As Morocco and France Prepare to Play, Decades of History Collide on 15

Wednesday’s face-off between the Atlas Lions and Les Bleus will be about more than just soccer, reviving old colonial wounds and fueling identity debates

PARIS — Saturday night was both delightful and confusing for Anas Deaf. Morocco and France had just reached the World Cup semi-finals, setting the stage for a showdown on Wednesday, and Defoe couldn’t decide which team to support – the country of his descent or the country of his birth.

Then, a French Moroccan deacon born near Paris said he thought about the pride that Morocco’s historic run has brought to Africa and the Arab world. He imagined how symbolic the victory of the former colony over its former colonizer would be.

“I realized my heart went out to Morocco,”

said Dafoe, a 27-year-old journalist and podcast producer. “It’s a support rooted in more symbolism.”

Wednesday’s clash between France and Morocco will be about more than just football. From their past colonial ties to contemporary waves of immigration, the two nations are bound by a century-old shared history and culture. It is hoped that these bonds embodied by a vast community of dual nations will give a sense of brotherhood to the sport.

But there are also fears that France’s uneasy relationship with its North-African population could make it colder. The concern is especially high given that in a country where the right wing has long feared that Muslim immigrants threaten the fabric of French life, sport, regardless of its outcome, is influenced by politics. What will happen?

Yvan Gastout, a French historian of immigration and football, said, “It would be dizzying.” “Decades of history are about to collide over a 90-minute game.”
Les Halles, a multicultural area in central Paris in May. France has an uneasy relationship with its North African population. Credit… Dmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

French colonial domination of Morocco lasted almost half a century, from 1912 to 1956. But it was not as brutal as in neighboring Algeria, where decades of abusive government rule and bloody war of independence have fueled long-standing animosity toward France. Morocco enjoyed greater autonomy as a protectorate and negotiated its independence peacefully.

Since then, relations between the two countries have been mostly cordial

. According to a 2015 parliamentary report, many Moroccans moved to work in French factories in the 1960s and 1970s, forming a large diaspora that today numbers 1.5 million people, half of whom hold dual citizenship. Such is the interconnection that three members of Morocco’s current World Cup squad – coach Walid Regargui and two players – are dual citizens.

These ties have been particularly special since Morocco’s historic qualification to the semi-finals. A video went viral on social media, showing a French man waving and kissing a Moroccan red flag in respect for Moroccan miners working in northern France. A remix of the French national anthem with North African drum beats went viral on TikTok and WhatsApp.

Many French Moroccans said their dual identities made it challenging to choose which team to support.

Oussama Adref, a youth football coach in the Paris region, said everyone was “torn”. Defoe said that some of his acquaintances compared the decision to “choosing between his father and his mother”.

But Wednesday’s game may be about much more than family-style dilemmas.

Tangiers, Morocco. French colonial domination of Morocco lasted almost half a century, from 1912 to 1956.
Tangiers, Morocco. From 1912 to 1956, Morocco was under French colonial rule for almost half a century. Credit… Emilio Parra Doizetua for The New York Times

In particular, it would be difficult to avoid colonial overtones. Should Morocco defeat France, it would be the third European power to attack Morocco, after Spain and Portugal.

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“Symbolically, it will restore the prestige of a country and people oppressed by colonial powers,” Dafoe said, noting how the African continent and the Arab world have identified with the successes of the Atlas Lions, Morocco’s football team. . Is known

France has vivid memories of a football game against Algeria in 2001, during which Algerian supporters booed the French national anthem and invaded the pitch, highlighting how the wounds of post-colonialism had not healed.

The country’s complex relationship with North African migrants from former colonies – often marginalized in France, where they are subjected to racism and police violence – may have nurtured a bitterness that breeds greater support for Morocco, Gastout said. he said. who teaches.

At a news conference in Doha, Qatar, on Tuesday, France’s coach, Didier Deschamps, distanced himself from politics but acknowledged the symbolism surrounding the game.

He told reporters,

We know the history. “There’s a lot of passion, but as a player, I like to stay in my lane.”
Last week, scenes of jubilation on the Champs-Élysées – Moroccan supporters were chanting slogans, waving flags, honking their horns, and drumming – were also accompanied by clashes with police, who tried to disperse the crowd. Tried. tried to disperse. Released tear gas.

The country’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told reporters on Tuesday that 10,000 police officers would be deployed across the country on game day, half of them in the Paris region. But clashes with police – whose management of this year’s Champions League final proved chaotic – can only escalate the situation.

Defoe stated that he condemned the identity debate and what he called a form of “political hijacking” of sport. He said Wednesday’s face-off should be an occasion to celebrate the country’s multiculturalism.

For French Morocco, he said, the result would be similar. We will reach the final anyway.”

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