Morocco is playing France today in the World Cup semi-finals. It’s a huge game for several reasons because Morocco are — and have been — massive underdogs. But that didn’t stop them from knocking out Iberian neighbors Spain and Morocco. And now, as they did in the 8th century, the move on to France. Will this be another Battle of Tours or will Morocco advance to the final against Argentina — going further than any non-European or non-South American team has before? This World Cup has been a great one for underdogs and African football, in particular. On the other hand, France won the last World Cup — so I suspect that Moroccans, fans of African football, fans of non-European teams, and fans of underdogs will all be rooting hard for the Atlas Lions.
Morocco (Amazigh: ⵜⴰⴳⵍⴷⵉⵜ ⵏ ⵍⵎⵖⵔⵉⴱ, literally: “Land of God,” Arabic: المملكة المغربية) is located in Africa‘s Maghreb. Its neighbors are Algeria, Mauritania, Spain, and the disputed territory of Saharawi, or Western Sahara. Its capital is Rabat. Its most populous cities are, in descending order, Casablanca, Fez, Tangier, and Marrakech. I feel compelled, despite its small size, to shout out Ifrane, a Swiss-modeled ski village in the Atlas Mountains that seems very Los Angeles. There are about 37.34 million Moroccans, making it the 39th most populous country in the world, coming in behind Poland and ahead of Uzbekistan. At 446,300 km2, it’s just a bit larger than Texas.
Morocco’s citizens are primarily composed of two peoples, the Amazigh and the Arabs. The Amazigh are often referred to as “Berbers.” Some Amazigh are probably fine with this designation but others reject it. It comes from the Greek term, βάρβαροι, meaning non-Greek speakers — a concept that many believe is related to the word, “barbarian.” The Amazigh are the indigenous people of the Maghreb. The Arabic Conquest of North Africa began in 647 CE and introduced Islam and Arabic to the region. Another wave of Arabization followed in the 1000s, when the tribes of Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym were sent by the Fatimids to quell an Amazigh rebellion and settle the Maghreb. Today, Morroco’s citizens are divided, roughly, into 44% Arabs, 21% Amazigh, 24% Arabized Amazigh, and 10% Baydhan — a Moorish people.
Morocco and France have a relationship that goes back centuries. In the early 700s, the Arab caliphate armies invaded Southern France. On 10 October 732, the Battle of tiles of Martyrs took place at Tours, resulting in a victory by Aquitanian and Frankish forces over the Umayyad Caliphate. By the 1500s, France and Morocco were trade partners and when France established a Consul in Fez, around 1577, they were the first European country to do so. After Morocco allied with Algeria, the First Franco-Moroccan War erupted in 1844. The French Conquest of Morocco began in 1907 and in 1912, Morocco became a French Protectorate. Morocco regained its independence in 1955.
OVERSEAS MOROCCANS AND MOROCCAN AMERICANS
Outside of Morocco, the country with the largest population of Moroccans is France, which is home to an estimated 1,314,000. Other countries with substantial Moroccan populations include Spain, Belgium, Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, German, the US, and Quebec. According to the 2019 American Community Survey, there are approximately 119,125 Moroccan Americans. The largest communities are in the metropolitan areas of New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Tampa, and Los Angeles.
Louis Lumière filmed scenes in Morocco in 1897 and the Moroccan Cinematographic Center was founded in 1944. For many years, foreign productions dominated local cinema. Hollywood has used Morocco as a setting (if not always film location) many times, including for The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), Ishtar (1987), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), Morocco (1930), A Night in Casablanca (1946), Patton (1970), Road to Morocco (1942), and Song of Scheherazade (1947). Of course, the most famous is Casablanca (1942).
The first Mediterranean Film Festival of Morocco was held in Tangier in 1968. It now takes place. It now takes place in Tetouan. The Marrakech International Film Festival was established in 2001. The first Amazigh Film Festival was founded in 2007 in Los Angeles. Moroccan Angelenos involved in film produciton include videographer Farida Alami, actor Kamal Moummad, actress Sofia Pernas, television host Tarek El Moussa, and actress/model Touriay Haoud.
The traditional religion of the indigenous Amazigh shared similarities with Egyptian, Iberian, Hellenistic, and Punic religions. Kings and their ancestors were widely venerated. The Amazigh pantheon included numerous gods. Amun was widely venerated by both the Amazigh and Egyptians. The dead were painted with ochre and were often buried with objects including jewelry, weapons, and ostrich eggshells. Pyramidal tombs, although associated with Egypt, were common throughout North Africa. Roman historians recorded that they also worshiped stone megaliths, stars, the moon, and the sun.
Islam is the state religion of the kingdom of Morocco and, officially, 99% of Morrocans practice Sunni Islam, which for statistical purposes includes Sufism. There are small numbers of agnostics, atheists, Baháʼí, Christians, and Jews. Jews migrated to Morocco following the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. In 323, Christianity became the state religion of Roman and was imposed upon Moroccans. Islam reached Morocco in 680 CE. The first Baháʼí mission opened in Morocco in 1946.
After World War II, many Jews left Morocco and Los Angeles emerged as one of the largest communities of Moroccan Jews, numbering about 10,000 by some estimates. Many, like Sidney Chriqui, had worked for the US army after it arrived in Casablanca. Many settled in Beverly Hills, North Hollywood, and Pico-Robertson. In more recent years, many Morrocan Jews have arrived via Canada, France, and Israel. There are synagogues that cater primarily to Moroccan Jews, like Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic, Ahavat Hashem, Baba Sale Congregation, Em Habanim Sephardic Congregation, Magen Avot Synagogue, Pinto Center, and Shaarey Hahayim Congregation.
Jewish Moroccan Angelenos include designer Bob Oré Abitbol, designer Daniel Bohbot, handbag designer Jack Rimokh, actress Jenette Elise Goldstein, footwear designer Joe Ouaknine, designers Marc and Michele Bohbot, Guess? founders Maurice and Paul Marciano, handbag designer Richard Elgrichi, and actress Shiri Appleby.
MOROCCAN MUSIC AND MOROCCAN ANGELENO MUSICIANS
Moroccan music combines Amazigh traditions with influences of Andalusi, Arab, and West African music. Within Moroccan music, there are several established regional traditions, including ahidus, ahwash, alta, chaabi, malhun, guedra, reggada, and hypnotically rhythmic gnawa — the latter of which has found, perhaps, the largest international audience. As with most countries, the 20th century saw the introduction of globally popular blues, dance, heavy metal, pop, rap, reggae, rock, &c.
Locally, there are several musicians with Moroccan backgrounds, working within a range of traditions. They include singer Aliyah, rapper French Montana (né Karim Kharbouch), singer/rabbi Haim Louk, singer Madison Beer, and musician Reda Haddioui.
OTHER PROMINENT MOROCCAN ANGELENOS
Moroccan Angelenos in the arts include comedian Atif Myers, influencer Hajar, shoemaker Khalid Naitzehou, dance/wrestler Layla El, journalist Simo Benbachir, Yasmine Halouani of Lakesh Moroccan Handcrafts, and blogger Wolfy Neyda
MOROCCAN CUISINE AND RESTAURANTS
Moroccan cuisine reflects its Amazigh roots and centuries of influence from Arabic cuisine and Mediterranean cuisines. I’m not a food historian but growing up when I did, Moroccan cuisine seems to have had a moment in the 1980s and ’90s where it was regarded as novel and interesting by the American mainstream, but that moment seems to me to have passed. That’s sad, because it is one of the world’s great culinary traditions. Couscous, a staple of the Maghreb, is perhaps the dish most associated with Moroccan cuisine but obviously there’s more to it than that. In a way, Moroccan cuisine’s place in the Los Angeles culinary scene reminds of that of Vietnamese, Salvadoran, or Mongolian cuisines — that is, cuisines reduced by the mainstream to a single dish (and in the case of Mongolian, one that actually comes from Taiwan). Luckily, however, there are several Moroccan restaurants in Los Angeles and they dominate the landscape of Moroccan Los Angeles.
One of the first, probably, was Koutoubia — which Michel Ohayon opened in 1978 and which is still thriving. David and Abraham Bitton opened Le Market in 1987. If there are any that I’ve missed — including fodo trucks, home kitchens, and even closed restaurants — let me know in the comments and I’ll ad them (and any other Moroccan businesses or points of note) to the map.
There are at least two Moroccan organizations in Los Angeles. There’s the Moroccan American Association of Los Angeles and there’s a Moroccan Honorary Consulate in Los Angeles.
“Little Jewish Morocco”: A History of an Angeleno Settlement by Aomar Boum
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