'Hot Maroc': Yassin Adnan's satirical debut novel plots the death of Moroccan politics

10:59 AM Aida Alami 0 Comments



In early 2011, thousands of Moroccans joined the stream of regional uprisings demanding social and political freedoms in their country.

Triggered by events in its North African neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt, the February 20 Movement was born, named after the date of the first planned nationwide protest, which would soon spark further mass demonstrations.

Though the constitutional reforms put forward in response by King Mohammed VI failed to deliver on their promises, the fervour running through the country at the time - as in the rest of the region - was high. Tech-savvy Moroccan activists turned to the internet to voice their opinions and mobilise in unprecedented ways.

In addition to calls for social and political reform, threats and intimidation also rippled through the cybersphere. A propaganda campaign online and in the government-run press sought to slander the February 20 youth, calling them apostates, homosexuals, or supporters of the Polisario Front independence movement.

It was this antagonistic climate that inspired Moroccan cultural journalist, poet and literary critic Yassin Adnan to begin penning his debut novel.

Following unpleasant encounters with online trolls after he launched a cultural television programme in 2011, Adnan began to write a short story at a writer’s residency in France’s southern Cote d’Azur.

And so the character of Hot Maroc’s protagonist Rahhal Laaouina was born.

Although Adnan had planned to complete the short story during the three-week residency, he quickly found himself caught up in Laaouina’s story, which dragged him down a labyrinth of narrative that lasted far longer than he'd envisioned.

That story eventually evolved into Hot Maroc, a time-travelling, contemporary, satirical tale of political and social changes in contemporary Morocco.

Originally written in Arabic, the novel was published in 2016, five years after Adnan’s initial musings. The following year, the book was long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Last year, it was translated into French and the English version is forthcoming from Syracuse University Press in July, translated by Alexander E. Elinson.

Regime change

The plot centres around Laaouina, an insignificant man whom we meet as a student at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. Ignored on the whole by his peers, he shrinks back and begins to observe them instead, comparing them to animals and setting up the novel’s uniquely bestial theme.

Laaouina meets a woman and after they marry, his new wife helps him secure work at an internet cafe. He eventually finds himself working as a paid online troll, creating multiple personas to anonymously defame others.

Midway through the novel, Laaouina discovers a news site called Hot Maroc, which covers opinion, news, culture and crime. He ends up using it to attack those he considers his enemies: pretty much anyone who has been more successful than him.

“I was wondering: who are these anonymous people with borrowed names that plague the online social media atmosphere? And why do they intend to spoil people's dreams and attack anything that moves?” Marrakech-based Adnan tells Middle East Eye.

“The phenomenon had become widespread in Morocco. So I decided to work on it.”

Hot Maroc opens at a poetry reading, with flashbacks to Laaouina at middle school, and early on takes us to demonstrations by the National Union of Students of Morocco - a leftist student organisation - that the protagonist joined in the 1990s (the protests themselves span over three decades, during which time they were met with excessive retaliation from the authorities, infiltrating and repressing the wave of dissent in the 1970s and 80s especially).

An apolitical Laaouina becomes involved in the protests as a student in the 90s, merely out of curiosity and a desire to serve his own interests, only joining the activists because they were protesting to reinstate expelled students - including himself.

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