“While geography stands as the most obvious separation between the Arabian Peninsula and the Maghreb, skewed misconceptions of the other have made way for misunderstandings and stereotypes that have gone as far as shaping government policies.” With this statement, the new blog Bil3afya introduces itself to its readers.
The blog is created by two bloggers. They are Samia Errazzouki (@charquaouia), who is a Moroccan-American writer, whose research focuses on Morocco's political economy and reforms. She is also a co-editor of Jadaliyya's Maghreb Page and member of the Mamfakinch editorial team. The other founder is Mona Kareem (@monakareem), a stateless person of Kuwait. She is the founder of Bedoon [Stateless] Rights, and she writes for Alakhbar English and Global Voices Online, among others.
The aim of the blog is to discuss the stereotypes between the two regions, and start a conversation that points out the common grounds as well as offering their own readings for the differences between them.
On Twitter, users welcomed the project. UAE national Saqer Al Marri writes:
And Israeli Elizabeth Tsurkov adds:
Although the blog is still young, articles published so far discuss issues ranging from politics, to TV series, to mutual cultural perceptions between the two regions.
Discussing one of the stereotypes about people from Arabian Peninsula, including her home country, Kuwait, Mona wrote in a post:
When I traveled to Cairo, being someone who comes from the Gulf, the stereotype was that “I have an oil well in my backyard” and thus I should help find them a job or I should over-tip them. In the US, many Arabs I met, including people of the Maghreb, have depicted me as the spoiled rich girl from the Gulf coming, with no worries, to study and enjoy her time.
She then wrote about the living conditions the stateless people (Bedoon) face in Kuwait. She then moved to neighbouring states like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Oman and Qatar:
For a country as rich as Saudi Arabia with all its constant decisions to give away money here and there, one can't imagine how poor thousands of Saudis are. The issue of poverty in Saudi Arabia is very serious and it effects a lot of Saudis; not just migrant workers or stateless people.
A couple of years ago, a cartoon, called Bu Qutada wa Bu Nabeel, portrayed Morocco as corrupt and its women as greedy whores, who try to entrap the Kuwaiti men into marrying them. And in one of the articles in Bil3fya, Mona Kareeem wrote about this cartoon series, and the stereotypes Gulf men have about Morocco, where it is portrayed as the place to fulfill their drugs/sex dreams.
She then wrote about similar incidents in neighbouring Gulf states:
Those stereotypes were inserted into humor and stereotypes in Kuwait in the past few years as young men fantasize about visiting Morocco. The controversy had Moroccan hackers take down some Kuwaiti websites, and it made the Kuwaiti government offer an apology for something that a private media establishment has committed. I believe that was, so far, the peak of the Maghreb-Gulf clash.
Something similar occurred lately on twitter, on a smaller scale, when some Saudis started a hashtag about Morocco speaking of Moroccans sexually; something that insulted Moroccans.
Basically, the tribal culture of the Gulf makes them believe they are the most protective of their women (their honor) and that Moroccans are the opposite of that since prostitution exists in Morocco. The idea of honor and morality for the typical gulf mentality can be best understood through guarding the freedom of females especially in appearance.
In another article, while discussing the growing ties between the monarchies in Morocco and the Arabian Peninsula, Samia wrote how those monarchies were strengthened with the common interest of staying in power at all costs. The Moroccan foreign policy towards Iran is said to be affected by these ties, and last but not least, there were also economic ties, seen through the free-trade agreement Morocco signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the proposal for Morocco to become a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, yet this inclusion into the GCC was never detailed, nor publicly mentioned much after the initial statement:
Despite Morocco’s geographic distance from the Gulf, Morocco’s foreign policy is heavily driven by its ties with the Gulf monarchies and its decision to embed itself in the geopolitics of the Gulf, even if it comes at the expense of cutting ties with other countries. This would be especially relevant in May 2011 when Morocco was proposed for membership for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)
So far, five posts have been published in the blog, but I'm looking forward for more posts, and may be more contributors from those two Arab regions or other Arab countries too.