Morocco: Controversy Over International Music Festival

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

Each year the capital Rabat is the epicenter of a major music festival, Mawazine. Since its modest launch in 2001, Mawazine has grown, and in the last decade has become the top national entertainment gathering, featuring hundreds of local and foreign performers and offering some of the most eclectic lineups.

This year the organizers are announcing a star-studded bill including Shakira, Kanye West, Joe Cocker, Yusuf Islam, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie.

The festival has had its share of controversy in recent years. In 2009, the security standards were challenged after a dozen people died and a number others injured when a wire fence collapsed causing a stampede. In 2010, Moroccan religious conservatives wanted pop legend Elton John off the bill, citing the singer's homosexuality. John made it to the front stage, much to the delight of a cheering crowd.

Rabat sunset, Morocco. Image by Flickr user }{enry (CC BY 2.0).

Rabat sunset, Morocco. Image by Flickr user }{enry (CC BY 2.0).

This year's edition of the festival is due to take place in late May and it comes at a particular political juncture in Morocco. In recent months, people have been regularly taking to the streets calling for political change. One of the focal points of their demands has been the lack of transparency in the way government spends taxpayer's money.

As an event that promotes Morocco's image abroad, the festival receives some government financial and logistical support. But some protesters, including the youth movement known as “February 20,” questioned the wisdom behind government sponsoring of the event. An open letter believed to have been issued by the movement has been published, asking the artists who confirmed their participation in the festival to think it over. “By refusing to attend, you will contribute to reforming Morocco and paving the way for its transition to democracy,” the letter says.

On Facebook and Twitter, supporters and opponents of the music festival seem to have engaged in a tit-for-tat battle.

A group in support of the festival launched a blog called “Tous pour Mawazine” (All For Mawazine). Their first post reads:

Dear Moroccans, think about all of this. Act your way to push our country toward real democracy, one of liberty. Support the Mawazine festival and do not let these obscurantist (sic) eradicate Arts and Culture, means of democratic expression.

A group has surfaced on Facebook called “The National Campaign for the Cancellation of the Mawazine Music Festival.” It counts over 20,000 members. The group's preamble reads:

أطلقت هذه الحملة الوطنية بهدف أساسي هو الإلغاء النهائي لمهرجان موازين وكل مهرجانات تبذير المال العام في ما لا ينفع لأن أولويات صرف المال العام في المغرب هي البنية التحتية وتعزيز الخدمات الأساسية وتوفير مناصب الشغل لشباب الوطن

This campaign was launched with the primary objective of cancelling Mawazine Music Festival and all other festivals where public money is squandered. The priorities for spending public funds in Morocco should be the infrastructure, the promotion of basic services and the provision of jobs for the youth.

On Twitter, supporters of the festival argued that those against it were shortsighted, as the event transformed over the years into a successful business, generating wealth and creating numerous job opportunities. Moncef Belkhayat is the Moroccan Minister of Youth and Sports. He tweets:

@citizenkayen @meryemsaadi mawazine a cree un vrai business model. Les subv(entions) publ(iques) representent tres peu par rapport a d'autres festivals de mus(ique)

@citizenkayen @meryemsaadi Mawazine music festival has created a true business model. Government grants are very low compared to other music festivals.

He adds:

@citizenkayen pourtant on devrai(t) etre fier d'avoir l'un des meilleurs festivals au monde..avec un bus(iness) model ou tout se vend! 35000 clients!

@citizenkayen We should be proud to have one of the best festivals in the world with a business model where everything is sold out! 35,000 customers!

Houda C. is a blogger. She regrets that the debate around Mawazine has not tackled the question of what she calls “a cultural strategy” for the country. She writes:

Tout changement démocratique, nous le savons tous, ne sera complet sans une stratégie culturelle adéquate !
Tout d’abord un constat : l’activité culturelle aujourd’hui au Maroc s’apparente principalement, saufs rares exceptions, à de l’événementiel. On est principalement dans la culture du divertissement.

Il va s’en dire que les initiatives culturelles, personnelles ou associatives, ont vu un essor intéressant ces dernières années, mais ceci n’est pas le propos. Les initiatives indépendantes ne remplacent en aucun cas une véritable stratégie culturelle de l’état.

We all know that any democratic change will not be complete without a proper cultural strategy! First observation: the cultural activity in Morocco today is akin mainly, with few exceptions, to events. It is mainly centered on the culture of entertainment.

It goes without saying that cultural initiatives, individual or associative, have grown tremendously in recent years, but this is not the point. The independent initiatives can not substitute for a real state-run cultural strategy.

Nadia Lamlili is a journalist and a blogger. She sees in this controversy the rise of a new culture in Morocco: that of accountability. She says social media has greatly helped enshrine that culture in young Moroccans. She writes [fr]:

Ce que cette population reproche aux responsables de Mawazine ou à Moncef Belkhayate [ministre de la jeunesse et des sports], c’est qu’ils n’ont pas communiqué d’une façon transparente et cohérente sur la façon avec laquelle ils ont géré les deniers publics. Les Marocains sont en train d’exercer la culture du « rendre des comptes », Al Mouhassaba en arabe ou l’accountability en anglais. Et il est de notre intérêt à nous tous d’exercer ce droit sans susceptibilité, dans le total respect des lois et de la cohérence des pensées de chacun.

Car avec les médias sociaux, cette culture d’accountability ne fera que gagner du terrain. La rétention de l’information n’a plus lieu d’être. Les citoyens se sont appropriés les moyens d’information et en très peu de temps, peuvent recouper et publier. Bien sûr, il y a du bon et du mauvais sur la toile. Alors, pour se forger une position, cette jeune communauté cybernétique marocaine veut se baser sur la raison, des faits empiriques et vérifiables et…elle demande aux responsables de ce pays de faire de même.

What the people are blaming officials or Mawazine and Moncef Belkhayate [Minister of Youth and Sports] for is their lack of communication and transparency in the way they manage public funds. Moroccans are exercising the culture of “Mouhassaba”, or accountability in English. And it is in the interest of us all to exercise this right without susceptibility and in total compliance with laws and coherence with the thoughts of each one of us.

Social media is helping this culture of accountability to gain ground. The withholding of information is no longer justifiable. Citizens have appropriated the media and in a no time can cross-check the information and publish it. Of course, there's good and bad on the web. So to forge an opinion, this young Moroccan cyber community wishes to rely on reason and verifiable empirical facts … and it calls on leaders of this country to do the same.

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.


  • […] The row over Mawazine is not about the festival (although I suspect some have strong feelings about what they referred to as ‘orgies of debauchery’) but the symbolism it carries: when it started off, a decade ago, it was elitist (with, if I may say so, a much better musical offer) and it was directly attached to the Royal business. For a couple of years, Mawazine director was Mr. Abdeljalil Hjoumri, the very Collège Royal ‘s own headmaster. And step by step, perhaps due to a change in management, the festival turned more popular, more in line with other Summer festivals. As it is, Mawazine quickly turned to be very popular, a Rabat grander version of L’Boulevard  -sometimes victim of its own success with the death of many attendants in 2008. Mawazine: the shallow argument […]

  • Bilal

    Everybody knows that more than 69% of Moroccans are ignorant according to a report that was made public by a non government institution.I was wondering why the government does not invest the billions dollars to fight against ignorance and improve education in universities and high schools where the level of eduction of most students is almost zero compared to students overseas.What does Mawazine bring to the nation?or should we just show a fake image about Morocco to the rest of the world through such festivals like Mawazine?The government has a political and moral responsibilities towards the nation and it must assume both of them.But it seems the government listens to its own words when it comes to policy.I have the firm conviction that Morocco will stay the same for the coming decades because nobody cares about its future.

  • Zaina

    Beyond its entertainment mission Mawazine has another, more important, convey a positive image of the Kingdom. It is the image of Morocco that the new festival, covered by all television channels worldwide, plans. A Morocco-sharing and solidarity, a land of freedom and creativity.
    The festival has gained international notoriety. Its economic and tourism benefits only did not quantify in terms of tourists, but go beyond.
    Mawazine passes each year to attract headliners Western and Oriental at the same time the cameras are pointing all over the world on the city of Rabat for 10 days.
    390 articles, passages and TV broadcasts in radio have been listed in the international press last year. They can “add value” to tens of millions of dirhams. 100 international journalists have confirmed their presence at the 10th edition of the festival .. It’s a great publicity stunt not only for the city of Rabat, but for the entire Kingdom.
    This helps attract tourists to the festive side, but also investors who are convinced that Morocco is a tolerant country with stable security needed to invest with confidence.

  • Olivier

    Je vous propose cette video. Vous devriez être fier de votre festival malgré les problèmes existant dans le pays. Pourquoi tirer sur Mawazine qui apporte l’occasion de voir et d’êcouter des stars et de découvrir des talents locaux.

    Bonne journée

  • Hanoula

    Mawazine 2011 ??? Un moment de bonheur, de partage.

    Tous aux concerts !!!

    @Olivier : see this one

    :D :D :D

    Hanoula ♥♥♥ Mawazine 2011 ♥♥♥

  • Yasmina

    Soutenons notre festival Mawazine 2011 contre les terroristes de la culture et des arts qui demandent son annulation pour des raisons infondées !!!


  • […] flock to watch the concerts. The opposition to the festival is not new; last year, activists pushed for the cancellation of Mawazine but failed. Protesters say the festival is a squandering of public money, demanding […]

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