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New York / Morocco Board News --On an unusually sunny day of December 2005, I was on top of the highest point of Meknes old city and perhaps the greater Meknes. At a height of 50 meters, the old minaret of Bab Berdein mosque, a UNESCO heritage, stood as a remarkable landmark in stark contrast to a subdued landscape of promiscuous old houses sharing brittle walls and leaking roofs.
For few minutes I was able to see with my own eyes, what the Mueddin was enjoying for years, alone, and I took some pictures from its observatory.
I was born literally at the feet of the minaret and grew up with it in my horizon. The roof of the mosque with its green tiles was for few young summers a hunting ground for me and few other kids. Destroying wasps nest while adults were praying under our feet was quite a daredevil activity with the risks of being stung or falling from the roof while escaping. Living so close to the mosque also meant, that we were quite privileged and at the front raw seat when it came to nightly decibels. The powerful speaker system was always set to stun and although the quarter residents of Janah lamane and Tizimi neighborhoods in the old Meknes, were accustomed to the dawn prayer calls and perhaps learned unconscientiously to ignore it in their deep sleep. Still on few nights, I and probably many poor souls were forced to listen to the 30 minutes serenade punctuated with the Mueddin sudden gasps for air. During the day and before the call to prayers the Mueddin would let his speaker system on, while his listening to the Radio television Marocaine FM radio station music was broadcasted along with his annoying throat clearing. Many residents including my father would remind him to turn off his portable radio when calling for prayer but would not dare to ask him to refrain from clearing his throat live from the minaret.
Today the minaret is gone brought down to its knees by the works of time, the elements, its own massive weight, human neglect and perhaps corruption. I admit that I always knew that our minaret would go down. The question was would it fall on our side and damage our house. I was selfishly reassured by the fact that my house was out of danger based on the unscientific observation of a slight tilt of the minaret toward the northwest. This profane bending opposite to Mecca’s direction was much less pronounced than the Italian Pisa tower tilt but a better scenario would have the minaret falling to the parking lot of Bab Berdein, thus reducing casualties. Sadly, the minaret fell at the wrong time and in the wrong direction. It fell just as the imam was reading his Friday 19th February government-sanctioned sermon with many believers sitting at the feet of the minaret base. The minaret collapsed almost vertically under its own pressure killing more than 40 Meknassis. One of the victims was a neighbor. Ironically, many of the dead did come from distant streets because their local mosques were closed for safety reasons.
I was comforted by the fact that many of the victims families were given some form of compensation and that their medical costs or burials expenses were taken care of, or so I was told. However, the potential of other similar calamities cannot be ignored when many other decrepit mosques and their decaying minarets stand in almost every major street of the old Medinas, throughout Morocco. Perhaps it is time for the Ministry of religious affairs to innovate the management style of its park of bequeathed houses, shops and mosques and dedicate some revenues to renovation and or consolidation. Throughout the old medina, many mosques could benefit from better management, renovation and redecoration with the finest Moroccan artisanal expertise. They would be offered to the eyes of locals as well as tourists who would pay to see Moroccan art at its best. Many artisans in the old Medinas are left to go extinct and hassle with tourists to sell their art, while they could be instrumental in beautifying these decaying mosques and their minarets. In fact, they could be instrumental in the renovations and/or beautifications of the entire old Medinas throughout Morocco. Why is the ministry of tourism not involved in this effort? Who is responsible for the protection of this human heritage? There were some quick reactions to rebuilding the mosque as the original. However, I would suggest that it is done with a fresh perspective (21st century) recognizing the long forgotten role of the mosque as a center for learning and thinking a community center of sort. I would dare to ask the concerned authorities to be as innovative as possible.
The talk about the collapse of an old and neglected minaret in Meknes, Morocco might seem irrelevant in the current context of revolutions sweeping the Arab world. Not at all!
I personally see many Moroccan institutions in a state of decrepitude similar to the old minaret in my Meknes. However, institutions do not collapse like a minaret, they only rot and rot until their smell becomes acceptable to everybody. Throughout the Arab world, cries for justice and complaint of corruption were the main demands on placards.
In his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Jared Diamond presents a compelling narrative of the stupidity of human societies and how by their lack of learning from repeated mistakes, they end up in the bin of history. He outlays five factors with decisive impact on the longevity of societies. These five factors are 1) human ecological impact; 2) natural or produced climate change; 3) hostile neighbors; 4) friendly neighbors; and; 5) how the society responds to all these factors. In view of what is currently happening in the Arab world, we might ad another important factor, 6) bad or good governance.
It is time for meaningful reforms before the collapse.
YOUSSEF JOUNAIDI is a molecular biologist who earned a PhD from the University of Montpellier, France. Currently, he resides in the USA where he pursues cancer research. you can see his publications here. Beside Cancer Biology, he is interested in topics that usually rely on the many branches of sciences for an explanation. He reads Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Gavin Maxwell, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and others.