Culture in Morocco

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Like most African countries, Morocco suffers a serious delay in integrating the

global information society. Whether in terms of policy, cost or teledensity,

access to information and communication technologies is not yet possible for

the majority of the population. While it is one of the high-ranking African

countries in telecommunications “policy,” Morocco still lags behind in terms of

fixed line teledensity. By 2001 there were only 5.03 telephones per 100

inhabitants. Connectivity, too, is very limited since only 0.35% of Moroccans

are Internet users (Hafkin, 2002).7 While the remarkable expansion of mobile

telephony has brought the ratio of Moroccans with access to a telephone to 1

out of 4, the decline of the fixed service is affecting the growth of the Internet.8

Hala Baqain, an Arab Advisors Group’s analyst, has insightfully observed that

it may be that “the lack of interest in the fixed services tender is the relative

underdevelopment of the Internet and datacomm segments in the country,

which makes investing in fixed services even riskier” (as cited in Hatif Telecom,

n. d.).

However, though Internet service is still at a fledgling state, there has been an

extraordinary interest in cyber culture over the last five years. The expansion

of computer-mediated interaction has generated new jobs and affected the

urban landscape. The business of Internet service providers has boomed and

there is hardly a neighborhood today that does not have its local cybercafé.9

Quite a few cafés have transformed their upstairs sections into cybercafés.

Though updated estimates put the number of Internet users at 500,000, it is

quite interesting to know that this number may have exceeded that of readers

(Zyne, 2002).10 Despite the competitive environment created by the recent

introduction of the provider Maroc Connect (a subsidiary of French Telecom),

only 5% of Moroccan houses are connected to the Internet, while this service

is yet inaccessible in public schools and universities and remains the privilege

of top managers in private and public institutions. A recent government agency

survey in the workplace has revealed that so far more than 60% of small and

mid-sized enterprises are not connected to the Internet. The same study has

shown that only big organizations are investing in the new technologies, while

only 25,000 enterprises out of 75,000 industrial units are connected to the

Internet service (as cited in Mouhcine, 2003, pp. 1-2).

For the general public, cybercafés have played a substantial role in the

expansion of cyberculture. For a price, which ranges from eight to 11 dirhams

an hour depending on location and available services (about $1), cybercafés

are open to the general public including children. In its evening news on April

8, 2002, Channel 2M ran a report on the growing importance of cyberculture

in the life of Moroccan youth. The cyber clients interviewed for the report stated

that they spent an average of four hours a day in the cybercafé chatting on the

Internet and most of them admitted an addiction to computer-mediated

interaction: “Chat has become an essential performance in my everyday life.

Just like I need my morning coffee, I also need a chat session to start the day

with,” one informant said. Another interviewee confessed that he often stayed

in the cybercafé till he started dozing on the keyboard: “I can spend up to 12

hours a day in this cybercafé and more than 100 dirhams ($10). My parents are

now more and more concerned about the time and money I spend in the

cyber.”11

Morocco is a promising market for new information and communication

technologies, as has been shown by the amazing expansion of mobile phones

and the price of $1,200,000,000 telecommunications giant Vivendi has paid for

the exploitation of a second phone license. In the words of its president,

Forcom, an annual meeting which brings together telecommunications experts

and policy makers, aims at developing the infrastructure and content of

information and communication technologies (media and the Internet) “to find

solutions so as to reduce and attenuate the phenomenon of ‘digital fracture’

which leads to exclusion” (as cited in Oudoud, 2002). In an inaugurating

statement to Forcom 2002, a high government official stated that the Information

and Communication Technologies sector made a decisive contribution to

the development of the country between 1995-2000: “The [sector’s] contribution

consisted in the most important sectorial investments never matched by any

other economic activity in Morocco [....] They enabled us to catch up with

years of considerable delay and to create an important value added” (as cited

in Oudoud, 2002). In his turn, the Secretary of State of the Post and

Information Technologies has been aggressively pushing for a “10 million

Internet users by 2010” project. He is confident that the annual state funds of

1 billion dirhams (about $100 million) set for the subsidy of Internet development

makes this ambitious project very realizable: “We must accelerate the

establishment of the funds to be able to implement our strategy concerning

information technologies.” In his opinion, if Moroccan economy is to stay

competitive in a global market, the state should use these funds to subsidize

Internet connection for administrations, schools, and small enterprises (as cited

in Oudoud, 2002). The next section explores some of the ways in which cyberinteraction

may be contributing to the expansion of the public sphere in

Morocco.