Society

How The Digital Dating Revolution Is Changing Morocco

Social media and dating apps have revolutionized the way young people live, and given women the right to seduce.

Women in Rabat, Morroco
Women in Rabat, Morroco
Ghalia Kadiri

CASABLANCA — Facebook is the only place Nadia* is allowed to go out in the evening. From her tiny, windowless bedroom, with the fan on full blast, she allows herself a breath of fresh air. Social media has revolutionized her life – that of a young bank employee who, at 23 years of age, has led an unremarkable life, suffocated by the traditions that her parents still adhere to. In the room next door, they have no idea what is happening inside Nadia's head, beneath the multicolored veil which covers her long, brown hair. It is made from "high quality silk from Saudi Arabia," boasts the pretty Moroccan with large, black eyes.

Every morning, when she walks into the bank, she puts her veil in her desk drawer. "There is a time and place for everything," she says. Nadia puts her veil back on before returning to her parents' apartment, in a working-class area of Casablanca. On the way home – on the bus, along the endless road as she walked, and in front of her apartment block – Nadia meets several people. "I didn't know if you can call that meeting people," she says. "Maybe in a one-sided way."

She counted: no less than four men approached her, saying things like "pretty gazelle," "So, tell me your WhatsApp?," or, "Where are you going dressed like that, I can't see you?" Without the veil, she would certainly have doubled that count. But Nadia ignored them one by one, keeping her head down. "In the street, it's not flirting. It's harassment."

On Facebook, on the other hand, Nadia responds to almost every approach. "Here, I'm in control." Moving her thumb across the screen of her smartphone, she scrolls through the hundreds of anonymous messages that she has received since joining in 2012. All of these people "want to talk," without ever having seen her. "Guys look for girls who live here, to sleep with them or for something more serious. With Facebook's filters, they're easy to find. Then they choose according to the photos." There's an art to it. In her photo, Nadia, her hair uncovered, is smiling and seems relaxed. "You're kidding! It took me weeks to find the perfect pose."

Following family dinner, the ritual begins. "I'm not necessarily into them, but I take pleasure in flirting for the sake of flirting." The sweet nothings exchanged are far from pious, but never really explicit. In her room, or sometimes in the middle of the lounge, Nadia flirts with danger, defying her brothers and her parents. It's exciting. She is currently "seeing" a certain Yassir. He lives in Tangier, but has promised he will visit her before the end of the year. There have also been other men, several at the same time, love stories, sexual discoveries.

Traditions still rule in many corners of Morocco — Photo: Hernan Pinera

In this country, which is both attached to its eternal traditions and overtaken by its modernity, flirting 2.0 has handed unprecedented power to women. On social media, Moroccans can get to know each other without being seen. And Moroccan women have gained the ability to flirt "without being viewed as a whore." Those crude words are from Fatiha, Nadia's older sister. At 29, she already has two children and didn't have "the luxury of meeting her husband," she sighs. He was presented to her by family friends. Fatiha didn't experience the digital age – at least, not in time. It is the age of sexual liberation. Virtual, yes, and removed from reality, but a liberation all the same.

"Like Nadia, I was never allowed to go out with guys. If we spoke to them in the street, we were sure that that evening, our mother was going to shut us in the bedroom and whisper sternly that frivolous girls make the family lose its honor." Here, nothing can be hidden. "Even today, the neighbors sit by the window to spy on lovebirds and denounce them to their parents, or sometimes to the police." Morocco's penal code does not allow much freedom. According to article 490, sexual relations outside of marriage are punishable by imprisonment for one month to one year; article 489 punishes homosexuality; article 491, adultery.

Social media v Salafism?

Social media arrived at the same time as the Salafist influence was spreading across Morocco, further cementing the divide between conservatives and reformists. In a country where men and women are traditionally kept apart, and people are divided into social groups, the Internet has blown apart the barriers which divided public space – more than 63% of the population is online. "In the street, in cafes, restaurants, on public transport, people meet only those who come from a similar background," Nadia explains. "On Facebook, there are housewives and also business owners. Those who can't read get by using voice messages. There is a place for everybody."

For the past few years, the Tinder phenomenon has been winning over single Moroccans. In one click, hundreds of potential partners appear, filtered by location. There is no need to brave the obstacles of real life, filled with spaces which are often forbidden to women. Other dating sites, local variations of Meetic, have also appeared. The slogans range from "Man searches woman," to "Find a husband," and even "Find a rich man in Morocco". There is something for everyone.

Unlike the Western countries in which these dating sites were born, "you can't find yourselves in a bar half an hour later," says Salim, 32, a computer engineer. He has come to meet Narjisse in the upstairs room of a café, a classic date venue for couples in Casablanca. "Upstairs, we can hold hands under the table and steal hidden kisses. We could never do that on the patio!" They met a year ago during a conference weekend in Marrakech. At the beginning, WhatsApp helped them to stay in touch.

But they both live with their parents. Salim doesn't yet have the money to have his own apartment. "For a Moroccan woman, even when she has the money, it is very difficult to leave the family home before marriage," explains Narjisse, 28. In the cities, where women are increasingly active in the workforce, rising more easily to senior positions, the average age at the time of marriage has risen to 26, compared to under 20 in the 1960s.

For Salim and Narjisse, expressing their love meant making do. "We would hide in stairwells at lunch to kiss each other. There were used condoms on the floor, it wasn't very romantic," admits Salim, blushing. In the back of a car, at the theater, behind the bushes or hidden by the rocks at the beach, away from prying eyes. Neighbors, caretakers and all kinds of police informants are swift with their denunciations. "We always have fake wedding rings with us, just in case," says Salim. "We just need to both be in the car or walking down the street for a cop to stop us and ask what we are doing together."

Then came Airbnb. While hoteliers are obliged to ask to see a marriage certificate, the online platform creates opportunities to get around the law. "We go there after work, and never spend the night, so that our parents don't become suspicious. Usually, the concierge greets us." An unease descends upon the table. Salim hesitates. Finally, he says quietly, "We pay him off." The whole arrangement upsets Narjisse, whose greatest fear is being mistaken for a prostitute. The fatigue which comes from always having to be quick, to hide, to lie to her loved ones. And the fear that this relationship will not wind up the way she hopes it will. "If our families find out that we are seeing each other, it will be over."

*Names have been changed.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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