Even as the numbers of migrants waiting in North Africa to continue their journeys to Europe continue to grow, the social and political consequences of this time spent ‘en route’ remains marginal to conversations around migration across the Mediterranean. There is a focus on migrants’ movement through space, with a focus on origin and destination, presumed to be Europe, but not much attention paid to the time in between. Rather than centring on how borders regulate, impede and allow or not migratory flow and on what happens when European borders are crossed, this intervention builds from another of the predominant phenomena to which borders give rise: waiting. Waiting has often been considered alongside discussions of migration, both popularly and scholarly. As I will discuss, very often these periods of waiting are described as relates to their liminal, even parenthetical, qualities. Here, however, I am concerned with the generative communal sentiments, both of belonging and difference, that emerge during this time and the practices and communities to which they give rise. Here, would-be migrants oriented towards continuing on to Europe find themselves waiting as unintended immigrants in Morocco, ostensibly temporarily. Even as people make the choice to stay in Morocco rather than continue on to Europe, at least for the time being the threat of exclusion – via deportation from Morocco, exclusion from social and religious institutions in Tangier, or looming possibilities of expulsion from European territories – sits in uneasy tension with promises of inclusion in Moroccan society through religious, linguistic and socio-economic means.
This article begins with the provocation that lives lived while waiting, whether in the Moroccan city of Tangier amongst im/migrants or along the borders with the Spanish-African enclave of Ceuta, cannot be contained in the simple description of migration. In this discussion, what appears on the one hand to be waiting is in fact an active tense of being oriented towards movement through space but not dependent on it in the social worlds it forms. Although migrating seems to be liminal, with regard to both space and time, I want to build from the modes of being-in-common and what I will call ‘shared difference’ to remove the parentheses from what could be considered passive time spent waiting between destination and origin.
In Morocco, this time spent waiting fosters new claims to belonging and political identity as would-be migrants to Europe become immigrants to Morocco. Languages are learnt in ways that speak to sedimented histories of labour migration across North and West Africa. Religions are adopted and abandoned, and emergent forms of community transcend political, religious and ethnic boundaries. As these socio-cultural consequences of waiting accumulate over time, they also lead to political shifts such as Morocco's ‘open regularisation’ residency programme for undocumented individuals in the country in 2014 and 2017. These phenomena exist parallel to the growing racialised and xenophobic violence directed at immigrants, which also has been transformed as West and Central Africans in Morocco are seen less as passers-by and more as potential residents. When seen through the lens of waiting, understanding the growth and transformations of migratory dynamics and border politics in the region means paying more attention to this time spent ‘en route’ and its consequences beyond just the regulation of access to spatial territories.
Temporality, Waiting and Migration
There is a conceptual concern for the tense of waiting both with regard to studies of temporality and in work on migration specifically. Ghassan Hage (2009) usefully proposes to see waiting as a type of ‘active passivity’ revelatory of broader dimensions of seemingly isolated socio-cultural practices and processes. Laura Bear (2016) suggests that temporality is a contested realm of revelatory knowledges, techniques and ethics that produce marginality and inequality as well as the means to temporarily bypass them. Javier Auyero (2012), for instance, examines the ways in which the Argentine state transforms citizens into ‘patients’ through bureaucratic waiting and in doing so produces both these patients and a zone of intense sociality. Likewise, Craig Jeffrey (2010) proposes that waiting is a fundamentally social experience and as such is generative socially even as it is enmeshed in a politics of deferral, anticipation and promises yet to be kept. Melanie Griffiths (2014), Rebecca Rotter (2016), and Sarah Turnbull (2016) have examined social consequences of waiting amongst detainees and asylum-seekers in the United Kingdom, and argued along various lines that the temporal dimension of migration must be attended to alongside its spatial dimensions. Across these contexts, it is apparent that waiting leads to lasting forms of subjectivity and social world-building.
Techniques of bordering include a vast array of measures beyond the immediate control of a national territory's access points, especially with regard to what has come to be known as ‘Fortress Europe’ (Green 2013). Temporal control appears as a central element of both detention – as in Ruben Andersson's (2014b) ethnographic work on detention centres in the Spanish-African enclave of Ceuta – and deferral, as in Shahram Khosravi's (2010) auto-ethnography. Other scholars of migration and mobility more broadly have argued that various regimes of governance enforce their borders, literally and figuratively, through what could be called ‘temporal techniques of control’ (Agier 2016; Balibar 2009; De León 2015; Fassin 2011; Feldman 2011; McNevin and Missbach 2018; Mezzadra and Neilson 2013).
These techniques of control effectively enclose those waiting at borders, literally and figuratively, within the logic of the state as well as of supra-national actors such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees with the promise of an eventual inclusion as an immigrant, refugee or asylee and no longer being an irregular migrant. Even within a logic of control that threatens deportability, on the one hand – from Europe if one makes it there, or from Morocco in this case – there is also the promise that there is the ability to cross, on the other. If one waits long enough, perhaps. These promises sit alongside the looming threats of illegalisation and deportation, which seemingly can arrive at any time. However, alongside these temporal techniques of control – forcing migrants to wait in police stations, visa and immigration offices, prisons, informal camps and detention centres all for the chance to cross a border either regularly or irregularly – there are also social by-products that emerge from of this logic of control. These are the social and perhaps political consequences to which waiting gives rise, what we might call ‘temporal accumulation’. This is a polysemic term. It refers to both the enclosure of time through the techniques of the financialised and securitised migration apparatus and to the accumulation of the social by-products of this enclosure.
Communitas and Categories
Within this context, I want to return to the title of this article. Victor Turner (1969) notably discussed the ‘betwixt and between’ of liminality in association with the production of communal sensibilities, communitas. For Turner, the liminal position is one of distinct possibility. He discusses this transformative possibility as an anti-structural moment in a rite or ritual, as well as in the radical being-in-common across forms of difference and hierarchy in millenarian movements grounded in various eschatological traditions. One of the concerns of this intervention is to query whether the consequences of this temporal accumulation are fleeting moments of communitas or whether they are in fact durable ways of being and belonging in, as well as narrating, these social worlds.
To this end, this article seeks to consider the communal sensibilities discussed below as viable forms of belonging beyond these fleeting moments of liminal time. As a recent collection on the productivity of waiting in various African contexts points out, building on Jane Guyer's (2007) notion of ‘punctuated time’, the aspirational impulses that emerge during liminal waiting occupy the time between the present and the future subjective position one may inhabit (Stasik et al. 2020). Waiting generates aspirations as well as the parenthetical container within which they sit. To rely on this parenthetical container, however, is to assume that waiting is a liminal condition rather than an enduring condition.
To take seriously these social worlds as potentially more than liminal, we must consider the communitas generated through this enduring condition outside of categories politically enforced from the top down such as migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker. Serawit Debele (2020) has looked at the role of prayer amongst Ethiopian refugees awaiting asylum status in Germany in order to suggest that the religious subjective self-fashioning while waiting is durative whether or not asylum is granted. The word used amongst such young Moroccans to describe this process of waiting and hoping year after year to irregularly leave Morocco for Spain, the Moroccan Arabic word for ‘burning’, has now become the commonplace term used in media, politics and even by police to describe these youths as ‘burners’ (Pandolfo 2007).
This discussion is a part of a much older anthropological conversation. Several decades ago, Liisa Malkki (1995) discussed the forms of belonging and the words for describing this belonging that emerged amongst Hutu refugees in Tanzania. Malkki described these refugees as ‘out of place’ in the ‘national order of things’ (1995: 5), drawing on Mary Douglas’ (1984) classic conception of dirt as matter out of place. Categories such as refugee, migrant, asylum-seeker emerge, for Malkki, as a legal logic for dealing with this spatial displacement from the order of the nation state. Importantly, Malkki notes how these refugees ‘categorised back’, claiming new identities, forms of belonging, and difference. This notion pushes us to consider how, in the suburban migrant neighbourhoods of Tangier, Morocco, there are forms of relatedness, being-in-common, and difference that exist outside of legal categories of belonging grounded in exclusion.
It also points to the need to attend to the marking of these new categories and how these markings appear outside of the logics by which one acquires legal belonging as a refugee or asylum-seeker. Miriam Ticktin (2016) has explored this notion in conversations around humanitarianism to argue that such categories reinforce a ‘hierarchy of humanity’ wherein ‘people on the move’, as she says, must prove they warrant moral care to be included into such legal categories as opposed to being as equally entitled to political care as someone who does not need to prove their belonging in the fabric of the nation state as citizen. She thus points to an imperative to ‘imagine new ways of being together at a global scale, grounded on participation and labour, duty and obligation, and shared common resources’ (2016: 267).
With this consideration, this article queries how difference and belonging, and their markers, shift over time as migrants and immigrants ‘wait’ in Tangier. The scene of this waiting is in the suburban Tangier neighbourhood of Msnana, where immigrants from different backgrounds, religious, ethnic, linguistic, and including recent Moroccan immigrants from the countryside to the city, gather and find a form of shared difference and, thus, belonging. Three forms of difference will appear in these scenes below, which describe the events surrounding a 2018 Eid al-Adha celebration in Msnana. Forms of ethno-national, linguistic and religious difference come to the fore throughout these events, but also refract into other idioms of belonging through ‘shared difference’: communal sentiments forged in the temporal accumulation of waiting and working, and working while waiting. This shared difference emerges in a context wherein migrant has become a racialised category in Morocco. This article seeks to show how, even with this context as a given precondition, other forms of difference – namely ethno-national, religious and linguistic – form the grounds for belonging that complicate the increasing racialisation of Morocco's governance of migration through and immigration to the country.
The Social Grammars of al-Barzakh
Between Salt and Sweet Water
These communal sentiments have consequences across the many borders of the Strait of Gibraltar, filtering and producing sociality and subjectivity just as the underwater seafloor known as the Camarinal Sill produces and divides the sides of the Strait of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea as well as the European and African continents. On the Moroccan side, in the city of Tangier, the downtown cafés, promenades and plazas all seem to open up onto a view where, on a clear day, you can see the windmills of Andalusia turning and even the lights of the towns that dot the Spanish coastline. Just an hour's drive away, in the fenced-in Spanish enclave of Ceuta – EU territory on the Moroccan coast – is the scene of the oft circulated videos and images of young West African men sitting on fences, ‘waiting’ to charge into the Spanish territory.
This threshold between seas is known as al-barzakh in Tangier. In Islamic eschatology, al-barzakh refers to something between the Christian notions of limbo and purgatory and the time between death and resurrection. In the Quran, this time is likened to the productive firmament that separates salt and sweet water, two types of seas, just as the Strait of Gibraltar separates the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Popularly, around the Moroccan coastline of the Strait of Gibraltar, al-barzakh is used to describe the region around this underwater isthmus that juts out from the seafloor and allows the higher saline-dense waters of the Mediterranean to pass in one direction while the lighter Atlantic waters pass above it. It is a border that depends on both the difference between the two sides and the permeability of flow between them for its constitution as such.
As I have described elsewhere, as barzakh began to appear in multiple ways throughout my research in Tangier, where I have been working and conducting fieldwork since 2010, I became interested in thinking about how it sat in relation to liminality, as it is usually evoked in discussions of migration (Bajalia 2021). As an emic term, it appears in everyday discourse surrounding migration. Potential Senegalese migrants popularised the Wolof phrase Barça walla barzakh or ‘Barcelona or barzakh’ (Andersson 2014a; Maher 2016). In the ethnographic works of Ruben Andersson and Stephanie Maher, al-barzakh appears as a direct reference to the afterlife amongst would-be Senegalese Muslim emigrants departing from the Senegalese coast and heading towards the Spanish Canary Islands. In both ethnographies, it is evoked in Senegal as a claim that one will make it to Barcelona, or Spain, or die trying and thus end up in the afterlife space and time that is al-barzakh.
Doing Barzakh, Making Boza
Whether intentionally or not, the phrase finds itself transformed in Morocco and takes on a different inflection in Tangier today. There, it has morphed to become ‘I'm doing barzakh’ and then eventually ‘making boza’, as many of my interlocutors of various faiths and countries of origin have described the action of a migrant's waiting in Tangier, the life of a ‘boza-eur’. The relationship between barzakh and boza is not a clear one. While some in the community point to boza's origins in the Lingala word for ‘to have’ or ‘to be with’, others describe it as having emerged through a mixing of languages and terms, including barzakh, in Morocco.
Other anthropological works reckon with this term in Morocco, Egypt and Sudan with regard to the similitude and difference of earthly practices associated with the Islamic hereafter and Turner's notion of liminality (Mittermaier 2011; Pandolfo 1998; Yamba 1995). These discussions urge us to take seriously the subjective dimensions of al-barzakh beyond a liminal stage in a rite of passage and to consider Islamic paradigms previously excluded from Turner's discussions of liminality amongst Christian pilgrims. C. Bawa Yamba specifically proposes that pilgrimage should be considered a ‘paradigm for life’ and not ‘something that occurs outside of life daily lived, breaking its regular flow, but rather as something that is part of everyday life itself’ (1995: 12). To this effect, we could consider ‘I'm doing barzakh’ alongside other invocations of pilgrimage such as ‘I'm doing hajj’ and note that ‘doing hajj’, or making the Islamic pilgrimage to Makkah, is the active narration of a temporal event that equally includes moments of departure, arrival and the time spent waiting in between. With this analytical lens, I am concerned with bringing the terms barzakh and boza into conversation with the other portion of Turner's liminal anti-structure, communitas, in order to unpack the forms of being-in-common that the term evokes and to query how they might point towards a paradigm for life beyond moments of waiting.
Seen as such, barzakh is an indeterminate process without a clear beginning or end. Nor are the boundaries of boza as an event as such clearly defined. Gilles Deleuze's (1990) work on events, eventfulness and language is useful here to ascertain the ways in which we may consider boza as both a proposition (I am making boza) and a thing (a successful trip across the border, for instance). This type of waiting carries a particular sort of eventfulness. By eventfulness, I am referring to the gap between the event of narration (for example, waiting to cross a border, to arrive in Europe, for the ship to come in, for the border to open) and the narrated event (for example, migration, immigration, integration). In this case, that gap between migrating and having (im)migrated may also be understood as the active and ongoing time spent waiting. As Elizabeth Povinelli (2011) has discussed, this gap is a generative and productive space for subjective and semiotic transformations. ‘Doing barzakh’ and ‘making boza’ fill that gap, temporally and conceptually, betwixt and between migration and immigration. This does not necessarily begin or end with the event of crossing a national border; it is itself eventful. But what does this mean concretely on the ground, so to speak, betwixt and between the beginning of migration and its supposed end? To answer this question, or at least to reframe the question through these concepts, I want to turn to the celebration of Eid al-Adha in Tangier's suburbs in 2018.
Voie des Migrants in Msnana
The suburban neighbourhood of Msnana has become one of the most popular neighbourhoods for immigrants to Tangier, both from other African countries as well as from the Moroccan countryside. It is close to several industrial zones and to the public Abdelmalek Essaadi University. Initially, it was popular amongst young people who had moved to Tangier for school or work. Today, the neighbourhood still includes these workers and students, but it is also home to other recent arrivals who came to Tangier with the intention of ultimately continuing on to Europe.
One example can be found on the ground floor of a building owned and self-constructed by an Italian-Moroccan family, where Maria and her daughter Sara live and operate a small dry goods store. Leaving her abusive husband in Ivory Coast, Maria brought her daughter to Morocco in 2014 with the intention of going on to Europe. Through the Spanish church in Tangier, she found work cooking for Moroccan families and working in café kitchens, although she eventually started spending more time running her shop in her Msnana home. Tangier's Spanish cathedral dates back to the city's international days in the early 1900s, but has now become home to the Catholic charity Caritas. Religious charities such as Caritas have come to be key forces in both mediating between im/migrants in Morocco and the Moroccan government in its various local and national iterations. However, their mission, both religious and social, is not without its opponents in the migrant community. Some migrant leaders take issue with how Caritas seems to selectively maintain care for some and set others up with illegal apartments and rent plans that are impossible to pay with the job opportunities they furnish. Individuals such as Maria then turn back towards the migrant community in order to find other labour opportunities.
A few days before Eid al-Adha in 2018, I was invited to Maria's house by members of an informal im/migrant-run association that was planning an all-day Eid celebration for residents of Msnana. In Morocco, as in other countries, it is common to celebrate the feast with an animal sacrifice, communal meals and the distribution of food to neighbours and to those in need. The neighbourhood mosque is frequented by both immigrant and Moroccan Muslim residents of the neighbourhood. The mosque, around the corner from Maria's home, is led by a Senegalese imam, who performed the sacrifice of the two sheep bought with donations from bourgeois Moroccan, French and American residents of Tangier. Maria's place had two stove-top burners and a refrigerator in a small nook and a sitting room with shelves with cushions on the floor and dry goods for sale along the wall closest to the front door. On the morning of the Eid, the entire space had been transformed by Maria and her eleven-year-old daughter into a kitchen accommodating ten people working. The association sponsoring the event, Voie des Migrants, had previously dropped off more small gas cannisters connected to individual burners to cook on, as well as bins for washing, plastic cutting boards, knives, and piles of rice, tomatoes, garlic, peppers and onions for gumbo.
I first became involved with Voie des Migrants, French for ‘Path’ or ‘Way of Migrants’, in 2015, when I met its founder, who went by the name Polofree. In the jargon of folks in this community, Polofree means ‘Free of Police’, as in ‘not an informer’ to the police on the movements of boza-eurs in Tangier. Originally from Cameroon, Polofree arrived in Tangier after several years in Morocco and became involved in the local arts community. Through his developing career in photography, he was able to secure support for his immigration papers and eventually a Schengen visa to travel to Europe for his own exhibitions. Along the way, he formed this association to provide weekly meals to people in precarious situations in Tangier, from Syrians awaiting asylum papers in the forests outside the city to Moroccan and im/migrant residents and denizens of neighbourhoods such as Msnana. In that mission, he assembled a group of rotating volunteers, myself included, from across communities both Moroccan and foreign, both documented and without residency papers in the country. Usually, we gathered on Fridays to make simple sardine or egg sandwiches to hand out alongside bags of rice, beans and brown paper bags loaded with toothbrushes, toothpaste and other basic hygiene essentials. It was from Polofree and other members of Voie des Migrants that I first learnt about how the phrases ‘doing barzakh’ and ‘making boza’ were used in this community. Here, it meant something we might now call ‘mutual aid’. To that effect, at the start of each fall, Polofree also raised funds from around Tangier to put together school supply kits for children in the boza-eur community, which is how he first met Maria and Sara.
Labours of the Eid
By the time the Voie des Migrants team made it to the house around 9:00 with the sheep blessed by the Senegalese imam at the mosque around the corner, several other women from Ivory Coast, around Maria's age, in their mid-thirties, were already sitting on the cushions and peeling garlic and onions. Although my own ability to help with the gumbo was considered rather meagre, I was invited inside to help peel garlic. After debating with young Sara the best way to peel garlic, I was eventually given permission to peel in the way I knew best or at least in the way I felt most comfortable with. Having been denuded of any pretence of how helpful I was going to be in this whole process, I settled into the rhythm of chatting with Sara and tackling some two hundred heads of garlic that remained to be peeled. Although we started speaking in French, Sara quickly picked up on the Arabic inflection of my French pronunciation and started speaking to me in the Tangier dialect of Moroccan Arabic, or Darija. She seemed just as comfortable speaking in Tanjawi Darija as French, telling me that most of her friends in the neighbourhoods of the city are Moroccans and that they all speak Moroccan Arabic together. ‘Ana Tanjawia daba’, she said, as her mother laughed in the corner. ‘I have no idea what she is saying to me half the time now’, Maria said to me. ‘She said: “I'm from Tangier now,”’ I replied. I asked Maria if she felt the same sort of belonging in Tangier that her daughter did, and she scoffed. Her response, that maybe she felt like she belonged in the neighbourhood but not in the rest of the city, was echoed by her friends. The reason why? Maria felt that in the neighbourhood no one cared that she practised Christianity.
I was embarrassed that it had not even crossed my mind that morning that all of the people doing the work of cooking for three hundred people on a major Muslim holiday were Christian. As someone from a Palestinian Christian community myself, minority religions in Morocco are often on my mind. When I asked Polofree about it later, he told me it was because they were eager to work on a day that the Muslim immigrant residents of Msnana did not want to work. There is a typical manner of celebrating Eid in Morocco. It is not monolithic, but many who choose to celebrate the feast do so with a specific set of dishes, elaborately prepared and cooked over the course of a week. This was different. Here, neighbours, some without the means or occasion for this sort of feast otherwise, came together to celebrate in a way that emerged from the diverse practices and needs of that neighbourhood, and to distribute food throughout the community. The focus of the Eid preparations was on finding people willing to work on the holiday and who would be able to prepare food for a mass of people.
Since no one seemed to really care about preparing the sheep in the manner traditional of the Moroccan Eid and separating out the organs and meats so as to cook them individually over the course of several days, it was also fine to have Christian women and men willing and able to get the job done. Some volunteered to do the work of cooking for the Eid, and others were able to paid for their labour through the Voie des Migrants association. It was a celebration, and it was also a job, done by neighbours for neighbours, performed with the recognition of a sense of belonging in that place. Writing about this event in the subsequent years, an unasked question occurred to me. Was this a labour of love and neighbourliness or more simply labour divided upon logical social lines in the neighbourhood?
As we finished cooking, we started packaging the stew into tinfoil to-go containers and handing them out to the men and women who began to line up outside Maria's house. This home was already well known as the best place to buy highly caffeinated cola nuts and West African spice packages, and it did not take long for everyone around the block to see, hear and smell what was cooking there. Moroccans, Cameroonians, Senegalese and Ivorians all waited in line together to get a helping of stew, and by mid-afternoon over three hundred meals had been given out and everyone was sitting around in a post-gumbo daze.
‘Making Boza’ between Migration and Immigration
Some weeks later, I returned Maria's house and picked up the conversation with her about how she practised her faith in the neighbourhood. She went outside and called out to an older Cameroonian man hunched on a stoop down the street. The pastor, as she introduced him, led the local Protestant church out of an apartment he rented next to his own. The pastor, in his fifties, came to Morocco in 2010 with his wife and three children, planning to continue on to Spain. Eventually his wife, his son and one of his daughters left without him on a smuggler's boat, and he stayed behind with his oldest daughter, who had enrolled in a Moroccan university in Tangier. I asked the pastor if he would leave to make boza if he had the chance. The pastor replied that he did have the chance to cross al-barzakh, but that making boza for him meant staying to continue his work on this side of the Strait of Gibraltar.
He stayed, he went on, because he saw many young people who had arrived in Morocco having seen horrors. And these young people, especially Christians, had no guidance in Morocco; they had no spiritual, social or community leader to keep them from losing themselves in the midst of what they had seen and done, and what they were planning to do while ‘making boza’ in Morocco. Thus, he chose to stay and minister to these young folks in between origin and destination, eventually receiving some support for his labour from a Protestant group in Ivory Coast which sent him money to rent a new apartment and two young men as acolytes to help him run the new church out of the unit next door. While relations with Moroccan neighbours started out a bit tough, the seeming permanence of the church and the community smoothed out these relations over time. The biggest concern of Moroccan residents of Msnana, it seemed, was that the church members would try to convert young Moroccans to Christianity. In reality, the pastor explained, conversion most often goes the other way.
This reflected other stories of conversion about which I had long heard. Most commonly, these conversions from Christianity to Islam seemed to happen with young men looking for temporary work in Tangier before continuing on to Spain. While much is made of the shared religious heritage between Muslim West and Central Africans and Muslim North Africans, in reality it does not often seem to make much of a difference amongst immigrant and migrant residents of Morocco. Shared religious beliefs do not eliminate racism, and racist stereotypes about these new residents of Morocco are pervasive. However, in the case of conversions the newly Muslim immigrant seemed to be more readily accepted, especially with conversions done at the request of a Moroccan employer. Most specifically, this seemed to happen at the request of Moroccan men in charge of the affairs of funerals, burials and cemeteries. Washing and preparing bodies for funerals and digging graves, especially in the Tangier suburbs, has become an economic market run by Salafi Moroccan men. The enterprises are run by Moroccan men who adhere to a certain traditionalist interpretation of Islam, but much of the daily labour of grave-digging and body-washing is done by young migrant men who are looking to accumulate money quickly to buy passage on a smuggler's boat heading across the Strait of Gibraltar. Many of the converts that I have met were quick to admit that perhaps their initial reasons for conversion included economic concerns, but they were also quick to emphasise the seriousness of their commitment to Islam.
National Inclusion, Neighbourhood Belonging
It seems worthwhile to return briefly now to a story I have given more extensive consideration elsewhere (Bajalia 2021). At the 2018 International Literary Salon of Tangier, three prominent Moroccan intellectuals took the stage to debate citizenship, identity and belonging in contemporary Morocco. An annual event, this literary salon brings together Moroccan and foreign writers, intellectuals and politicians with the aim of discussing salient national questions and how they are addressed in new fiction and non-fiction publications. Time dragged on as we waited in what felt to be unbearable heat for the panel to end, but eventually the debate turned to audience questions. The last question of the session was asked by a middle-aged man from Ivory Coast:
I'm an immigrant here in Tangier. My family and I planned to go to Europe but we've found ourselves waiting here for four years now. My wife and I both work here, we are legal residents of this country, and our daughter goes to public school here. But we are Christian. So our religious values aren't included in her schooling. I don't think she needs to go to a Christian school, but how can we ever expect to be really included in Moroccan society when there isn't even a recognition of our faiths, our beliefs, and our practices by the state or educational system? My daughter speaks Darija even, but at school she is made to feel like she doesn't belong because she isn't Muslim.
One of the panellists, a Moroccan philosopher teaching in France, promptly responded with the informal official state response to questions about Christian migrants in Morocco: ‘The King of Morocco is not called the Commander of Muslims. He is called the Commander of the Faithful. And your faith is included there, and you and your family are included in the composition of this society’. Before any real contestation of the philosopher's comments could ensue, the other panellists applauded, joined by the majority Moroccan audience. The event was now over, and the man was left waiting for an answer to his question. Continuing the conversation informally, in a moment in which I greeted a panellist with whom I am well acquainted, most of the gathered circle agreed that the pathway to integration into Moroccan society is through education and class, and not necessarily through religion. That is to say, the well-educated Christian doctor or business person from Ivory Coast had a much better chance of integrating into Moroccan society and climbing the social ladder in rapidly developing Tangier than a Muslim construction worker from Cameroon, for instance. This gesture to inclusion in a ‘religious-national order of things’ sits in uncomfortable tension with the reality of inclusion in the labour market in Morocco. These shifts in the criteria of inclusion in a largely unregulated labour market could be seen as another product of this temporal accumulation.
Thus, a Christian immigrant doctor or business person seems much better off in Morocco than a Muslim immigrant grave-washer. However, the young Christian men mentored by the Ivorian pastor in Msnana do not have the opportunity to become doctors or business owners in Morocco. Nor do they have the chance to be Christian grave-washers. But the chance to become a Muslim grave-washer is not a labour opportunity to be wasted, it seems. Seen thus, religious belonging in Tangier could follow along the lines of integration into a labour market. Potential inclusion in one class inflects religious belonging one way, wherein the potential employment of a doctor renders their religion less of a factor in their integration into Moroccan society. The question of schooling becomes less relevant, as private schools become a financial possibility and potential neighbourhood tensions and police raids are rendered less threatening when living in middle- and/or upper-class Moroccan neighbourhoods. On the other hand, inclusion in another class, that of the gravedigger or the grave-washer, for instance, may rely on shared religious practice.
In Common, Differently
Maria, however, found inclusion on a micro-communitarian level because her labour, not her religion, became the salient category for the participation in neighbourhood life. The inclusion is nonetheless a precarious one, and it should be noted that inclusion and integration may not even be a goal of all migrants and immigrants in Morocco. Waiting time, after all, was often still oriented towards movement to Europe for both Maria and Sara. Within this reluctant immigrant community, however, persons such as this found themselves inhabiting neighbourhood roles at times responsive to their religions but not determined by them. As seen above, Maria's Christianity became a determining factor in her temporary position as coordinator and head chef of the Eid meal. The pastor's role as religious guide for the young Christians of Msnana was a position that demanded constant spiritual and social attention from him, but nonetheless he waited in line to receive an Eid meal like all of Maria's other neighbours. We see the situation of Maria and her daughter Sara echoing the question of the man who asked about schooling for his Christian daughter. Maria's doubts about integration were directed towards the broader context of Tangier and Morocco. At the level of the neighbourhood, as the events surrounding the Eid demonstrated, neither integration nor inclusion were a major concern. That does not mean, however, that communal sentiments of belonging based on religion, language or labour were not at play.
The gathering of the Msnana community for the Eid would not have looked the way it did without the temporal accumulation that takes place in homes, neighbourhoods and schools. This waiting time worked differently for Sara than for her mother, and their access to forms of community in Msnana, and Tangier more broadly, fell along different lines as a result. Maria's preparatory ‘waiting work’ meant accumulating capital through mobilising the social relations she made while waiting. That meant working with Voie des Migrants and Polofree to cook for the Eid, as well as maintaining a shop at her home. For Sara, this translated into the accumulation of the linguistic habits that accompanied her going to Moroccan school and getting to know her Moroccan and immigrant neighbours while her mother worked. Regardless of whether or not it was her choice to stay in Tangier with her mother, her relationship to her neighbourhood was marked by a sense of belonging and the right to speak the language associated with that belonging. This right gives another dimension to her claim that ‘I'm from Tangier now’. It is not only that she claims that she has become Tanjawia through her time there and her knowledge of Moroccan Arabic. It could also be an aspiration that Tangier could look and sound like her: ‘I'm from Tangier now’. For the pastor I met outside Maria and Sara's house, the journey of making boza did not end in making it to Spain or dying trying, Barça walla barzakh. Instead, it meant labouring to minister to those set on that path, at least for the moment.
New Categories of Belonging and Difference
Today, the category of ‘migrant’ in Morocco has become a racial category. As such, the discussion of difference in this article also sits within that context of racialised difference. It is a precondition for the other idioms of belonging and shared difference I have discussed above. Across Morocco, Black immigrants to the country encounter racialised forms of violence and exclusion enacted by the state as well as by everyday citizens. Other scholars of migration in Morocco have outlined the racialisation of the country's border and migration regulations, especially with regard to how (potential) illegality is marked, policed and tied into local class politics (Gazzotti 2021; Gross-Wyrtzen 2020). What I have outlined here, however, queries the interplay of various dynamics of difference once racialised exclusion has already produced the figure of the ‘Black African migrant’ as a category outside of normative belonging in Morocco. This category reduces the heterogeneous types of belonging and difference at work amongst immigrants to Morocco into one racialised subjectivity.
Rather than constructing an argument grounded in that category, instead I have examined the interplay of three other forms of difference – ethno-national, linguistic and religious – as they come into constellation amongst immigrants to Tangier from both other parts of Morocco as well as from West and Central Africa. Even as the category of ‘migrant’ has become increasingly racialised, though, this article has explored how language, religion and class all appear as salient factors in forging belonging and difference when considering the category of ‘immigrant’ in Morocco. The growing presence of West and Central African immigrant workers in North African countries such as Morocco demands that we make sense of the labours and languages of belonging and difference emergent in these communities. These languages and labours draw on such socio-cultural bridges but also exceed them in ways that speak to the reality of a changing Moroccan social fabric. Whether or not these communal sentiments speak to the emergence of what may be called a ‘diaspora’ remains to be seen.
The phrase ‘making boza’ evokes the social world of these ways of being-in-common. As seen here, ‘making boza’ is an indeterminate process. It is not clear when it begins or ends. Boza is both an event (crossing the fence or the sea) as well as a proposition (‘I am making boza’) that describes an active, ongoing, present progressive tense of being. As such, it also conditions the subject of its predicate. It is a way of being that stands outside of categories like ‘migrant’ ‘refugee’ and ‘asylum-seeker’. In Morocco, doing boza can mean becoming a ‘resident’, ‘regularised’ and formally an immigrant equally. This temporal stance encompasses the journey of waiting to move forward, or back home, whether or not one does any of those things at all.
With this in mind, I want to return to the question of whether this time is merely liminal and thus whether these forms of being-in-common are as ephemeral as the liminality from whence they emerge.
al-Barzakh: More than Just Liminal
If Turner's understanding of liminality and communitas is grounded in a temporality akin to the eschatological sort of ‘end of days’, we can then ask: how does the introduction of doing barzakh sit with the notion of liminality? How does the community of boza, of shared difference, work alongside or perhaps instead of the radical being-in-common that Turner saw as communitas? This being-in-common was tied to the temporality of the liminal position itself. Accordingly, we should ask: do these communal sentiments change as one moves from the legal category of ‘irregular migrant’ to the category of ‘regularised immigrant’ with Moroccan residency papers? Following the line of thought that proposes this is merely a liminal community emergent in between stages of belonging, the answer here should be ‘yes, there is a rupture after this change in legal category’. As we have seen, however, this is not the case. Thinking with al-barzakh as a paradigm for life, even amongst Christian im/migrants, and not just as the manifestation of the interstitial, we can see that, whether or not Sara and her mother were ‘regularised’ as immigrants or still in the ostensibly liminal positions as undocumented persons in Tangier, their modes of belonging in the neighbourhood endured throughout these various instances of ‘making boza’.
The questions with which we can conclude, then, are: Can these forms of belonging, these ways of being-in-common through shared difference, endure beyond the event of waiting more generally? What consequences do they pose for the marking of belonging and difference? The ongoing work of staying put in Tangier and making do in Msnana necessitates ways of being-in-common. As seen through these events of waiting in al-barzakh and ‘doing boza’ in Tangier, even as the temporal techniques of border management are designed to regulate, facilitate and impede flow they also condition subjectivity in multiple ways perhaps less intended.
By treating these linguistic practices surrounding al-barzakh and boza as concepts, this article has attempted to offer an alternative for thinking anthropologically with what is often seen as (just) liminal time spent waiting. This intervention is invested in taking seriously how ‘doing barzakh’ contains ways of being and belonging that emerge within borderlands themselves and how ‘making boza’ can change how one navigates through border spaces both social and material. In the face of what we might see as the enclosure of the temporal commons through the entangling of promise and threat, understanding the durability of the social by-products of this temporal accumulation seems as pressing as resisting the regimes by which they are enclosed. The forms of sociality and community that emerge through shared difference are twin to the forms of deregulated labour that benefit both Morocco and the European Union in the logics of this migration apparatus, both of which are forged in the shadow of suspense.
Portions of this article were initially published in my 2021 article ‘Waiting and Working: Shared Difference and Labors of Belonging in Immigrant Tangier.’ I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the journal editors for generative and constructive feedback, as well as Luciana Chamorro, Syantani Chatterjee and Fernando Montero for their gracious stewardship of this article and this special issue.
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