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Recently, I took a trip to Morocco and to be honest, I had no idea what to think before I got there. I had never been to the country before and didn’t know much about it other than the fact that it is a majority Muslim country. I am happy to say that I came away from my trip both impressed by the country and its leadership and hopeful that I can serve as a model for what a successful country in the region can look like.
The country is largely liberalized but there are conservative pockets, so you may see people worshipping at a Mosque or women wearing hijabs, but you are just as likely to see young professionals at a bar or restaurant after finishing a day of work. One thing you see in abundance is women drivers, which is not what some in the United States would expect. In fact, I joked with my daughters – who were surprised bars and restaurants existed in Morocco let alone women drivers - that in Morocco, women not only drive, they give people heart attacks because they are so aggressive on the roads.
Morocco has a King but from what I observed and researched, there is a constitutional monarchy in place with separation of powers. In 2011, the country put forward a new constitution that delineated the powers of the king and that of an elected government. These changes ensured the satisfaction of the February 20th reform movement that was inspired by what at the time was called the Arab Spring. It was surprising for me to learn that Morocco’s government functions in a manner much closer to what you might find in England and the United States than most people probably realize.
In addition to liberalizing the political system, Morocco has also done an excellent job of improving its infrastructure through largely successful public works projects like new ports, modern highways, and fast trains. I was thrilled to be able to call back home and have a conversation on my cell phone while a Moroccan friend of mine drove roads that did not look all that different from what I was used to driving on in the United States. The improved infrastructure also seems to be attracting major titans of industry, as both Boeing and Nissan – for example – have set up shop in the country.
All of those things aside, if I am being perfectly honest, as a Jewish man, I was concerned going to Morocco because as I said, it is a majority Muslim country and I thought it was possible I would be the victim of anti-semitism. But when I got to Morocco, I was thrilled to find that not only did I have nothing to fear, I also had plenty to celebrate. Tens of thousands of Jews attend festivals in the country every year and in Casablanca alone there are 25 active synagogues. The Chabad Rabbi even told me that on Friday nights, Jewish worshippers are often greeted by salutary car honks or “Shaloms” by Muslim Moroccans.
Don’t get me wrong, Morocco still suffers from some of the same turmoil other countries in the region constantly battle: religious extremism and terrorist attacks. But as a whole, not only is the country beautiful aesthetically, it is also beautiful emotionally. To see so many people in that region co-existing peacefully and living normal, happy lives truly warmed my heart and made me optimistic that perhaps peace may one day be possible.
But for the immediate future, it made me realize that Morocco is a country that deserves our support. They are an emerging, stable nation, and one that could be an important ally in that area of the world, which is something we desperately need right now. I look forward to future trips to Morocco and urge our public officials to take a closer look at the many ways in which the nation could be helpful to our interests.