A tumultuous history between the two countries will serve as the backdrop for the football game as Morocco takes on France in the semifinal of the Fifa World Cup in Qatar.
The majority of present-day Morocco was a French colony from 1912 to 1956. Even though Morocco is an independent country today, French colonialism is still felt in a number of aspects of Moroccan politics and society. The relationship between the two countries is still warm yet contentious.
The Indian Express examines the historical setting of tonight’s football game and how Morocco’s incredible run in the competition is already a metaphorical victory over neocolonialism.
A cultural melting pot that captured the world’s imagination
Morocco is a mountainous nation at the northernmost point of Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and it lies beyond the westernmost point of the Sahara desert. The Moroccan football squad is known as the “Atlas Lions” because of the Atlas Mountains, which stretch over its entire length.
Morocco boasts a unique blending of Arab, Hispanic, and French influences, among other civilizations, due to its location at the meeting point of Europe and Africa.
Morocco’s picturesque countryside, unspoiled coastline, and vibrant towns have long caught the attention of tourists, with the ancient city of Fez serving as the country’s cultural and spiritual hub.
French rule and cultural influence
Until 1912, the Moroccan sultans were able to fend off direct European colonisation, but since the start of the 19th century, Spain and France have been competing for influence in the area and slowly eroding the sultan’s authority. The majority of Morocco fell under French rule in 1912, with Spanish Sahara to the south and a minor protectorate of Spain on the country’s northernmost tip.
Through the Sultan’s symbolic authority and a European-style bureaucracy that exercised varied degrees of real power throughout the country, the French were able to control over Morocco. The plan was to maintain the Moroccan ruling class so that it could continue to exercise real power without facing significant public opposition. Building new planned cities and “Europeanizing” Morocco were the French’s main priorities.
Morocco’s anti-colonial struggle
Ideas of liberty and equality that were absent from the ostensibly tranquil and scenic French colony were introduced with French schooling. France used the classic “divide and rule” strategy, putting the indigenous Imazighen people (also referred to as Berbers) against the Arabs, who had migrated to the area over centuries of Arab control and invasion. This was done as nascent nationalist feelings expanded throughout the country.
However, increasing anti-colonial sentiments that evoked a past whose symbols were very much a part of the present were unabated by this ruse. Because France chose to rule via the old elites of the area, the ruling class was preserved, and by World War II, the Sultan had become a symbol for nationalists.
Morocco experienced both danger and promise as a result of the War and the fall of France: on the one hand, France, its colonial overlord, was itself occupied by the Germans; on the other hand, American and other allied forces quickly arrived in Morocco and used the country as a base of operations. Short-lived was the hope that Morocco would gain independence after the War. Although independence appeared to be a foregone conclusion, it would take a deliberate effort during which the blatant inequities of colonial authority would occur more frequently.
Morocco’s journey with continued French dominance
Many parts of Moroccan life are heavily influenced by France, even decades after Morocco gained independence. The former colony continues to receive the most foreign investment from France, who also enjoys travelling there. Morocco and France continue to have a close connection despite problems due to Morocco’s economic dependency on France and its sizable francophone population. Many Moroccans now view the French more favourably as the visceral anguish of colonisation recedes deeper into history.
The outlines of Morocco’s relationship with France, however, frequently mimic the hierarchies of former colonies. For instance, a large portion of Moroccan manufacturing is financed by French investors, with earnings flowing to them rather than to locals. Morocco has also been a NATO and French concern. Morocco is a sovereign country but France’s hold over it remains strong.
Brain drain: a pernicious outcome of colonialism
Five million Moroccans are thought to be living abroad at this time, with the majority of them concentrated in France and other parts of Europe. According to a 2018 study by Morocco World News, 91% of Moroccan professionals between the ages of 35 and under are considering leaving their country in search of better living and working conditions.
Colonialism has long been recognised by academics as the primary cause of such labour mobility. Migration across many former colonies is fueled by both the conditions imposed by colonial rule and the global capitalist economy, which continues to divide the world along former colonial lines into a Global North and South. And Morocco is no different.
It is straightforward to tell the colonial migration macroeconomic story: developed nations (most often erstwhile colonisers.
The Moroccan football triumph against “footballing brain drain”
This World Cup has been as much a success for Moroccan soccer as it has been a victory over the “brain drain” in soccer. Many of Morocco’s major players were raised as footballers even if they were born outside of the country. Players like Hakim Ziyech, Noussair Mazraoui, and Sofyan Amrabat were reared in the Netherlands, while Romain Saiss and Soufiane Boufal were born in France. Achraf Hakimi was raised in Spain. 16 of the squad’s 26 players were either born abroad or spent part of their upbringing elsewhere; coach Walid Regragui was born in Paris.
It is already a win that all of these players represent Morocco and not the nations to which they or their parents emigrated. Many African countries have had difficulty luring such talent. In reality, France’s rivalry with Morocco serves as the best illustration of this. Players having origins outside of France, most frequently in one of its many colonies, make up nearly all of the French team. The 2018 World Cup winning team was praised as an illustration of France’s inclusivity and diversity.
However, the fact of how African nations failed to benefit from the talents of their most gifted players is hidden beneath the comforting tales of Guinean Paul Pogba scoring for France in the World Cup final or Mali’s N’golo Kante managing the French midfield. This is, in many respects, the tale of African football. Even though football is the most popular sport on the continent, the top African footballers are frequently either born outside of Africa or are sent there as young children after being discovered by European scouts. As a result, African teams continue to be poorer.