Morocco: Berbers can be blonde

Major media outlets and bloggers went into a frenzy a few days ago when a blurry photograph taken by a Spanish tourist in Morocco's Rif mountain region showed a small blonde girl bearing a strong resemblance to missing British child Madeleine McCann perched on the back of a Moroccan woman.

As it turns out, the photograph was not of Madeleine McCann, but of a two-year-old Moroccan girl named Bouchra Benaissa, whose blonde hair and light eyes are not uncommon to the region. While many news sites marveled at the similarities between the two girls, Moroccan bloggers weren't all that surprised.

Naim from Au début était le blog … (fr) said:

Décidément, les stéréotypes ethniques ont la vie dure. Il a suffi d'une photo floue prise par une touriste espagnole, tout près de Tetouan, d'une fillette marocaine pour que la machine médiatique, espagnole et puis internationale, se met en marche: Madeline McCann, petite anglaise de 4 ans disparue au Portugal depuis le 2 mai dernier, serait enlevée par un couple de Marocains. Pourquoi ce malentendu? La réponse est simple: la fillette marocaine photographiée sur le dos de sa maman était blonde comme Madeleine. Le mystère vite éclairci, la Maddie marocaine s'appelle en fait Bouchra Benaissa. Ses parents, Ahmed et Hafida, d'une extrême gentillesse, se sont même prêtés aux longues questions des gendarmes, et surtout à l'harcèlement des dizaines de journalistes internationaux, Anglais et Espagnols en tête, qui voulaient élucider ce “mystère”.

Ethnic stereotypes definitely die hard. All it took for the Spanish, and then international, media machine to spring to action was a fuzzy photograph of a young Moroccan girl taken by a Spanish tourist close to Tetouan. Madeleine McCann, a four year-old English girl who disappeared in Portugal May 2nd, could have been kidnapped by a couple of Moroccans. Why this misunderstanding? The answer is simple: the young Moroccan girl photographed on the back of her mother was fair-skinned like Madeleine. The mystery was quickly cleared up, “Moroccan Maddie” is in fact called Bouchra Benaissa. Her parents, Ahmed and Hafida, extremely kind, even lent themselves to the long questioning of the police, and even to the harassment of dozens of top international, English and Spanish journalists who wanted to clear up this “mystery.”

Even prior to the news that the photo was not of Maddie, blogger Abdelilah Boukili had his doubts:

Personally, I don’t think it can be Madeleine. The woman seems from the countryside. In Morocco people, especially those living in the countryside know each other. For her having a child speaking English can raise the curiosity of people in her area. She can have as an answer that the child is from a relation who lives in Europe as a substantial number of Moroccan immigrants originate from the north of Morocco. If that girl was really Madeleine, the women wouldn't show her in public. She can be easily spotted as Madeleine's case is still fresh in mind and among the search priority of the security services in Morocco. In general, the local authorities’ job is to know about any foreigner living in any areas. It has a network that regularly reports about anything special taking place in any area of the country. If the girl was Madeleine she couldn’t have gone unnoticed as it is too early for her to speak the local language fluently without reverting to English. As a consequence she can be the talk of the area where she is.

Bouchra Benaissa and family

Laila Lalami shared her favorite headline:

It comes from Le Matin, of all places: The Spanish discover the existence of blondes in Morocco.

Chergaoui (fr) also mocked the Spanish for their ignorance:

La fausse piste marocaine dans l’affaire Maddie… a permis aux Espagnols de découvrir qu’il y a des Marocains aux cheveux blonds et aux yeux clairs, comme le soulignent mercredi plusieurs journaux espagnols.

The Maddie saga's Moroccan red herring…made it possible for the Spaniards to discover that there are Moroccans with fair hair and light eyes, as several Spanish newspapers highlighted on Wednesday.

But the best headline of the day came from Ghasbouba, whose blog post was entitled “BWM: Blond While Moroccan.” In the post, he said:

It is really a shame and a pity that little Bouchra and her family are harassed by media and authorities just because she “might” have looked like another European person. Her family was called by the authorities. Her parents had to prove she was their daughter. I find this really strange, for lack a better word.
I wonder if the same acts of harassment would happen if “another Maddy-like blond little girl” is ‘seen’ in any places in Rural Alzas, Basque, Arizona, or Wales.

Photo Source: Gulf Times


  • @Bouba. ” this is what makes it a logic of superiority, Euro-entrism, racism and arrogance… it is not acceptable in the modern world to look down on people and consider them inferior yet use them to build your economy and your software”
    It is amazing how easy is for you to judge people just out of a single sentence. If you think (by just one sentence) that I am Eurocentrist, racist, arrogant or that I look down to other people you should see a doctor and check your inferiority complex. But it seems that you forget that even Interpol thought that she could have been Maddie. (May be Interpol are also arrogant, etc.) And I am sure the Amazigh people have better things to do than complaining about Eurocentrism.

  • C’est toi

    Oui, elle est grande
    Elle est blonde
    Mais elle est l’amie de
    Tout le monde!
    Moi, je veux une fille à moi,
    Et c’est toi que je veux:
    Quelle qu’elle soit la couleur
    De tes yeux
    Ou la longueur
    De tes cheveux
    C’est bien toi que je veux!
    Mais non!
    Ne suis pas mes yeux
    Quand les filles passent près de moi;
    Mais regarde-moi bien dans les yeux:
    Tu ne verras que toi!
    Si je t’envoie un SMS
    C’est comme un SOS:
    Je ne l’envoie à personne d’autre
    Que toi!
    Alors cesse de me parler de «l’autre»!
    Il n’y a que toi!
    Oui, c’est toi!
    Ne dis pas de bêtise!
    Il n’y a que toi!

  • @Crispal, I am sorry if you feel i was talking to you in person. this is not a good lieu for it. what i was talking about is that there is a logic, a way of thinking, an education that resulted in this interesting profiling.. and i hope we can educate ourselves more about it.
    [i do not respond to insults]

  • Hi all

    Thanks for the mention. The main purpose of my post is to show just one fact. The nearest neighbours of Morocco have a total ignorance about the ethnic reality of Morocco. A real Melting pot which make up Morocco are Arabs and Berbers of course but inside these two global ethnics entities, one can find a whole spectrum of ethnic and racial variety.

    Of course a tourist can be wrong of such a fact but the majority of the journalists who treated the subject should know this simple ethnic reality, and then to explain with their own words to their readers.

    Thanks again and have a good reading.

  • the riffian

    without adding to the fact that sterotypes dominate the western world and even the eastern too. the number of discussions and articles bouchera the blonde originated are according to me of a very positive effect: the berbers exist and not perished. just to answer those who consider the west as racist (which can be to some extent true), that those who dominate the berbers are not the westerns but the arabs. it’s the arabs that forbid the berbers to give a berber name to their children. it’s the arabs who deny our cultural and linguistic identity, it’s the arabs that profit economically in north africa, to sum up the berbers are dominated by the arabs and not the west. bouchera is a new berber symbol.

  • hanino

    hi evry body just to add an idea abt rissani is situated in the southest of morocco and the maison berber inviting u this fammily will offer u a cup of meant tea hospitality of the familly and also the will shown u how they prepar the thea

  • […] as I wrote over at Global Voices last week, the most newsworthy story involving Morocco in my head is that of Madeleine […]

  • ivan

    I have lived in Tetuan for 10 years and I know very well all the Rif area where live the berbers, although most people in Morocco are berbers, and no more than 10 percent of the people are blonde, most are black haired and dark brown eyed, but some times is possible find some children with light brown hair and green eyed , this is the reason couse the spanish visitors thought that the girl might be Madeleine, watch a blonde girl in a dark people country like Morocco is not usual

  • khadija

    Iam a mother of three children and iknow what is missing a child .SO FOR THE JOURNALIST it was aprominent event to find the British child .For me ti was not adiciminatory action .yet a lot of people still ignore that there are many blond people ,adults and children and not only berbers or from the north of Morocco.

  • khadija

    Iam a mother of three children and iknow what is missing a child .SO FOR THE JOURNALIST it was a prominent event to find the British child .For me it was not a disciminatory action .yet a lot of people still ignore that there are many blond people ,adults and children and not only berbers or from the north of Morocco but from echawia ben slimane.etc…

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