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Fatema Mernissi

Synergie Civique Research Project
The civic synergy project was started in 1997, when I made a deal with the NGO leaders whom I selected for my study : I will facilitate writing workshops for their members to enhance their communication skills. In exchange, they will help me in my research by allowing me to consult their archives and interview them constantly in order to answer the following questions: Is there a link between democratization of access to information technologies and the sudden passion of Moroccan youth of both sexes for civic initiatives including their rushing to join NGOs whose number jumped from 7000 before 1995 to 30000 in 1999? ("Maroc : Rapport national sur le Developpement Humain 1998-1999", Ministry of Planning, Rabat, December 1999)

Why are rural youth from the most neglected and deprived southern part of Morocco such as the High Atlas Mountains and desert (in the Zagora province) the most entranced by civic activity? Is it because of the Berber tradition of Jemaa (local self-government)? Is it because of the still pervasive Sufi (mystic) tradition which glorifies the intrinsic value of the person regardless of education and wealth privileges? Is it because information technology increases the youth self-confidence by strengthening their individual autonomy through self-expression? Does civic activity attract young people because it blurs hierarchies by emphasizing solidarity?

It was a 1995 report "Moroccan Young People's Religious Values and Strategies" that alerted me to the apocalyptic shift happening in Morocco : only 2,2% of the 500 students surveyed said they trusted the State. When asked to identify associations worth joining, the overwhelming majority (50,8%) chose those with a civic agenda (with social and humanitarian goals) while only 6,6% identified the political parties and 10,6% mentioned Islamist ones. (A research report carried out by Mokhtar El-Harras, Rahma Bourqia, Driss Bensaid: "Jeunesse Etudiante Marocaine: Valeurs et Stratégies". Publications de la Faculté de Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de Rabat, 1995. Pages 129 and 134)

Is the NGO boom due to the 1995-1996 World Bank and IMF initiated structural adjustment, which forced the State to stop pretending that it took care of social services and to lift bans restricting citizens' right to create associations? Or is it the sudden drop in the cost of information technology shifting the balance of power toward "the silent majority" heretofore reduced to passive listeners by both the local bureaucrats and the multinational "cosmocrats" monopolizing "modernity" and its tools? (See " The Cosmocrats", in: "A Future Perfect". Micklethwait and A. Wooldridge, Crown Business Publishers, Random House, 2000) Or is it all of these factors together?

These were the questions that fascinated me in 1997 when I made a deal with a select group of innovative NGOs leaders who started the Synergie Civique project (workshops and leaders). Since my Mohamed V University Research Institute lacks research funds, I would facilitate writing workshops to enhance their communication skills (publishing books to promote certain human rights issues).

Before 1995, an academic like myself was expected to run workshops for groups gravitating around the universities centered in the big cities and not for tiny fringe associations based in the village. I did start in 1984 when I collaborated with a group of colleagues organized around Prof. Omar Azzimane and Layla Chaouni, the publisher of Editions Le Fennec a Casablanca-based publishing house that has published more than 30 books on civic issues.

Besides the writing workshops, I conducted networking sessions to help NGOs conceptualize a Caravane Civique format to attract professionals from big cities (e.g. Casablanca) to visit their rural projects.

Fatema Mernissi, April 2003