroccan Navy. (Cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca)

ii. The residents of Sidi Moumen, a sprawling shantytown on the outskirts of Casablanca, Morocco, live in tin-roofed shacks without electricity, running water or modern sewage disposal. The area sits atop a garbage dump where boys run wild in packs and engage in fierce soccer matches that often explode into violence. Aerial shots depict this slum as a fetid, desiccated wasteland, in which the pickings are thin, even for scavengers. To sell oranges in a market for a pittance, you must fight for space.

The boys of Sidi Moumen are the subjects of Nabil Ayouch’s film “Horses of God,” a compelling contemplation of the roots of Islamic terrorism in poverty and hopelessness. On May 16, 2003, 12 suicide bombers from Sidi Moumen, ages 16 to 23, attacked multiple targets in Casablanca, killing 45 people (including themselves) and wounding more than 100.

The movie, inspired by Mahi Binebine’s novel “The Stars of Sidi Moumen,” is not about politics or religion but about poverty and a society steeped in a deadly machismo. In its demystification of these youthful slum dwellers, the film makes their embrace of terrorism frighteningly comprehensible. Because it follows its main characters over 10 years, from childhood into adulthood, it gives their fates a sense of tragic inevitability.

When first seen, Yachine (Abdelhakim Rachid) and his older brother, Hamid (Abdelilah Rachid), are 10 and 13. The volatile Hamid becomes a local hero by tossing a rock at a police car and ends up in prison. When he returns, he is a changed man, having discovered Islamic fundamentalism, with its emphasis on austerity and self-discipline in the service of a greater cause. Yachine, who has always looked up to Hamid as the man of the house, is easily converted.

Suddenly, their lives have a noble purpose. They are expected to die for the glory of Allah, having embraced a cause larger than themselves. Unlike other movies about jihad, “Horses of God,” doesn’t concentrate on the terrorists’ grandiose indoctrination and the rituals of their final meals, prayers and preparations, which can attach a perverse glamour to suicide. Even after Yachine is chosen to lead one operation — the bombing of an Italian restaurant — he is shown shaking with fear, and his eyes do not burn with heavenly fantasies. (Cf. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/movies/horses-of-god-nabil-ayouchs-film-about-islamic-extremism.html)

iii. The Golden Triangle of Morocco starts in Agadir on a soth-north axis and from Casablanca to Fes, on a west-east axis, it comprises, the rich cities, fertile plains, and bountiful mines and othrr ressources. During the colonial period, the French divided Morocco in two Moroccos : Maroc Utile (Useful Morocco) and Maroc Inutile (Useless Morocco) which is merely the center versus the periphery. This in many ways coincided with the other French dichotomy, inherited from imperial Morocco political terminology: blad al-Makhzen (land under government control) and blas as-Siba (land of insurgency) .

iv. The Morocco of Despair is Morocco of poverty, lack of infrastructure and work opportunities, it is made of the Mountainous areas and arid lands inhabited mostly by Amazigh/Berber people. It is a big chunck of the country where illiteracy is very high especially among women and is peopled by peasants whose land is dependent on availability of rain.

vi. Casablanca is a 1942 American romantic drama film directed by Michael Curtiz and based on Murray Burnett and Joan Alison’s unproduced stage play Everybody Comes to Rick’s. The film stars Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, and Paul Henreid; it also features Claude Rains, Conrad Veidt, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Dooley Wilson. Set during World War II, it focuses on an American expatriate who must choose between his love for a woman and helping her and her husband, a Czech Resistance leader, escape from the Vichy-controlled city of Casablanca to continue his fight against the Nazis.

Story editor Irene Diamond convinced producer Hal B. Wallis to purchase the film rights to the play in January 1942. Brothers Juliusand Philip G. Epstein were initially assigned to write the script. However, despite studio resistance, they left to work on Frank Capra’s Why We Fight series early in 1942. Howard E. Koch was assigned to the screenplay until the Epsteins returned a month later. Principal photography began on May 25, 1942, ending on August 3; the film was shot entirely at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California with the exception of one sequence at Van Nuys Airport in Van Nuys, Los Angeles.

Although Casablanca was an A-list film with established stars and first-rate writers, no one involved with its production expected it to be anything out of the ordinary, just one of the hundreds of pictures produced by Hollywood every year. Casablanca was rushed into release to take advantage of the publicity from the Allied invasion of North Africa a few weeks earlier. It had its world premiere on November 26, 1942, in New York City and was released nationally in the United States on January 23, 1943. The film was a solid if unspectacular success in its initial run.

Exceeding expectations, Casablanca went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, while Curtiz was selected as Best Director and the Epsteins and Koch were honored for writing the Best Adapted Screenplay – and gradually its reputation grew.

Its lead characters, memorable lines, and pervasive theme song have all become iconic and the film consistently ranks near the top of lists of the greatest films in history. (Cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casablanca_(film))


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Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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