“Hot Maroc” Satirizes Marrakesh, Moroccan Society

11 July, 2021
Marrakesh's square and market Jamaa El Fna at sunset (photo courtesy Getty Images).
Mar­rakesh’s square and mar­ket Jamaa El Fna at sun­set (pho­to cour­tesy Get­ty Images).

Hot Maroc, a nov­el by Yassin Adnan
Trans­lat­ed from the Ara­bic by Alexan­der E. Elinson
Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press (August 2021)

El Habib Louai

Hot Maroc
is a satir­i­cal work of fic­tion that por­trays the flaws of Moroc­can soci­ety and the polit­i­cal tribu­la­tions it tra­versed in the 1990s and ear­ly 2000s, when the inter­net had just been intro­duced into the tex­ture of Moroc­can life, result­ing in a dras­tic change. It does so through a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of bes­tial char­ac­ters that reveal the con­crete pos­si­bil­i­ties of man in a coun­try ruined by cor­rup­tion, nepo­tism, social hypocrisy and greed. One of these char­ac­ters is a whim­si­cal short, slight man named Rah­hal Laâouina, who is the focal point and action car­ri­er of Hot Maroc’s plot.

Hot Maroc is avail­able from Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press.

Laâouina is a des­per­ate­ly deprived cow­ard who leads a mar­gin­al life in the shad­ow in the bustling city of Mar­rakesh. Ignored and derid­ed by his class­mates and friends due to his depri­va­tion and phys­i­cal appear­ance, Laâouina was spurred to bear a grudge against suc­cess­ful peo­ple and con­stant­ly wor­ries about falling from grace, which sub­se­quent­ly leads to his use of degen­er­ate ways to achieve igno­ble ends. Though he thinks of him­self as a squir­rel, he is eas­i­ly iden­ti­fied by his “rat-like face and two nar­row eyes,” which help him become an expert on ani­mal natures, eas­i­ly uncov­er­ing each per­son­’s cor­re­spond­ing ani­mal through care­ful scruti­ny of their faces, their tem­pera­ment, the log­ic of their think­ing and their style of argu­men­ta­tion. His inse­cu­ri­ties and fee­ble­ness make of him a man with­out prin­ci­ples, ready to relin­quish his pow­er and aspi­ra­tions to oth­ers. He con­tents him­self with hero­ic deeds achieved only in dreams, defama­tion, con­trivance of charges and forgery of pseu­do­nyms on news sites and social media out­lets like Facebook.

Laâouina was born into a poor work­ing-class fam­i­ly. Unem­ployed, his father got by on recit­ing the Quran in the ceme­tery while his moth­er was a house­wife who await­ed the food bas­ket brought back by the father at the end of the day. Yet, Laaouina was able to rise from the abyss of pover­ty and depri­va­tion after the fam­i­ly moved from a mar­gin­al neigh­bor­hood to live with his uncle in the old city, where he worked hard to com­plete his uni­ver­si­ty stud­ies in the depart­ment of Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture, which he joined after his fail­ure with his­to­ry and geog­ra­phy. At Cadi Ayaad Uni­ver­si­ty, he became acquaint­ed with the stu­dent move­ment in its left­ist, Islam­ic, rev­o­lu­tion­ary, reformist, legit­i­mate and banned forms, before he suc­cumbed and  even­tu­al­ly mar­ried his col­league Hos­nia, who helps him secure work at an inter­net café in one of the city’s pop­u­lar neighborhoods.

The inter­net café, where Laâouina first dis­cov­ers the Hot Maroc web­site, becomes the head­quar­ters from which he launch­es his rav­aging war expos­ing, defam­ing, fab­ri­cat­ing charges and fuel­ing rumors about his friends, col­leagues and even pub­lic fig­ures. He does so with a great deal of malev­o­lence, exert­ed on real and imag­i­nary ene­mies through mul­ti­ple per­sonas and anony­mous pro­files that he orches­trates in immoral ways. How­ev­er, Hot Maroc is not a mere web­site, it is a forged title which uses the French trans­la­tion of Moroc­co or ‘Maghreb’ and the Eng­lish word ‘hot’ to trans­mit or rather break the news of a deplorable Moroc­co dis­mem­bered by vir­tu­al and real crooks who sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly abuse the media and polit­i­cal out­lets to tame the mass­es and advance their own per­son­al agendas.

Two of these per­sonas are out­stand­ing­ly pre­dom­i­nant with a great fol­low­ing: the reli­gious Abu Qata­da and the Son of the Peo­ple dis­tin­guished by his patri­ot­ic and pop­ulist lean­ings. One of the first vic­tims of Laâouina’s ruth­less cun­ning and “gas­tric dis­tress” is Wafiq Daraai, the beloved young poet whose pop­u­lar­i­ty and favor­able recep­tion among uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents, secured by his hand­some­ness and excel­lence in the prose poem, Laâouina extreme­ly abhors.  Back at the uni­ver­si­ty, and out of mere spite, he pro­vides false infor­ma­tion to one of the stu­dents about Daraai’s reports to the secu­ri­ty ser­vices on every­thing that is hap­pen­ing with­in the left­ist orga­ni­za­tions at the uni­ver­si­ty, forc­ing the poet to with­draw from the pub­lic space. Years lat­er, he would con­tin­ue his defama­tion of Daraai by his “fiery com­ments, sly tricks” on the unmer­it­ed award­ing of Ibn Wanan Prize to Daraai by the Min­istry of Cul­ture. Daraai dis­ap­pears from the scene by turn­ing off his phone at the last moment and the awards cer­e­mo­ny “caused some may­hem to break out when a group of around twen­ty atten­dees took it upon them­selves to shout out slo­gans crit­i­cal of cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, as well as prose poet­ry and the wast­ing of pub­lic money.”

As for the sec­ond vic­tim, Emad Qat­i­fa, Laâouina makes every effort to lure him into the trap of a fake date with Hiyam, the Face­book per­son­al­i­ty he cre­at­ed in order to spoil Emad’s mat­ri­mo­ni­al rela­tion­ship out of jeal­ousy and hatred for his suc­cess­es, despite the fact that he did not obtain a bac­calau­re­ate degree.

Yet Laâouina, who until then had care­ful­ly lived in seclu­sion and had grown accus­tomed to the anony­mous and mul­ti­ple iden­ti­ties he imper­son­ates, sud­den­ly finds him­self under the spot­light of the police and pol­i­tics. He dis­cov­ers that the Intel­li­gence Ser­vices Com­mis­sion­er who inter­ro­gat­ed and recruit­ed him was none oth­er than his old com­rade Moukhtar, one of the zeal­ous fig­ures of the left-wing grass­roots fac­tion of the stu­dent move­ment. Intrigu­ing­ly, the author invites us into the stu­dent move­men­t’s atmos­phere through a metic­u­lous and hilar­i­ous por­tray­al of the fea­tures of that his­tor­i­cal phase, when the con­flict fre­quent­ly flared up between the stu­dent fac­tions and the slo­gans were bois­ter­ous­ly shout­ed while the author­i­ties watched cau­tious­ly before inter­ven­ing. Com­mis­sion­er Ayad sim­pli­fies things for Laâouina when he clear­ly declares, “Today we just need to change our style. We’ll move from the ama­teur realm to the pro­fes­sion­al. Do you under­stand, Rah­hal? You’ll remain as you are. But the maneu­vers will become tighter.”

He became a “rac­ing rab­bit. One of the rac­ing rab­bits that run in every direc­tion to keep the Chameleon out in front.” Con­se­quent­ly, Laâouina finds him­self los­ing con­trol over all his vir­tu­al iden­ti­ties when he is forced to work for the King’s clos­est friend’s elec­toral cam­paign, against the Islam­ic par­ty, and to col­lab­o­rate as an elec­tron­ic agent of the secret intel­li­gence ser­vices. The author describes the absur­di­ty of this elec­toral cam­paign in a satir­i­cal man­ner via inci­dents relat­ing to what came to be known as the Snail Affair before he con­cludes that, “peo­ple did­n’t have the ener­gy any­more for […] abstract [ide­o­log­i­cal] debates, espe­cial­ly for par­ty prin­ci­ples and polit­i­cal plans. Peo­ple want­ed car­ni­va­lesque elec­tions, com­plete with show and spec­ta­cle; song and dance; feasts and ban­quets; small, pal­pa­ble gains they would win dur­ing the cam­paign. In the end, all can­di­dates are the same. All of them will dis­ap­pear to work for their own inter­ests and become impor­tant peo­ple in the capital.”

Through indi­vid­ual lives, Adnan dis­sects the real­i­ty of jour­nal­ism in Moroc­co, its short­com­ings and the sub­or­di­na­tion of some of its pro­fes­sion­als to agen­das imposed by the secret intel­li­gence of the State as in the cas­es of Naim Mar­zouk, opin­ion colum­nist for Al-Mus­taqbal news­pa­per, and Anouar Mimi, edi­tor-in-chief of the Hot Maroc news site. These qua­si-jour­nal­ists are mere pawns employed to exe­cute the instruc­tions and agen­das dic­tat­ed by intel­li­gence offi­cials with­out any con­cern for pro­fes­sion­al ethics and con­science. The prin­ci­pal role of such fake jour­nal­ists is to inter­fere with pub­lic opin­ion, dis­tract the mass­es and divert their atten­tion from the real issues and con­cerns of their soci­ety. The media in this sense becomes a toy in the hands of the few crooks whose main goal is to mon­i­tor news about stars, artists, politi­cians, scan­dals, and lit­er­ary rival­ries over awards and invi­ta­tions. Addi­tion­al­ly, Adnan expos­es the lin­guis­tic flaws and errors in the dis­course of emp­ty-head­ed jour­nal­ists whose only goal is to secure more fol­low­ers who would sup­port brain­less can­di­dates and politi­cians fight­ing over seats in the parliament.

Adnan’s implic­it mes­sage here empha­sizes the fact that the tran­si­tion from King Has­san II to Mohamed VI’s era did not lead to sub­stan­tial change despite the soft manip­u­la­tion of free­dom of expres­sion, plu­ral­ism and mul­ti­ple polit­i­cal par­ties, some of which are obliv­i­ous of its ide­olo­gies and only exploit reli­gion to lure more voters.

The nov­el attempts to address the issue of immi­gra­tion by focus­ing on the con­di­tions of the sub-Saha­ran immi­grants in Moroc­co and their Moroc­can coun­ter­parts. While the sub-Saha­ran minor char­ac­ters Amelia, Flo­ra and Yak­abo turn to pros­ti­tu­tion as a sim­ple and con­ve­nient path to make mon­ey, the Moroc­can young man Qamar Eddine is ready to give up every­thing and even con­vert to Chris­tian­i­ty in order to cross to the Euro­pean Eldo­ra­do. Sex is also seen in a new light as a com­mod­i­ty that could be bought and sold vir­tu­al­ly on the inter­net; Fadoua and Sami­ra, for instance, fre­quent the cyber­cafe to lav­ish­ly pro­vide sex­u­al ser­vices to all kinds of clients over the web for a fee.

Styl­is­ti­cal­ly, the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the nov­el makes use of both the clas­si­cal stan­dard Ara­bic and the spo­ken col­lo­qui­al dai­ly Ara­bic, Dar­i­ja, espe­cial­ly in dia­logues to ren­der them more authen­tic and real. It blends imag­i­nary events with frag­ments from the author’s auto­bi­og­ra­phy in a rel­a­tive­ly lin­ear sto­ry that seeks to dis­rupt the read­er’s hori­zon of expec­ta­tion through alter­na­tive flash­backs, mem­o­ries and dreams as in the begin­ning of the nov­el. The events are relat­ed from the point of view of bit­ter and sar­cas­tic third-per­son omni­scient nar­ra­tor who does not par­tic­i­pate in the story.

Elin­son’s trans­la­tion is metic­u­lous as it also takes these styl­is­tic ele­ments into con­sid­er­a­tion includ­ing the humor and lin­guis­tic reg­is­ters (polit­i­cal, reli­gious, poet­ic and jour­nal­is­tic) dis­tinc­tive of cer­tain char­ac­ters com­ing from a par­tic­u­lar social class. Elin­son elab­o­rates more in details on the chal­lenges involved in the process of trans­lat­ing Hot Maroc:

“In this trans­la­tion, I have done my best to reflect the lin­guis­tic mul­ti­plic­i­ty that exists in Moroc­co today. As Adnan moves deft­ly between vari­eties of spo­ken and writ­ten Ara­bic, the read­er is able to sense, to hear, the voic­es as we move through slums, uni­ver­si­ty class­rooms, upscale and work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods, polit­i­cal ral­lies, and all sorts of online worlds.

Hot Maroc is a praise­wor­thy sar­cas­tic com­e­dy that expos­es the his­tor­i­cal, polit­i­cal and urban ani­mal­i­ties of con­tem­po­rary Moroc­can soci­ety through the eyes of a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly dam­aged pro­tag­o­nist who suf­fered decades of abuse.

Moroccan novelist-poet Yassin Adnan is the editor of Marrakech Noir and the author of four books of poetry and three short story collections. Since 2006, he has researched and presented his weekly cultural TV program Masharef (Thresholds) on Morocco's Channel One, and currently hosts Bayt Yassin (Yassin's House) on Egypt's Al-Ghad TV. Hot Maroc is his first novel.
Moroc­can nov­el­ist-poet Yassin Adnan is the edi­tor of Mar­rakech Noir and the author of four books of poet­ry and three short sto­ry col­lec­tions. Since 2006, he has researched and pre­sent­ed his week­ly cul­tur­al TV pro­gram Masharef (Thresh­olds) on Moroc­co’s Chan­nel One, and cur­rent­ly hosts Bayt Yassin (Yass­in’s House) on Egyp­t’s Al-Ghad TV. Hot Maroc is his first novel.

As it hap­pens, my first encounter with Yassin Adnan hap­pened inad­ver­tent­ly dur­ing a con­fer­ence orga­nized by the South­ern Writ­ers’ Soci­ety on May 27, 2011 at Ibn Zohr Uni­ver­si­ty in Agadir, Moroc­co. I had nei­ther any pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of Adnan nor had I read any of his works though I had fre­quent­ly heard of his poet­ry amongst poet­ry afi­ciona­dos. On that day, I went to the uni­ver­si­ty to meet my ex-pro­fes­sor of Ara­bic cul­ture and lit­er­a­ture, with whom I had a mem­o­rable time debat­ing Mod­ernist Amer­i­can poet­ry from Pound to the Beats when I was a trainee teacher at Mar­rakesh’s Region­al Ped­a­gog­i­cal Cen­ter. Odd­ly enough, my ex-pro­fes­sor of Ara­bic lit­er­a­ture and cul­ture pre­sup­posed that I knew Yassin Adnan and con­tent­ed him­self with a mere short intro­duc­tion with­out any elab­o­rate details on his lit­er­ary inter­ests or lit­er­ary aspi­ra­tions. Adnan extend­ed a cold hand which I equal­ly shook with a great deal of frigid­i­ty. He seemed to be gaz­ing at some­thing out there and looked at me haughtily.

A cou­ple of years lat­er, we met again at the Prose Poem Fes­ti­val in Mar­rakesh in 2018, only this time to be greet­ed warm­ly per­haps because I brave­ly stood my ground as a par­tic­i­pat­ing poet, trans­la­tor and band leader sur­round­ed by a bunch of estab­lished poets from dif­fer­ent for­eign coun­tries. In sub­se­quent years, I came to know Adnan both as a poet with two col­lec­tions (I Could Bare­ly See and The Passer­by’s Note­book) and as a famil­iar polemi­cist best known to be an anchor on the tele­vi­sion show “Masharif.” Dur­ing one of our noc­tur­nal debates, a col­league with rad­i­cal polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal lean­ings announced that Adnan’s nov­el Hot Maroc, pub­lished by Dar Al Ain in 2016, was longlist­ed for the Inter­na­tion­al Prize for Ara­bic Fic­tion for 2017. I was tak­en aback by the news and out of mere curios­i­ty I picked the nov­el up and read it in three days dur­ing a mid-term school hol­i­day. I was flab­ber­gast­ed and immense­ly amused as it turned out that the nov­el vivid­ly cap­tured the gist of con­tem­po­rary Moroc­can soci­ety with all its con­tra­dic­tions and paradoxes.

In a sim­i­lar way to the uneasy and tumul­tuous meta­mor­pho­sis wit­nessed by Moroc­cans in the course of the years chron­i­cled in Hot Maroc, the nov­el itself came as a result of work in progress that Adnan ini­ti­at­ed dur­ing a three-week lit­er­ary res­i­den­cy on the Côte d’Azur in 2011, and con­tin­ued pen­ning dur­ing his hol­i­day jour­neys to Amer­i­ca and Brus­sels. There in Provence the book was pre­lim­i­nar­i­ly con­ceived of as a short sto­ry idea before it mutat­ed into a won­der­ful­ly full-fledged nov­el that engulfed the author in its inter­wo­ven and labyrinthine narrative.

Iron­i­cal­ly, Adnan affirms that none of the chap­ters con­sti­tut­ing the close­ly-knit sym­phon­ic tex­ture of the nov­el was penned in Mar­rakesh, the city where the inci­dents por­trayed take place. It is as if a cer­tain kind of self-seclu­sion and self-dis­tanc­ing were need­ed to come in terms with the depress­ing malaise, morose­ness and indig­nance that the author expe­ri­enced at the time. In his own words, Adnan con­fess­es, “I was then hurt by some elec­tron­ic ban­dits who besmeared Face­book and peo­ples’ rep­u­ta­tions. I won­dered to myself who were those anony­mous indi­vid­u­als with pseu­do­nyms, who poi­son the elec­tron­ic atmos­phere on Face­book and var­i­ous inter­ac­tive inter­net plat­forms? And why were they eager to triv­i­al­ize peo­ple’s dreams and shoot every mov­ing thing? This phe­nom­e­non has spread wide­ly around Moroc­co and this is the rea­son why I decid­ed to work on it.”

Yassin Adnan’s attempt at expos­ing the reper­cus­sions of the polit­i­cal con­fu­sion and social upheaval in con­tem­po­rary Moroc­co through strik­ing metaphors of utter­ly pre­pos­ter­ous bes­tial char­ac­ters secured him a place in the cul­tur­al scene amongst some of Moroc­co’s best-sell­ing fic­tion writ­ers. Yet, the dis­tinc­tive virtue of being a best-sell­ing author is sub­ject to cir­cum­spec­tion, espe­cial­ly when it is rein­forced by an arma­da of media com­men­ta­tors. Adnan’s Hot Maroc is a fine work of fic­tion that deserves atten­tion, but one should not over­val­ue it as Fouad Laroui did when he wrote, “It ranks among the three best Moroc­can nov­els writ­ten in any lan­guage.” Such a hasti­ly-made encomi­um caus­es one to won­der about the mer­its of the too often dis­re­gard­ed and under­es­ti­mat­ed lit­er­ary works by Mohammed Khair-Eddine, Mohamed Choukri, Mohamed Zafzaf and Rachid El Ham­ri, whose Le Silence Écla­tant des Rêves and Le Néant Blue con­sti­tute some of the best works of fic­tion about the home­land, cul­tur­al belong­ing, ambiva­lent iden­ti­ties and immigration.

Adnan’s work con­tin­ues to attract large num­bers of young read­ers from dif­fer­ent walks of life large­ly because it deals with a deplorable real­i­ty that most Moroc­cans pre­sum­ably per­ceive but yet lack the mech­a­nisms and ardor to change.



El Habib Louai is a Moroccan Amazigh poet, translator and musician, currently working as an assistant professor of English at Ibn Zohr University, Agadir, Morocco. He holds a doctorate in English studies with a focus on the cultural encounter between the Beats and Tangier's writers. He took creative writing courses at Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado where he performed with Anne Waldman and Thurston Moore. His articles, poems and Arabic translations of Beat Poets such as Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Diane di Prima, Anne Waldman, William S Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Joanne Kyger, Amiri Baraka, Neeli Cherkovski, Michael Rothenberg and many others have appeared in international literary publications including Big Bridge Magazine, Berfrois, Charles River Journal, Militant Thistles, The Fifth Estate, Al Quds Al Arabi, Arrafid, Al Doha, Al Faisal, Lumina, The Poet’s Haven, The MUD Proposal, the Dreaming Machine, Sagarana and Istanbul Literary Review.


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