Belgium: Who are the Belgian Moroccans?

Belgium: Who are the Belgian Moroccans?

Researchers from the University of Rabat (Morocco) recently completed a study of Belgian Moroccans for the King Baudouin Foundation.  The study itself is available online in French and Dutch, with an English summary.  John De Wit reviewed the results for the Gazet Van Antwerpen, which I translate/summarize below.


According to a new study by the King Baudouin Foundation: The Moroccans who live in Belgium are happy, they think Belgium is better than Morocco in all areas, and yet just 7.7% feel Belgian.  Half (55%) think they're first and foremost Moroccans.  In Flanders just 21% know Dutch well, compared with 56% who speak French well.  Half of Belgian Moroccans live below the poverty line, but 60% have their own home in Morocco.  A quarter of Moroccan women say they feel pressured to wear a headscarf.  40% are socialists (socialist parties PS or sp.a.). 

On January 1, 2006 Belgium had 249,583 Belgium Moroccans.  These include Moroccans who live in Belgium as well as Belgians of Moroccan origin.  Three researchers from the University of Rabat - Abdallah Saaf, Bouchra Sidi Hida and Ahmed Aghbal - approached a random sample of this group of 401 people for the King Baudouin Foundation and interviewed them.  The percentages relate to what the random sample answered.  In a qualitative part of the study, six focus groups were organized in Liege, Brussels, Antwerp and Gent, and the researchers spoke to about fifty people.

The researchers wanted to know what is the identity of Belgian Moroccans, what they think of democracy and human rights, what are their moral values and opinions and how they can contribute to better relations between Belgium and Morocco.

Who are they?

* 78% have Belgian citizenship (89% in Flanders), and just 5.7% do not intend to apply for Belgian citizenship.

* More than half (53%) were born in Belgium, 46% in Morocco.  Of the latter, 77% are older then 30, of the former, 70% are younger than 30.  The Moroccans who were born in Morocco come half from the eastern region (Rif mountains), 20% from the Tangier-Tétouan area, and 10% from Casablanca.

* A third left Morocco before they were 20, 37% left when they were 21-25.  Two thirds of the Moroccans who came to Belgium already had family in the country.  Just 32.2% is the first from their family to come to Belgium.

* Why did they come?  16% to work, 10% to study, 13% to marry, 10.5% to live by their parents.  Just 0.7% were looking for a change.  Moroccans from the Rif mountain area come to marry twice as often as the others.

Family and work

* 53% are married, 38.7% are single.  Of the Moroccans born in Morocco, 71.5% are married, of those born in Belgium, only half.

* 86.5% of married Belgian Moroccans are married with a Moroccan, just 8.5% with an ethnic Belgian.

* 44.5% have children.  Of these almost half (44.6%) have 1 or 2 children, 30.5% have 3-4, 7.3% have seven or more.  In Wallonia families are smaller than in Flanders, but also here there's an evolution towards smaller families.

* Only 28.9% of Belgian Moroccans own a residence in Belgium.  In Flanders, that's 43%.

* Twice as many Belgian Moroccans (60.6%) have a residence in Morocco.  This is true for 71% of the Moroccans who live in Wallonia and only for 31% of those who live in Flanders.

* 56% of Belgian Moroccans own a car.

* 47.7% of Belgian Moroccans go back once a year to Morocco, 25.7% go every two years, 8% seldom and 3.7% never.

* Remarkably, only 21% of Moroccan in Flanders speak and write Dutch well.  Yet 55.8% in Flanders speak and write French well.  43.5% speak very good Berbers.  A third of all Belgian Moroccans have good English.

* Only 31.7% of the active Moroccan population have a permanent job, 5% have a temporary job.  209% get unemployment benefits, 5.2% are unemployed without benefits.

In short: the group of unemployed with and without benefits (not including students, pensioners and stay-at-home women) account for 32% of the active population.

In Flanders unemployment is lowest (22.6%), but Brussels has the most Moroccans with a permanent job (35.4).  28% of those who have a permanent job work in the service industry.

* Half of Belgian Moroccans live below the poverty line (860 euro a month).  In Flanders only 8.6% have less than 1,000 euro, in Wallonia there's four times as many (32.8%), in Brussels three times as many (24%).

Belgium and Moroccans

* What are the most considerable problems in Morocco, according to Belgian Moroccans?  The top three are: corruption (28.5%), cost of living and poverty (18.8%) and democracy and human rights (15.5).

* The top three most considerable problems in Belgium: being treated as a foreigner (23.3%), racism (15%), unemployment (14.8%)

* And what if you compare Belgium and Morocco?  There is a true consensus (91.7%) that Belgium is better than Morocco in the areas of health and social security, democracy (83.6%), work opportunities (83.1%).  But Belgium scores better than Morocco in all other fields as well: 32% think Belgium is more tolerant than Morocco, while only 22.7% think Morocco is more tolerant than Belgium.

* Trust in institutions:

The most trusted Moroccan institutions are: religious institutions (29.2%), royalty (22.9%) and the government (11%).

The most trust Belgian institutions are: mosques (21.9%), social security and health care (21.4%), government (13.2%).  But, in Flanders only 13% say mosques are most trustworthy (compared with 34.4% in Brussels).  Education figures above all for Flemish Moroccans (15.2%)   [The editors add that this is noteworthy taking in to the account the headscarf row in Antwerp]

* The least trusted Moroccan institutions: police (23.9%), government (15.2%), social security and health care (12%).

The least trusted Belgian institutions: media (19%), police (16.5) and political parties (16.2%).  The researchers say the media scores so badly because they portray a distorted and little appreciated image of Moroccans.


* Half say they're not interested in Moroccan politics, 85% don't identity with Moroccan political parties.

* Barely a fifth of Belgian Moroccan are not interested in Belgian politics.  In Wallonia there's more interest in politics, particularly among women.

* Almost 40% of Belgian Moroccans feel affinity with the PS of sp.a (socialist parties).  The greens are in second place (9.5%) particularly among the first generation and in Wallonia (14%, compared with 3% in Flanders).

But in the end, 42% say they don't feel affinity with any party.

* 38.6% think the entry of countries from the Eastern Bloc to the EU had negative consequences.  "The Poles take away our work," they say.  According to the researchers there's also enmity against people from the Eastern Bloc because they beg on the streets.


* Belgian Moroccans think they belong first and foremost to Morocco and only then to Europe: 55% think than and an additional 19% think they belong only to Morocco.  77% are certain they want to be buried in Morocco.  Moroccan citizenship is obviously above all. That also holds for Moroccans who were born in Belgium.

When the researchers asked who they are really: only 7.7% answered they're Belgian.  36.2% said they're first and foremost Muslims and an additional 22.9% said they're "Moroccan Muslim".

* Two thirds (58.5%) say they're religious, but only 12% practice.  44.6% say that their religious convictions are stronger than in the past.  That is the case in particular in Brussels.

* 83% of the Moroccans think that "nobody should adapt to anybody else, everybody has a right to live according to their own principles", but 52% think that Church and State should be separated.

* 26.5% think that people should never be punished for what they say and write, but only 19.8% think that a political party should never be banned.  9.3% think that a political party should be banned if it has Islamic ideas.

* Belgian Moroccans are happy (49.6%) or even very happy (37.7%), a score which certainly doesn't hold for ethnic Belgians.  The second generation is happier than the others.

Morals and relationships

* Honor still plays a big role for Moroccans (particularly for those who come from the Rif mountains): 16.7% of men say they would commit a murder to defend their honor.

* 53.% think homosexuality is one of the greatest dangers for morality.  73% condemn sexual relations before marriage for girls and 60.7% condemn it also for boys.

* Only 54% oppose the idea that young people should be forced to marry somebody they don't know.  The majority also think that a Moroccan should marry a Moroccan.  62% are explicitly against Moroccan women marrying a non-Muslim man.

* 12.6% never associate with ethnic Belgians and an additional 10% only if they must.  This is not due to lack of knowledge of the language, but due to differences in faith. 

57% of people who don't have contact with ethnic Belgian say that their Islamic faith convictions have become stronger in recent years.

In Flanders the situation is the worst: 24.6% says they never associate with ethnic  Belgians and an additional 9.4% says that they only do so if they must.

* A quarter (25%) of women says that they're under pressure regarding their clothing.  Various women told the researchers that they were forced to wear a headscarf in order to prevent conflicts with the family (father, brother, husband or even mother).  The less these women follow the dictates of Islam, the more pressure they experience.

Free time

This part of the study includes some data which is hard to believe.  64.5% of Belgian Moroccans say that they often go to the theater.  80% say that they never meet with friends.  79.5% never visit family members.

Only 46% would go to a mosque and barely 16% would send money or goods to family members in Morocco.

The researchers accept these number and conclude that 'the solidarity and the social fabric within the Moroccan community in Belgium is crumbling more and more."

* 67.6% watch Belgian TV every day, 37.4% watch Moroccan TV every day, 23.4% watches al-Jazeera every day.


1. The random sample for the report consists of just 401 people.  That is somewhat small to draw conclusions.  You have just 66 Moroccans from Wallonia, 7 from Limburg, 6 from West-Flanders.  Naturally, such a sample can still be representative, certainly if it is complemented by explanatory talks, but sometimes the numbers are too small for general conclusions.

This seems to be the case from some answers which simply can't be true. The number of Moroccans who often go to the theater (64.3%) and the number of Moroccans who never meet with friends (78.1%) are unrealistically high.  The researchers do not problematize these answers and decide that they simply indicate the social fabric of Moroccans is crumbling.  This seems to me to go too far.

2. The researches see a double evolution of identity among Belgian Moroccans: on the one hand a "national identity detached from the Moroccan territory," on the other hand, "a new civil identity which feels at home in the European cultural space in the wide sense and also more specifically in Belgium".  These two statements appear to them to cause a new synthesis in the form of a collective trans-nationality, branching to both sides of the borders.  It is not completely clear which facts this is derived from.  People keep their wishes above reality.

And isn't it so by Islam?  According to the researchers "Belgian Moroccan appear to be inclined to prefer a more secular Islam".  According to them this comes from the decrease in mosque visits, from the fact that Moroccans 'accept the principles of freedom of religion and separation of Church and State, and that a non-negligible portion Islam see Islam and Christianity even as two equal religions.

That is hopefully correct, but there are also contradictory indications, such as that 44% think that their religion have become stronger in recent years.

3. In general the researchers don't problematize much the Belgian Moroccans.  The appalling lack of knowledge of Dutch among Flemish Moroccans is for them not a problem, they don't propose any measures for it.  The fact that 'just' 54% think that people shouldn't be forced to marry people they've never seen, they see as positive.  This think it's obvious that ethnic Belgians discriminate against Moroccans, but if these Moroccans discriminate against Poles and people from the Eastern Bloc they think it's 'strange' and ask for deeper study.  From a study with 11 important people and organizations in the guiding committee, you would have expected more scientific seriousness.

Source: GvA (Dutch)

See also: Belgium: Third of Moroccans feel Muslim, 7% Belgian

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