We’re back from a week in rural Morocco. At least half of all Moroccans live in the countryside, facing challenges around education, health care and economic survival. But that is not the whole story. As our students discovered, rural Morocco is the heart and soul of the country.
“I’m a city girl and I never knew why places like this are important. Now I know.”
That’s what one of our students told me after our stay in the stunningly beautiful village of Sbaa Rouadi, near the ancient imperial city of Fez. Look for the students’ vivid reporting in our next blog post – they’ll take you to Sbaa Rouadi, a visit I don’t think you’ll soon forget.
But, for now, just a few words about a question that has been coming up again and again during our time in Morocco: Is the Arab Spring the spark that will ignite democracy movements, not just in Arab countries, but around the world? That question is almost always followed by this one: Can greater freedom and a respect for human rights come without violence and chaos?
I’ve heard these questions most recently expressed by people from Singapore, inspired by the Arab Spring and dissatisfied with their country’s lack of freedoms and strict social controls. They wonder whether it’s inevitable that they lose what they have (Singapore is a high-tech, wealthy city-state) to gain freedoms they believe are a human right (one example — Singapore’s media, including the internet, is highly regulated and censored).
These Singaporeans are joined by many people around the world who seem to be wondering whether we’re living through a time of global awakening. Or has the Arab Spring ushered in harder times of suffering and dashed hopes? The New York Times addressed these issues in a review of journalist Robin Wright’s new book, Rock the Casbah, explaining that Wright sees a trend.
Ms. Wright believes that “Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, Bahrainis, Jordanians, Moroccans and many others” are part of a broader historical pattern that includes the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and the end of military dictatorships in Central and Latin America.
“The drive,” she concludes, “to be part of the 21st century — rather than get stuck in the status quo of the 20th century or revert to the ways of the 7th century — now consumes the Islamic world.”
In the end, the students and the reporters we work with are determined to tell the human stories, explore the contexts and connect the dots so we might all understand the fascinating – and challenging – times in which we live.