Brahim El Guabli, Moroccan Other-Archives: History and Citizenship after State Violence (Fordham University Press, 2023).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?

Brahim El Guabli (BEG): Moroccan Other-Archives: History and Citizenship after State Violence is an attempt to make sense of a historically rich period in Morocco’s post-colonial history by engaging questions of archives, loss, and citizenship through the rewriting of the nation’s marginalized histories. The death of King Hassan II in 1999 and the establishment of the Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC) by King Mohammed VI in 2004 opened up ample space for Morocco’s post-colonial traumatic histories to emerge and be part of the public sphere. However, the state-sponsored ERC process was also preceded by a rich cultural production as well as many demands by civil society to establish the truth about state violence during the “Years of Lead,” which refer to the period between Morocco’s independence in 1956 and the passing of King Hassan II in 1999. In the absence of accountability, history and historiography became a space where survivors of the Years of Lead found a sense of justice.

The main question I faced when I first started this research was how to write a history of loss that has no archives. How does one conceptualize and articulate loss as a driver of a history-to-be-written? Up until 2011, when Les Archives du Maroc was put in place to implement the ERC’s recommendations, Moroccan authorities showed no interest in creating an official archive. For sixty years, colonial and post-colonial documents of archival significance were either destroyed or left to decay. In some cases, civil servants did not know the importance of the archive and just destroyed it out of ignorance. The nationalist streak of the post-independence period must have also led some to destroy archives left by France out of this independence spirit. In post-colonial Morocco, however, issues related to Amazigh identity, Jewish emigration, and political imprisonment were simply censored, and historians were deprived of the archival sources they needed to study these topics. As several Moroccan historians have already written in different books and conference proceedings, the lack of archival sources compounded with self-censorship pushed many historians to focus on pre-colonial history, thus leaving the controversial periods entirely unstudied for a long time. Therefore, rather than asking what the inherent incompleteness of archives has excluded, Moroccan Other-Archives attends to the even more fundamental and urgent question of creating archives where there are none and writing histories whose would-be archival sources are replaced by loss and silence.

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?

BEG: The book draws on anthropology, history, memory studies, trauma theory, and literary studies, among others, to discuss how three constituencies of the Moroccan nation emerged as objects of what I call an “other-archive” in post-1999. I define other-archives as texts, artifacts, alphabets, embodied experiences, toponymies, and inherited memories where stories of the excluded, the silenced, and the forgotten live in a ghostly state, ready to articulate historical loss even as they are situated outside the margins of what is considered canonical. While traditional intramural archives are detained, consigned, housed, house-arrested, and confined to a closed, heavily-guarded space—ultimately endowing them with their official character because they belong to a dead past—other-archives are part of an unfolding memory and history, existing to bridge the gap between a past that is not yet finished and a society still impacted by the consequences of this unfinished past. The forms that other-archives take in the public sphere—journalistic articles, memoirs, history-themed novels, activist gray literature, imaginary testimonies, to name just a few—democratize access to histories that are not solely of interest to the history specialist, but to lay citizens as well. As a result, the transformative force of other-archives is lost when they are canonized and “boxed” in official holdings, since their life lies in social circulation and in the controversies that emanate from their public existence. In contrast to brick-and-mortar archives, other-archival power ensues from the life of cultural production in society and from its being on the pulse of societal concerns at any given moment. Other-archives are part of everyday life and not only in places where diligent historians uncover and narrate stories destined for other professional historians.

In addition to theory, I draw on many works written in Tamazight, Arabic, and French. First, I look at how other-archives are created through the work of the Moroccan Amazigh Cultural Movement (MACM). MACM has not only advocated for the recognition of Imazighen’s cultural rights, but it also unearthed a different history of Tamazgha by resorting to memory and invented traditions, which have now transformed the public sphere in Morocco. When we see Tifinagh in public signage in Moroccan cities, what we see is an other-archive that evokes other possible histories.  Second, I examine how “mnemonic literature,” which is the literature produced by younger generations of Muslim authors who did not live with the Jews when they were still in Morocco, has drawn on memory to reimagine Morocco with its Jews. Third, the book examines how Tazmamart moved from being a taboo topic to becoming a transnational other-archive. Finally, I probe how Moroccan historiography has been both challenged and transformed by the existence of other-archives, which spurred a fascinating historiographical debate around the “history of the present” between 1999 and 2011.

J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?

BEG: This book is the culmination of my ongoing research on cultural production and history in Morocco and Tamazgha (the broader North Africa). I have published several articles about specific aspects of state violence and the ways in which cultural production, namely literature, has been central to important shifts in the way societies relate to historical events. I have published about Tazmamart, Amazigh activism, and Jewish-Muslim relations, but I refrained from offering an over-arching concept to tie these works together because I wanted to offer that theorization in a monograph. The book distills these issues and ties them together under the umbrella concept of other-archives and its centering of history (re)writing as a pathway toward the exercise of citizenship.

J: Who do you hope will read this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

BEG: In terms of readership, the book is relevant to several fields, and the style in which I wrote it is very accessible to both specialists and lay readers. Specialists of Tamazgha, scholars working at the intersection of memory and history, as well as scholars interested in literary studies, human rights, history, and archives will find the book useful for their own research and teaching. My hope, as an interdisciplinary scholar, is to reach different audiences across disciplinary lines.

In terms of impact, Moroccan Other-Archives does several methodological things that I hope will inspire other scholars to further deepen the questions I have worked on. First, the book provides the concept of other-archives. Second, it draws attention to the need to engage in interdisciplinary and multilingual scholarship by conversing with the fields of anthropology, literary studies, memory studies, archive studies, and historiography, among others, and using sources in Arabic, Tamazight, French, and English. Third, the book has furnished the first attempt to bring three disparate fields of study (Amazigh studies, Jewish studies, and human rights) together in one book to look at a period of fifty years in Moroccan history through the notion of loss. Thus, the book offers an “internal comparative methodology” that I hope will be adopted by other scholars working on Tamazgha or beyond.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

BEG: I am working on several articles and finishing up a book project. The articles span Tamazight-related issues, specifically poetry, the novel, and the teaching of Tamazight from the colonial period until the 1990s, including in US and British universities. The second book, which is provisionally entitled Saharan Imaginations: Saharanism and its Discontent, is a monograph about the ways deserts have been (mis)represented in a variety of media, specifically in literature, film, and political discourse. I look at issues of emptiness, death, fear, and impunity associated with deserts across cultures and I develop the concept of Saharanism to conceptualize why deserts are viewed in the way they are.

J: How does Moroccan historiography respond to the creation of other-archives?

BEG: The existence of other-archives in Moroccan public space has triggered a historiographical fervor among several stakeholders in Moroccan history. The historical discourse itself has been transformed by the abundance of other-archives after King Hassan II’s death in 1999 and the establishment of the ERC in 2004. The plenitude of history-oriented cultural production has put Moroccan academic historians, cultural producers, and the state at the center of endeavors to write or rewrite Morocco’s “immediate history.” Moroccan historians dedicated a significant amount of time to the concept of tarikh al-zaman al-rahin (history of the present) to both open up their discipline to new methodologies and engage in unprecedented discussions about Morocco’s post-colonial history. The history of the post-colonial period was perceived like a minefield, and some historians used to quip that pre-1912 was history whereas post-1912 was memory. This sums up the lack of archives and the sensitivity of writing a history whose actors are still alive, but the existence of other-archives shattered this mantra. Also, this historiographical fervor played out in the collaboration between historian M’bark Zaki and novelist Ahmed Beroho, who charted a new path for discussing the history of the state of exception in Morocco between 1965 and 1970. Zaki and Beroho’s publications are only one example of the innovative approaches that cultural production triggered inside the discipline of history. Institutionally, the establishment of the Institut Royal pour la Recherche sur l’Histoire du Maroc in 2006 has crowned the first decade of its existence with the publication of several important works, particularly the magnum opus Histoire du Maroc: Réatualisation et Synthèse.


Excerpt from the book (from the Introduction, pp. 4-8)

Leïla Kilani’s documentary film Nos lieux interdits (Our Forbidden Places, 2008) provides a glimpse into the pivotal role loss and disappearance occupy in Moroccan history, beyond the issues of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. Hired by the newly-established ERC to document its proceedings, the Paris-based Moroccan filmmaker and her crew followed senior ERC members as they worked to carry out their mission. One of the families featured in the film is that of Abdeslam Harrafi, who disappeared sometime between 1965 and 1974. Harrafi was a southern Amazigh political militant, and his disappearance was linked to his underground political activism, specifically his presumed links to the Sheikh al-Arab revolutionary group, stamped out by General Oufkir in 1964. Like all the forcibly disappeared prisoners in post-colonial Morocco, Harrafi disappeared without any written proof to indicate his whereabouts, or indeed his very existence. The only tangible evidence of his life is his illiterate grieving wife, traumatized daughter, and truth-seeking granddaughter, who carry the intergenerational burden of proving their loss and reconstituting the life of their beloved relative from the void of the archives and silence of witnesses. Confronted with the customary archival silence over Harrafi’s fate, ERC executive Abdeslam Moussadik instructs the family to seek witnesses who can corroborate their story. A man named al-Hajj al-Maâti is the only witness who agrees to come forward. When asked “Who would you advise us to contact among the elderly as potential witnesses?,” he responds:

The Seniors are almost all dead. . . . There was Mustapha Chemseddine, the treasurer of the Moroccan Workers Union, who is dead. There was a Jew named Azar. He left for Palestine for good. There was another Jew known by Ben Sahel. Driss Medkouri is dead, may God bestow his mercy upon him. There was Mohammed Tibari who is also deceased. May he rest in peace. There was Zouhir Abdelkarim. He also passed away. May he rest in peace. There is El Moufakir Mustapha of the Chemical Industry. He died too. I doubt there is anybody who would still remember him.

This very ordinary act of witnessing, one that brings out information helpful in determining the whereabouts of this activist, veers inadvertently into a litany of disappearances combining death, political repression, and emigration. Al-Hajj al-Maâti knew that all the Muslim witnesses had passed away, but all he knew about Azar and Ben Sahel is that they left Morocco for good. Whether they are still alive or dead, the heart of the matter is that they carried part of Moroccan history with them to Israel/ Palestine. Instead of dealing only with the initial forcible disappearance, Our Forbidden Places elucidates another disappearance, carried out through emigration, piecing together scattered fragments of Moroccan history. At this pivotal moment when Morocco tried to revisit its post-1956 history of state violence, an Amazigh, two departed Jews, and a story of enforced disappearance converge to shed light on loss and historiography.

Amazigh identity, Jewish emigration, and political imprisonment during the Years of Lead may seem distant and disconnected topics, but they are linked through themes of disappearance and absence from post-independence Moroccan history. Silencing was the common denominator between Imazighen, Jews, and political prisoners after Morocco’s independence. Besides academic silence, there was a de facto ban on Amazigh identity in the public sphere. Similarly, the majority of Moroccan Jews (up to 1.6% of the Moroccan population until 1960) emigrated, disappearing from both the geography of the nation and its official history even though they remained an object of social memory, as Aomar Boum has compellingly theorized in his intergenerational model. Boum does not explicitly connect Jewish emigration to state politics in the Years of Lead, but Jewish departure from Morocco occurred in a larger frame of reference in which political and cultural repression actively worked to eliminate real and potential “political and ideological opponents of the royal regime.” The causes and implications of these disappearances are different, but they represent facets of the loss which, in the words of Driss El Yazami, former president of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), contributed to Moroccans’ “amputated and impoverished” knowledge of their “Amazigh and Jewish” history. While much has been written about the political and human rights consequences of the dictatorial rule during the Years of Lead no, one has yet undertaken a comparative investigation into the disappearance of different constituencies during this time of internal political struggle in Morocco. Accordingly, Moroccan Other-Archives examines how cultural production writes histories of loss that center Amazigh activism, the emigration of Moroccan Jews, and state violence unleashed on political opponents. Most importantly, Moroccan Other-Archives investigates how loss itself becomes an other-archive, which foregrounds cultural production’s central role in rewriting a multifaceted history of Morocco’s recent past.

The first two years of Morocco’s independence (1956–1958) saw unbounded aspirations for both democracy and a political structure that recognized the Moroccan people’s rights to citizenship. Building on this democratic enthusiasm and positive spirit born out of independence, a group of nationalist Jews and Muslims formed Jamiyyat al-Wifaq (the Concord Association) as an “expression of national unity and solidarity regardless of religion,” a move that also indicated a desire to foreground citizenship in a shared country. Kosansky and Boum have demonstrated that despite the goodwill shown toward Moroccan Jews during these early years of independence, dhimma, which refers to the status of non-Muslims within the Islamic state, remained the framework that governed them. To further expand Kosansky and Boum’s argument, it is possible to argue that citizenship—not in its strict understanding as a matter of passports and travel documents, but rather as a sense of having the right to envision a different polity and to act to implement that vision without fear—was called into question for both Muslims and Jews. Jews and Muslims were raʻāyā (the king’s subjects), a status that continues to inform state discourse today. The question of citizenship was whether political participation was going to be meaningful and open or whether the culture of raʻīyya (being the ruler’s subject) would prevail. If the latter, all Moroccans, Jews and Muslims, would be stripped of citizenship in its modern understanding. 

Raʻīyya culture was threatened by educated Jews and Muslims after Morocco’s independence. Conceptions of citizenship had been transformed by the impact of the Protectorate among Muslims and by almost a hundred years of heavy Gallicization of middle-class Moroccan Jews. There was an effort among Jewish, Muslim, and French figures to recreate and build bridges between their different communities in order to build the new nation-state together on the fundamentals of citizenship developed through their encounter with colonialism. Les Amitiés Marocaines (1950–1956), an association that brought together French liberals with their Moroccan Muslim and Jewish counterparts, worked for a peaceful co‑existence of these communities in the independent state. Reflecting a collective desire to work toward a shared future, Carlos de Nesry, a Jewish lawyer from Tangiers, authored two books that acknowledge the transformations this wrought on Jewish life in Morocco; he formulated a road map for a future democratic Moroccan state that would retain its Jewish population and made a case for a new relationship between the ruler and the ruled in independent Morocco. Le Juif de Tanger et le Maroc’s subtext underlines the crucial importance of redefining post-independence Morocco in order to accommodate the transformed native Jewish population. At the core of de Nesry’s writing was the need to see Jews and Muslims as citizens, not merely subjects.

Despite these aspirations, the dream of a democratic, citizenship-based state was dashed when King Muhammad V dismissed Abdallah Ibrahim’s popular government on May 21, 1960, a final sign that the monarchy was intent on arrogating all state powers. With the weakening of the Istiqlal party as a result of the secession of al-Ittihad al-Watanili-al-Quwwat al-Shaʻbiyya (the National Union for Popular Forces [NUPF]), the monarchy had a wide-open path to pit political camps against each other. The sacking of Ibrahim’s popular government coincided with Hassan’s secret negotiations with Alexandre Easterman, an envoy of the State of Israel who sought to lift the Ibrahim government’spassport restrictions on Moroccan Jews. The royal authoritarian regime would become official in February 1961 after Mohammed V’s sudden death. Maâti Monjib, a rare historian of contemporary history, concludes in his precocious book La Monarchie marocaine et la lutte pour le pouvoir (The Moroccan Monarchy and the Battle for Power) that May 1960, the year the king abruptly terminated Ibrahim’s mandate, is “perceived by the democratic movement as the end of a sweet political dream and the beginning of a new era punctuated by suffering, repression and assassinations.”