By Ali Bouzerda

Jacques Brel said with insight: “Stupidity is laziness… fat around the heart, fat around the brain. I think that’s it…”. This wisdom unfortunately risks applying to the “stupidity” of the cinematic documentary “Zawaya Al-Sahraa, Zawaya Al-Watan” directed by Moroccan artist Majida Benkirane, which caused a storm of anger and indignation among the tribe. Reguibat in Dakhla and elsewhere…

This documentary on the religious brotherhoods in the Sahara – and implicitly their political role -, is the fruit of a year’s work directed by Ms. Benkirane, an actress known to the Moroccan public but new to filmmaking.

First of all, it must be recognized that, despite many difficulties, the production of the documentary and its screening on December 26 in Laayoune, during a film festival, is a commendable initiative and can only be applauded, but unfortunately as the saying goes: “جات تكحل ليها عينيها وعورتها” (She wanted to put kohl on her eyelids, but she gouged out her eye).

And for good reason, a so-called academic historian has squarely put his feet in the dish by declaring in “expert testimony” that the spiritual leader of the Reguibat was “sterile”. In other words: “an insult” to the memory of Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Reguibi, to his family and to his descendants.

Flashback – In a 35-minute video, posted on YouTube, men of a certain age intervened – some of whom are distinguished by their beautiful desert outfits that look like notables – and another of around ten minutes where a woman in olive green melhfa (feminine dress of the inhabitants of the Moroccan Sahara) expresses her indignation in front of her male peers. In fact, a tribal assembly was convened immediately to take a stand against what the Reguibat consider “blasphemy” to their spiritual leader and “a serious attack on their honor”, and to add: “justice must be done …”. Another reminds the assembly that a “real man is he who defends his honor”.

The mass is thus said, because this message reminds the little people of the popular saying: “A real man sacrifices himself for two things: the honor of his family and his country”.

Those who know the history of the Sahara, the notion of honor and the weight of words, will quickly realize that these remarks were once the harbingers of a call for sedition…

In an audio recording shared this Saturday, December 31 on WhatsApp, an indignant sheikh warned his listeners that: “Reguibat is a red line not to be crossed… we are full Moroccan citizens and not second-class citizens…” .

In the Arabic language there is a proverb which draws the attention of men to the danger of sedition, in these terms: الفتنة نائمة لعن الله موقدها (Sedition sleeps, woe to him who awakens it!)

During his intervention during this conclave of Dakhla, in a not very conciliatory tone, a Reguibi, with his wide draaiya (robe) which resembles that of the blue men ready for confrontation, did not hesitate to allude to “the conspiracy theory” of which was “victim”, he says, his tribe and his ancestors. He wondered in front of an audience made up of dozens of men, on “how” the authorities concerned would have allowed this serious “prejudice” against the founder of the Reguibat brotherhood, Cheikh Sidi Ahmed Reguibi, whose tomb is in Smara, the spiritual capital of the Sahara.

As a reminder, this Saint marabout was born in 999 of the Hegira (1590) and died at the age of 75.

According to the British writer Tony Hodges*, Cheikh Sidi Ahmed Reguibi descended from the spiritual capital of the Cherifian Empire, Fez towards the Sahara during a long journey through the Draa Valley.

And according to meticulously documented research carried out by this academic on the history of the Sahara, the spiritual leader of the Reguibat married Kaouria mint Mohammed, of the Sellam tribe, a fraction of the tribe of Ahel Brahim or Daoud. This union gave birth to three boys: Ali, Ammar and Qacem.

And still addressing the history of the Reguibat tribe, Tony Hodges points out that it is “the largest tribe in the Sahara” which once consisted of “nomads” traveling through large spaces from the Draa Valley to Saquiat Hamra , in the Zemmour massif, in the south-west of Algeria, in the north of Mauritania up to a portion of the north-west of Mali.

At that time, the nomads moved with camels and animals, freely in this geographical space in search of water points and pastures. The European colonial powers, notably France and Spain, had not yet established borders between African countries after an ax partition of the lands of the rich continent, like a big cake on which a band of unscrupulous thieves got their hands. .

Let’s leave the nomads and their camels of the past and return to our sheep of the present time.

Alerted by the protests and the interruption of the screening of this long-awaited documentary, the Ministry of Culture had the reflex to quickly take the necessary decision, in such circumstances, by knocking two heads off at the Moroccan Cinematographic Center (CMC). Thus we put an end to any possibility of “political instrumentalization” inside or outside Morocco.

A first in the history of the cogs of the bureaucracy in Morocco, sometimes slow and tortuous.

In addition, the CCM has decided to suspend the exploitation visa for this controversial documentary and Ms. Benkirane has apparently been obliged to present “her apologies” to the persons concerned.

Questioned by Article19.ma, Driss Mrini, producer of this film and veteran Moroccan filmmaker affirmed that his mission “was limited to logistics” no more no less. According to another source, the director of the documentary would have supervised the production from A to Z and she would have had her last word on “the text content such as the editing of images and sound”.

In a Tweet, Ms. Benkirane blamed the unfortunate incident on “all parties involved in the production”, because she, she explains, considers that her role was limited only to the “artistic and technical” (sic).

[وأن التقصير في التدقيق في هذه المسألة كان من المفروض أن تتحمل مسؤوليته جميع الاطراف المتدخلة في إنجاز هذا العمل باعتبار مسؤوليتي تقتصر على الجانب الفني والتقني فقط .]

The controversy is on…

But wouldn’t all this mess have been avoided with an effort of thorough historical research and meticulous work… or “just common sense”, as the saying goes.

An indisputable fact in this scandal: intellectual laziness, not to say ignorance of the significant details of the history of the Reguibat brotherhood and the struggle of its warriors against Spanish and French colonialism, as well as their unfailing solidarity in the defense of the sovereignty of the Cherifian Empire.

“It is ignorance, not knowledge, that sets men against each other,” said the late UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Mutatis mutandis

In the field of cinema, like that of journalism, in recent years we have witnessed the appearance of hordes of fanatics who have invaded the fields of culture and knowledge for lucrative purposes and sometimes for prestige and power. Thus, we suddenly discovered, for example, a stockbroker becoming an actor becoming a director by chance. This Casablancan is not ashamed of plagiarism and does not hide it. Another actor of his state, converted into the restoration of tanjias marrakechia, before reaching the status of appointed director. And these are not anecdotes…

And who says that the “social elevator” does not exist in this beautiful country?

*Tony Hodges – Historical Dictionary of Western Sahara – The Scarecrow Press, Inc. London 1982


Editorial – Sahara / Cinema: What to do in the face of human stupidity?