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Morocco: Berbers can be blonde

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Western Europe, Morocco, Spain, Breaking News, Ethnicity & Race, Media & Journalism

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 [1] mountain region showed a small blonde girl bearing a strong resemblance to missing British child Madeleine McCann [2] perched on the back of a Moroccan woman.

As it turns out, the photograph was not of Madeleine McCann [3], 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 [4] at the similarities between the two girls, Moroccan bloggers weren't all that surprised.

Naim [5] 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 [6]. 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 [7] 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 [8] shared her favorite headline:

It comes from Le Matin, of all places: The Spanish discover the existence of blondes in Morocco [9].

Chergaoui [10] (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 [11]