In Patriarchal Morocco, A Push For 'Positive Masculinity'

A doctoral student in Casablanca is using a series of podcasts to help free his countrymen from one-size-fits-all notions about how men can and should behave.

Although violence against women is regularly denounced in the kingdom, the role of men is rarely questioned
Although violence against women is regularly denounced in the kingdom, the role of men is rarely questioned
Ghalia Kadiri

CASABLANCA — Sufiane Hennani is convinced that the fight for equality between the sexes will not be won without men. And so, this 28-year-old doctoral student in medical biology has decided to shake up the codes of patriarchy by launching a series of podcasts dedicated to the debate on gender relations in Morocco.

The first episode, listened to by several thousand in Morocco and France, sparked a debate on social media and in homes. "We are pleasantly surprised by the public's reactions," says Hennani. "Even public television invited us to talk about it! "Finally," people told us. "It was about time.""

Although violence against women is regularly denounced in the kingdom, the role of men is rarely questioned. That's where Hennani's show, called Machi Rojola, comes in. Developed during the coronavirus lockdown period — at a time, specifically, when associations have observed an upsurge in domestic violence — the podcasts directly target sexual assault, harassment and male domination.

Machi Rojola means "it's not like being a man" in the Moroccan Arabic dialect. Episodes are released bi-monthly. The idea, its creator explains, "is to deconstruct the discourse of men, to make them responsible, in order to initiate change in our society."

The program was launched in partnership with Elille, a collective of Moroccan artists and activists, and the German foundation Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS). It's similar to other feminist podcasts but "with the Moroccan sauce, with all its specificities," Hennani explains.

Each program, illustrated by the feminist artist Zainab Fasiki, invites intellectuals, artists and activists to reconsider the notion of masculinity. Guests have included the writer Abdellah Taïa, the essayist and specialist on Islam Asma Lamrabet, and the Tunisian researcher Monia Lachheb.

We finally admit that masculinity is plural, that it's complex.

"In Morocco, we think of man as if there was only one model: the hegemonic dominant male. Anyone else is considered not "man enough,"" Hennani says. "In Machi Rojola, we finally admit that masculinity is plural, that it's complex."

The first episode, released on Dec. 2, tackles "toxic masculinities." As feminist activist Fatna El Bouih explains: "There is a great pressure on men, on the notion of being a man, which remains very unclear. And this sometimes leads to violence."

Author and journalist Hicham Houdaïfa agrees. "Since we were children, we have been taught models of masculinity that have caused us a lot of harm," he says. "We had to show that we were boys. Sometimes you become violent because you have to be."

It is this notion that Sufiane Hennani wants to challenge. Originally from El Jadida, south of Casablanca, the young man is the only boy among his six siblings.

"I lived through my cultural revolution during the 2011 Arab Spring. And what bothered me was the persistence of sexism in these spheres that were nevertheless fighting for change," he says. "They denounced the hogra a colloquial word used during the Arab Spring to express resentment and injustice, but they didn't talk about invisible minorities or the situation of women."

In recent years, nevertheless, several sexist and homophobic attacks have provoked waves of outrage in Morocco. The media coverage of these cases has contributed to freeing speech. On social media networks, tongues are loosening and, little by little, taboos are cracking.

"There is a generation that is being born in Morocco and that questions the notion of gender," Hennani says. "We want to get out of this heteronormative system and put an end to the silence that surrounds these issues in Moroccan politics."

In a country where out-of-marriage relationships, adultery and homosexuality are still punishable by imprisonment, sexual frustration is often blamed.

"Very little is said about the sexual misery of Moroccan men," says Sonia Terrab, and novelist and film director who in 2019, together with writer Leila Slimani, launched Collective 490, a women's movement to defend sexual freedom in Morocco. Also known as the Moroccan "outlaws," the Collective takes its name from Article 490 of the penal code that punishes sexual intercourse outside of wedlock.

"Men grow up with the idea that they are superior. But in the end, they are very fragile, vulnerable beings, whose ego is based on hollow things," says Terrab.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, 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.

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.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!