Jews and Muslims come together in Moroccan port city

Cyril Amar

Journalist specializing in the Arab world. Editor-in-chief and presenter of Orient magazine on i24NEWS French.

7 min read
King Mohammed VI and André Azoulay at Bayt Dakira, in front of the Bible and the Koran.
André AzoulayKing Mohammed VI and André Azoulay at Bayt Dakira, in front of the Bible and the Koran.

i24NEWS interviews André Azoulay, adviser to King Mohammed VI

From October 27 to 30, the Atlantic Andalusian Festival in Essaouira, Morocco once again intoxicated thousands of music lovers from all over the world.

Cyril Amar, editor-in-chief of MAG'HREB magazine on i24NEWS, met André Azoulay, adviser to King Mohammed VI. 

It was an opportunity to evoke the Moroccan exception when it comes to relations between Judaism and Islam. An exception that Essaouira has chosen to embody in the service of Jewish-Muslim dialogue: a serene, responsible and committed dialogue for peace.

André Azoulay
André AzoulayAndré Azoulay surrounded by Gnaoui musicians in Essaouira.

It is facing the sea, leaning against the ramparts of Essaouira, that Azoulay chooses to talk about his city and its festival. 

Here, the advisor to the king of Morocco rediscovers his early years and all that the "city of the trade wind" has to offer for those who want to soak it up: a window to another place, and an openness to others.

After a forced two-year hiatus linked to the pandemic, the emblematic Atlantic Andalusian Festival returned this year for its 18th edition. 

President and Founder of the Essaouira Mogador association, Azoulay speaks of it with passion and fervor: “It is an indescribable festival, which never ceases to amaze and which, in the eyes of some, brings together all the paradoxes: a festival which has not always been understood. We were often seen as somewhat naïve dreamers, expressing a reality that many had turned their backs on.”

André Azoulay
André AzoulayAndré Azoulay, Ytshak Rabin and Shimon Peres at the Hassan Mosque in Casablanca in 1994.

Azoulay repeats it frequently: this meeting is the only one in the world to bring together thousands of Muslims and Jews, who have chosen to meet in Essaouira for the simple “happiness of being together."

This is more than a slogan for the followers of this committed festival: against the current of a culture of indifference and denial. And this year, more than 10,000 came to listen to the songs and music of the malhun or the Judeo-Arab matrouz.

“We blew the numbers. Never - I who dream a lot for my country, my city and my Andalusia - had I dared to imagine that they would be there by the thousands from Israel, France, Canada, the United States, Latin America, from Africa and the Arab world… Shoulder to shoulder to sing and dance together.

"This slogan, 'the happiness of being together,' I thought about it months ago, but if I had been able to anticipate such a rush, I would have been even more enthusiastic. I never lack superlatives to talk about this dialogue between Islam and Judaism, revisited in a happy way, respectful of everyone's sensibilities and which is so dear and precious to me."

A dialogue that mobilizes. On social networks, explains Azoulay, the videos of the concerts and the forums of the festival amount year after year in millions of views. 

“The Atlantic Andalusian expresses our deepest dreams and is also the reflection of our anxieties in the face of the fortresses that remain to be conquered. In Essaouira and during the Atlantic Andalusian thought unfolds without taboo and echoes the universality of this freedom which is the only and true language of music and culture."

And this is the great business of his life: the fight for peace. Already in 1974, in Paris, Azoulay and his friends founded “Identity and Dialogue," the first group of Sephardic Jewish intellectuals mobilized for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Since the 1990s, he has been directly involved in all ongoing peace processes in the Middle East. A peace that then seemed possible between the two peoples.

“Today, on all continents, in the east as in the west, we are in a time and in a space which are unfortunately those of regression, those of all those old fears that we thought had disappeared, those of the emergence of all forms of radicalism and all forms of extremism," underlines Azoulay for whom “Morocco does not play in this division because it has been able to make historical legitimacy and the richness of all its diversities the hard core of its DNA.”

André Azoulay
André Azoulay Newspaper clipping from 1999, on which we see André Azoulay, with King Hassan II, King Mohammed VI, then Crown Prince, and a Moroccan Chief Rabbi.

"This singular, pioneering and courageous choice, His Majesty King Mohammed VI is its embodiment at the highest level with an irrefutable voluntarism and a visionary determinism that has never wavered," adds Azoulay, recalling that "when others have not been able to resist the tragic illusions of the theories of the clash of cultures and civilizations, Morocco has been able to favor a social modernity nourished by otherness, now inscribed in the preamble of our Constitution voted for in July 2011. This constitution gives all its depth to the national consensus, reflecting the spiritual and temporal leadership of Morocco now recognized and respected by the greatest number."

Along this journey, there remains a central stone to add to the building: that of a culture of peace to be rebuilt between Israelis and Palestinians. Azoulay remembers with nostalgia the '90s and the hopes born of the historic success of the Casablanca Conference in 1994 where, like many others, the King's Counsel grew when the work was finished.

And yet, concludes Azoulay who does not want to give up, the equation is clear and its solution obvious: ”Those, many, with whom I identify and who are concerned about safety and a peaceful future for the children of Israel and Palestine, know that there is no alternative scenario or plan B for the coexistence of two States, whose citizens would agree to combine in the same way, for each other, the words of security, of justice and dignity.”

This article received 0 comments