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Fatema Mernissi

Synergie Civique Portraits: An Introduction
If you ask what the main common feature is to all the Synergie Civique actors as representatives of a new self-confident Arab citizen who believes in his capacity to transform the world by relying on communication instead of violence, I would answer with a poem by the Lebano-Syrian poet Adonis:

Pessimism is a routine
Hope is a creation
Celebrations of the things which are mysterious

al-ya's 'ada
al-amal ibticar
'ihtifa' bi-l-ashya' al ghamida'

(Dar al Adab, Beruit 1988, p. 36)

But more pragmatically, I started my research so as to understand more about these new leaders of civic projects: What is their profile? Were they born in big cities or in remote rural regions? What kind of education did they have? Are-they "Westernized" or "Easternized"? To what age group do they belong? But beyond these sociological characteristics of the profiles of civic leaders my big question was: Where do these men and women get their self-confidence? What makes a person so convinced that communication is more powerful than violence?

Medina Digital Feminists
For instance, Prof. Najia Elboudali of the Casablanca University Science Department, a leading feminist and the current coordinator of the "Synergie Civique", belongs to the generation who use the Internet to communicate with the planet. "Our job," says Elboudali, "is to transform conflicts into opportunities for dialogue." Her colleagues at the Fama Center for women's rights steal the show by reciting the oft quoted Quran verse "Respond to aggression by gentle understanding and your enemy will become your dearest friend." (Idfa' bilati hiya ahsan, Verse 34-Sourat 41).

I call this new generation of upwardly mobile females from working class backgrounds "Medina Digital Feminists." Their empowerment comes from navigating between the glittering Islamic past and the cutting-edge use of Western technology with self-confidence.

The Zagora Miracle
Najia Elboudali:
English: Profile
Francais: Article

Fama Center
In 1995, Morocco was among the few Arab States which rushed to liberalize the economy (Structural Adjustment). The State eliminated the red tape (police authorizations) preventing citizens from solving their own problems by creating associations, and speeded up access to portable telephones, satellite dishes and the Internet (cyber-cafés) by lowering prices. This encouraged highly-educated experts such as the geographer A. Zainabi from Zagora and Prof. Ouhajou from Agadir University to return to their childhood village (or city) as civic-initiatives actors, NGO leaders.

Their main miracle was to convince the illiterate peasants of both sexes that they don't need to know the alphabet to work with a solar energy-kit, but on the contrary, it is in doing things that they learn both the technology and the art of communicating. It is speaking and asking questions freely when he does not understand how the solar kit functions which allows the peasant to increase his knowledge. Learning the alphabet alone as an isolated act, separate from trying to solve practical problems usually yields few concrete results and helps explain why most Arab universities are producing "Diplomés-Chômeurs" (unemployed University-Diploma holders) and why tiny desert NGOs are creating jobs.

The Casablanca Civic Djinnis Link
Ahmed Zainabi
English: Profile
Francais: Article

Lekbir Ouhajou
English: Profile

Ali Amahane
See the book
Les Ait-Débrouille
How do you imagine an ex-political prisoner? Probably sad, depressed and moody because of their truncated life! Well, you are wrong. Most of Morocco's ex-political prisoners have emerged as a highly dynamic, upwardly-mobile and therefore cheerful group. Why? Because they invested their years of detention in developing their communication skills. "Since we could not go to the beach or to the movies," explains Aziz El Ouadie, "reading and writing were the only sports our jailers were comfortable with." Most of them have written books and work in print media and are often guests on televisions shows because of the sensitive issues they focus on (prison conditions for instance). Many have developed an irresistible sense of humor and a compelling optimistic vision which makes them shine in social gatherings.

The Marrakech Youth Dream: "Books and Cyber-Cafés"
Fatna El Bouih:
English: Profile
Francais: Article

Aziz El Ouadie
English: Profile

Noureddine Saoudi
English: Profile

Wafae Guessous
(as coordinator)
English: Profile
When I met Jamila Hassoune, the Marrakech bookseller who runs a tiny bookstore in a popular Marrakech district, she was convinced that besides bread, what the rural youth craved was communication. "Bread and books was their dream in the early 1990s," she says laughing. "Now, it is bread, books and the Internet." To respond properly to young people's demands for instruction manuals, she launched a survey on the profile of the "Cyber-Café" goers.

Fatema Mernissi, June 2003

Jamila Hassoune
Francais: Articles