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The Maghreb between the Local and Global: Tourism, Informal Economies, and the Politics of Sports

Panel I-24, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 3:00 pm

Panel Description
  • This article advances research on soft power foreign policy and sports diplomacy by examining how Morocco was able to translate its success in the 2022 World Cup into concrete diplomatic achievements. The overarching question I attempt to answer is: How can soft power foreign policy and sporting success translate into concrete advancements in a state’s foreign policy objectives? Given that Arabs and Africans claimed the Moroccan team as their own, the article poses the further sub-questions: How and why do states construct particular national identity narratives and how do these narratives, combined with sporting success, further states’ foreign policy objectives? Based on over 30 interviews including with officials from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ethnographic fieldwork, and discourse analysis of the kings’ speeches and of media, the article contends that Morocco was able to translate its sporting success into further mobilization for the removal of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the African Union, convincing three additional states to sign the “Tangiers Appeal” and, despite Morocco’s unprecedented 5-time failure to win its bid to host the World Cup, FIFA awarded it the 2023 Club World Cup, providing it with an additional opportunity for sports diplomacy. Furthermore, I identify that the Moroccan state projects differing national identity narratives internally and externally, with internal narratives shaped by domestic politics and tensions and external ones driven by particular foreign policy objectives, such as international and regional recognition of its claim to Western Sahara. The literature on sports diplomacy and sports washing is growing, with recent emphasis on Gulf states, particularly Qatar and Saudi Arabia (Nober 2022). However, the existing literature on Moroccan foreign policy is limited and has often centered on the role of the King in foreign policy decision-making (Abouzzohour and Tome-Alonso 2019) or the country’s relations with Europe, particularly focusing on migration (Cherti and Collyer 2015; Willis and Messari 2007). Scholarship on Morocco’s soft power foreign policy is almost non-existent and has centered on religious foreign policy approaches toward West Africa (Wainscott 2018). My study not only contributes to the broader literature on soft power foreign policy and sports diplomacy but is also the first to explore Morocco’s use of sports success in its diplomatic toolbox. The article is also unique in its explanation of how national identity can be combined with sports success to further foreign policy objectives.
  • “Huan Qian,” or money exchange in English, is a low-profile but prevalent practice within the Chinese business community in Morocco. Most Chinese businesspeople in the country engage in informal, unregulated money exchange/transfer between Chinese RMB and Moroccan Dirham with other Chinese clients. Though theoretically, the underground money exchange is a lucrative business, most of those who engage in such activity only regard it as a sideline or an opportunity to offer financial convenience to fellow compatriots in Morocco. Drawing on my year-long fieldwork on the Chinese business community in Morocco and existing scholarship on the widely used Hawala money transfer in the MENA region, my paper presents a comparative study on the “Huan Qian” practice and the Hawala practice. The study identified multiple similarities between these two practices, such as the operational mechanism, the reliance on interpersonal trust, and their important role in counteracting financial exclusion. However, “Huan Qian,” in many cases, is not a professional, profit-driven business like the huge Hawala network; it requires in-person transactions involving only the money exchanger/transferer and the client who are familiar with and trust each other. In the “Huan Qian” practice, money is transferred directly between the bank accounts of the two participants or exchanged in cash. In contrast, the Hawala system almost always involves intermediaries living in the money receiver’s country, but both the money sender and receiver are not necessarily familiar with them. Thus, “Huan Qian” serves as a social instrument that brings unfamiliar Chinese businesspeople together and makes familiar ones even closer through a compulsory face-to-face exchange of personal information. As the informal money exchange/transfer offers better exchange rates and charges no transaction fees, the clients may, in many cases, believe the service they received is a personal favor provided by the money exchangers. Therefore, this practice forms an efficient way to incorporate newcomers into the Chinese business community and facilitate business cooperation between long-term participants. Informed by Keith Hart’s conceptualization of informality as unregulated yet purposeful value-generating economic activities, I call the “Huan Qian” phenomenon “casual informality,” which refers to informal activities carried out casually by participants who are not concerned with the size of profit margins but instead attentive to their social benefits. The phenomenon is also found in Morocco’s sub-Saharan and European communities, which opens room for further ethnographic engagement in this topic across the ethnic lines of expat communities.
  • Dr. Claire T. Oueslati-Porter
    Whether it is hailed as the harbinger of progress in economic development or the bane of economic free trade (infitah), Tunisia’s beach resort tourism has become a central sector of accumulation, exploitation, the projection of Orientalist and Occidentalist fantasy, and contestations over gender, sexuality and identity. Beyond economic impacts, the merits of which are debated by other scholars, the socio-cultural impacts on those who toil in the beach tourism industry and on the droves of primarily European tourists is immense and polyvocal. Tunisia’s beach tourism industry can be understood as a provider: it provides opportunities for jobs for a certain fraction of Tunisia’s vast chronically jobless population, but it also provides environmental degradation. Further, the beach tourism industry provides a stunningly beautiful site in which contestation over notions of cultural identity, work, class, and gender are intertwined. In this paper I present preliminary findings from an ethnographic study in a Tunisian beach resort in Hammamet, Tunisia's original site of development of global tourism at the midway point of the last century. The paper will include data from my research conducted during the weeks following the 2015 shooting rampage on the Sousse beach. While there, I conducted two studies of resorts in Hammamet after most foreign tourists fled. This reflection on these 2015 culture sketches will be considered alongside my more recent research (2023) on beach tourism in Tunisia which also centers gender and labor relations between resort workers and the resort guests. Tunisian beaches, as several researchers have described, are contested spaces where tensions over gender and power seem to be exacerbated. While the little research in MENA beach settings tends to be limited to the question of MENA feminine modesty versus European tourists’ lack thereof, I extend this focus to include masculinities at the beach. In this endeavor, I dig into the cogent research on Tunisian masculinities to consider how gender and the economic forces of the beach tourism industry coalesce.
  • Mrs. Laurence Deschamps-Laporte
    Co-Authors: Abdelhamid Benhmade
    The Abraham Accords are perceived by the international community as agreements designed by the United States which are aimed at constructing Israeli legitimacy and recognition as well as American influence in the Mashrek and in the Maghreb. They are presented as multilateral agreements between countries representing various parts of “the Arab World” and Israel, while in fact, they are the cumulation of trilateral agreements between Israel, the United States and third countries. This paper focuses on the objectives and ambitions of Morocco in these accords. We argue that the preponderant national interest Morocco pursue in these treaties is in fact their instrumentalization as to achieve international recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. The Abraham Accords have become a rhetorical instrument to project Morocco’s project of nationalist construction both domestically but also internationally. While Morocco has traversed subsequent phases of either Africa-focused or “Arab-focused” diplomacy, the Abraham Accords now provide a window of opportunity through which Morocco can work on both fronts simultaneously. It is once again able to deploy its influence on the Mashrek-Maghreb front, at the heart of the Arab League’s most significant locus – Israel-Palestine – while also continuing its current project of diplomatic construction on the African continent. While there are tangible, strategic gains that have started to materialize for the Moroccan government through its relationship with Israel: military cooperation, diplomatic recognition, increasing trade, access to high technology, increased people-to-people ties– there remains significant ambiguity over Morocco’s ability to reach its objective of fully shifting the international consensus in its favour regarding the question of the Western Sahara. Almost three years after the signature of the accords, this paper also shows that while Morocco builds its nationalist project on the question of Western Sahara, in turn, the United States continues to use this question to keep the territory in a state of “perpetual irresolution” (Mundy 2016). This “perpetual irresolution” has been a major vector of reproduction of American global dominance over Maghrebi politics.
  • This paper examines the post-Cold War trajectories of the Moroccan radical left. Drawing on a range of primary and secondary materials, this paper examines the evolution of the Moroccan radical left from the end of the Cold War until 2022, analyzing its transformations in a national context shaped by significant global change processes. The paper traces the organizational and ideological shifts that the Moroccan radical left, in its two main forms (the Marxist-Leninists of Annahj Addimoqrati and the parties of the "democratic left"), has undergone since its reemergence as a significant organized actor in the political field. Using primary and secondary sources, the paper then analyses the links between their internal ideological changes, their strategic and tactical choices, and the dynamics of the wider political field (co-optation of traditional oppositions, relations with Islamists, role in the 2011 protests). The paper then highlights the "relevance" (Sartori, 1976) of the Moroccan radical left, arguing against the transposition of purely electoral understandings of that concept to electoral authoritarian settings, and proposes an alternative model. It then uses that model to illustrate the fluctuating relevance of the principal organized actors within the Moroccan radical left. Empirically, this study contributes to filling the gap in current knowledge of the Moroccan radical left, particularly the political dynamics that have shaped its evolution since the end of the Cold War. Theoretically, it illustrates the importance of clearly defined and contextually adapted conceptions of relevance when looking at radical political actors positioned at the edges of the political field.