The downside of Ramadan TV

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These are the last days of Ramadan, a Ramadan I expected to be a month where I could take a break, refocus and rest. It turned out so different; it has been one of the deadliest months in Syria, Iraq is being destroyed by a different evil and of course there’s the never ending siege and bombardment of Gaza. It is during these times the hours spent in front of a TV set with Arabic channel on increase. The news is raw, gives it to you straight. This and this is happening in Gaza. This and this in Syria. Iraq, Libya…

My Iraqi neighbour had told us many times: “When I get fed up with all the misery on Arab TV stations (it is then when she uses the sentence “Kilshi ta3ban” a lot) I turn to the Moroccan channel. You Moroccans are always dancing and singing, always cheerful, always happy. I always thought there was poverty in Morocco but you guys pretend no one is starving to death and keep dancing. It’s impressive”.

And now again during this holy month, at home I also take refuge in Moroccan TV. The series they show on 2M are simply bad though. But most of the time we’re too tired to pay any serious attention, or I blame it on the sugar rush.

Usually commercials are the right time for a toilet break, or to get yourself something to eat because you finally can. After seeing this one commercial I was happy to read a week later that it was taken off TV. It was a commercial for a big real estate company in Morocco, Adoha. It shows a man trying to get rid of his daughters, whom the man calls ‘fines’, by trying to dump them on the TV presenter. Feminists in Morocco were outraged and soon the commercial was off the air.

It was not the first sexist commercial in Morocco and certainly not the last. For the first time I saw young Moroccan women with a headscarf on Moroccan TV. You rarely see a woman with a headscarf on TV, and when you do, she will be elderly or a maid. See for instance

Morocco is a poor country but (or indeed therefore) one that is extremely sensitive to class and appearances.

This sensitivity, if you will, is very well represented on TV. Commercials for ‘popular products’ will be in the Moroccan dialect, accompanied by cha3bi music. These everyday products like tomato paste, cooking oil or washing powder are all presented in the same way so that they will appeal to the ‘average’ Maghrebi. It is as if this is the only ‘language’ the lower class Moroccan will understand. And I instantly oppose the suggestion this is what the lower class looks like. When you watch the same commercials a couple of times you notice how little attention is paid to making it look good, and how these commercials are all the same every year. The makers don’t invest in making these popular products look appealing. And I have to admit the commercials are so bad it’s hilarious, like serenading cooking oil as if it is a bride. Take a look at

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Then there is this phenomenon where they switch to the French language. On Moroccan TV they will switch to French when the subject is education, cars or loans. Stuff for rich people, at least in Morocco. The people behind these commercials know how to present luxurious products -yes, good education in Morocco is a luxury. They know when your present something in French it will catch the attention of the elite. Of course it must be in French, and here I was thinking Arabic is Morocco’s official language. Imagine this commercial with dakka marrakshi greeting all those new students.  The commercials for private loans are pretty much the same, there’s sentimental music, French being spoken in the background and lots of pretty people. Notice the two women wearing headscarves are elderly. We keep seeing the same thing. Traditional as opposed to ‘sophisticated’:

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I could show plenty more examples. But seeing this on TV hurts. If you see a dark skinned woman she will most certainly be a maid. The Amazigh men and women will all be singing and dancing. They all have straight hair, when God knows half of Moroccan women have curly, untameable hair. Baby commercials present light-skinned babies with preferably slightly blonde hair. On the streets of Morocco you will see a lot of women with a hijab while on TV there are none. It all has to do with an almost schizophrenic attempt to show people what is good, what people are supposed to look like, what a sophisticated person should look like.

In a way Moroccan TV reflects the dictatorial atmosphere in Moroccan society, its intolerance and racism. Telling you that if you’re poor you’re on your own and on TV they won’t even bother to produce amusing commercials for the products poor people are suppose to buy. Which results in that same marginalized group having a low self-esteem and starting to believe what they see on TV: that yes, if you’re not light skinned or don’t speak French you’re not supposed to enjoy a good education at a nice university. This has got everything to do with inequality and how an entire class of people in Morocco are being ignored.

These commercials do not seem innocent to me; they are in a way responsible for maintaining that gap between the poor and the rich. When we start to realise this, rejecting this concept of the elite becomes very important, as is accepting the fact that Morocco is Moroccan. I am looking forward to the day a commercial for a private university will be in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) or in Tmazight. Because that will mean good education is there for everyone.

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