Maghrebian nihilism

April 25 2009

You often hear people in the Maghreb say: “There is nothing for me here. Nothing.” They mean there is no work here. Nothing. They may or may not try to migrate illegally.

There is also a cultural unease. Some uneducated young people have absorbed into their bones the feeling that life is better in Europe, so they can no longer be happy, even for a moment, at home. A few of those will have their minds molested by “religious” leaders.

The unemployment problem is worse with graduates, because they are less likely to find work which is acceptable to them. I knew some when I first visited Tunisia in 1977. Whether or not they had studied in France, they were very well-educated, but sometimes with a chip on their shoulder. They were too good for their own country and Europe wasn’t good enough for them.

One of them was a woman called Dalenda. Her name is common locally and comes from Cato’s Carthago delenda est.

But the restiveness and unease hadn’t affected less educated people. Only occasionally did one feel a tang of bitterness.

Tourists think Tunisia is bland. It may have become so in response to them. Tunis, which is less exposed to tourism than some places, had a prosperous air. It seemed a kind of Nice on the Sahara. I was enchanted by it. The ancient TGM railway followed the line of the suburbs – Carthage was one, each had its own character – on the coast to the north of the city. They were as seductive as they must have been under the Romans.

Direct contact with outside influences made those graduates resentful, but on the whole, the more direct, the better such contact is. What robs less educated people of peace of mind is the vague sense that things are better elsewhere, combined with economic hardship. They start living between two worlds, one of them imaginary.

Most cultures are better than the Maghreb at protecting people from that sense and are further away from what is still called the developed world. North Africa is very close to Europe.

From a BBC story about graduate unemployment in Morocco:

“‘I’m 35, I have a PhD in physics, and I can’t get a job,’ complains Ali.

‘I’m very old, I’m not married, I don’t have my own house, I don’t have anything.

‘I’m thinking of leaving this country, because here I am nothing.’” Not “I have nothing”. “I am nothing.”

Nothing. It is, literally, nihilism.

“‘I’m a pessimist now,’ says Ali.

‘Life in Morocco is very hard. There is no light here, no light.’”

Here is some film from a 2007 ITN news source showing blind unemployed Moroccan graduates chaining themselves to the railings of the Parliament building in Rabat to demand more public sector jobs. The following is abbreviated.

“Abdelhak Harmouch, a member of Morocco’s National Committee of Blind Unemployed Graduates, said the protesters had resorted to the drastic measure after more peaceful protest means proved ineffectual. Morocco suffers from mass unemployment with around one million of Morocco’s 30-million population officially unemployed. [That is only the same rate as in the UK.] Joblessness is especially high among graduates after state payroll cuts led to a dearth of public sector jobs. A university degree provides no guarantee for a job and many well-educated Moroccans can remain jobless for years after they finish university. In desperation, some of them try illegal immigration, mainly to Europe, where they hope job prospects will be better. Local human rights organisations and trade unions are fully behind the various organisations representing the unemployed graduates. They believe that with good governance, the state could create jobs for the graduates.”

More protests, Chomeurs de Maroc.

I was once in a taxi in Tunis and told the driver that I liked the city.

“But, of course, there are problems,” I added, just to give some light and shade. To show that I was serious. He turned round to me, startled. He hadn’t been infected by nihilism. “Problèmes, quels problèmes?

My view of Hassan II is reflected here.

Hittistes and clandestins

3 Responses to “Maghrebian nihilism”

  1. Nayim Says:

    David, nice article which reflects the grassroots view I’d say. I believe the toxic idea, to quote Neurolinguistic programming, of “I have nothing” isn’t that much different of the feeling when anyone loads themselves with negative beliefs, either or not they are justified by reality. So yes there is a difficult reality, which I recognize, but this nihilism is primarily nurtured and reinforced by limiting beliefs, thereby creating a vicious circle difficult to break out. In addition to asking the country to create tailor-made jobs, I’d also operate at the individual level and urge people to turn around their beliefs and make a positive change, however small it is. Educated or uneducated people in the region are most of the time in a passive position where they would like to receive something instead of carving out their own opportunities. This may explain why entrepreneurship, as a value, is lagging behind.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Religious parties are forbidden.

    Tunisians are peaceful and sophisticated people. The country has remained calm. The price has been political freedom.

    Entrepreneurship may be lagging behind, as Nayim says, but Tunisians individually seem to me remarkably unaverse to risk and inclined to say “yes” to dubious suggestions. Nayim himself proved this to me earlier this year, when I suggested that we take a walk of several miles along a Muscat beach at night to get back to the house (somewhere near the sea – but we had left it by road) where we were staying. His very Tunisian response was “sure, let’s do it”.


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