The summers in Rabat might be beautiful and carefree, but the city’s young people dream of a better life in the West
As high-school students finish up their exams, the streets of the capital come to life with young boys, free to enjoy the Moroccan summer.
Hip-hop culture in Morocco is well-developed, Moroccan artists have been influenced by American-style music for nearly a decade. And this comes through in the rebellious fashion sense of many of the country’s youth, especially on the streets of Rabat.
The coastal town of Rabat is Morocco’s political and administrative capital, and enjoys a friendly rivalry with the larger urban sprawl that is Casablanca.
Colourful T-shirts boasting American brands and snapbacks referencing American culture are sold in hip-hop clothing stands in the old souk. The style is distinctly 80s. Young vendors in the old souk sell hip-hop, mainly by Moroccan artists and from elsewhere in the Arab world.
Adnane Chehoini, a 15-year-old, skateboards along the boardwalk with his two friends, Ismail and Ayman.
“Rabat is very cool for young people, there are places to have fun,” Chehoini says. “All that’s missing is a skatepark.”
Already, a skatepark is being constructed nearby. Government-funded skateparks remain rare in North Africa. Many youths in the region often express frustration at the lack of government support for their leisure. There is one in Casablanca and several in Egypt, but these are still exceptions.
Some teenage girls stroll in groups of their own along the boardwalk, but mostly this is the domain of teenage boys.
Mehdi Ferdouss, an 18-year-old who sat his final exam this morning, dives into the canal. Most of his band of friends are from the town of Salé, the poorer town that lies across the waterway from the wealthier capital of Rabat.
I ask what he wants to do now that he’s finished high school.
“I will go to Italy, because there are lots of opportunities. There’s no future in Morocco,” Ferdouss says, adding that many of his friends are already there.
However beautiful and carefree summers in Rabat might be, many youths continue to aspire to head north to Europe as soon as they reach adulthood. Often, the reality doesn’t live up to their expectations, especially with ongoing economic stagnation in Europe and the rise of anti-immigration sentiment.
Idrissi Fatiha, a PhD candidate at the Université Libre de Bruxelles who is researching migration, says there are many reasons for the persistence of the “European dream” among Moroccan youth.
Partly, she says, it is because the youth perceive Moroccans abroad as living a much more exciting, lucrative existence than their compatriots who stay at home - and those who left to seek their fortunes elsewhere are hardly going to disenchant them.
“When an émigré comes back to Morocco on his holidays, he wants to make himself look like a success story,” Fatiha explains. “He’s not going to tell people about the reality that he might well be living - of underpaid, precarious work.”
For Chehoini, concerns about the future are still distant.
“I want to be a skateboarder when I grow up,” he says.