Like Lebanon in the early '80s, Morocco stands at a crossroads. Practically next door, Libya is being torn apart by civil war while Morocco, a pacific monarchy with a king who is both a surfer and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, remains an adventurer’s mecca and a gateway to Arabia. Interestingly, the first surfer in Morocco was a US Marine stationed at a local naval base in the 1950s. Since then, Morocco has grown into an international surf destination, a situation that underlines one of the deep ironies of American foreign policy: it is our pop culture, not our military that has had the greatest impact abroad.
But how has the importation of this iconic Hawaiian-American sport impacted the culture of Morocco? Can surfing change people, open them up to new experiences, ways of seeing the shore-bound world? Can the sport also serve as a conduit for liberalization and Westernization as King Mohammed VI has suggested, or is it merely an example of cultural colonialism?
Today, the country’s social and political divide is as deep as ever. Unemployment and poverty remain high. A rising tide of protesters are taking to the streets, including a new generation of Moroccans who are using social media to organize and express themselves. With pressures building, David Morris travels to Morocco for a closer look at the curious juxtapositions of old and new in a country that some have chosen to call “the California of Islam.”