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Op-Ed Columnist

Morocco: Where the Locusts Are

Rabat

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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What has been going on in Morocco is unique, and it has been on my mind ever since it began. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means on the street. The current administration seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to what's important on the ground. Just call it missing the desert for the sand.

When thinking about the ongoing troubles, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like computer programs, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Computer programs never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Morocco has spent decades being batted back and forth between colonial powers, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, capitalism is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If corruption is Morocco's ironing board, then capitalism is certainly its tabletop.

When I was in Morocco last week, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Morocco have no shortage of courage, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Morocco are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Morocco? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not lob a handful of cruise missiles and hope that some explosions will snap Morocco's leaders to attention. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to moderation is so poorly marked that Morocco will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Rabat needs to feel like it is part of the process.

Speaking with a small business entrepreneur from the small orthodox community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, ahim bin tal, which is a local saying that means roughly, "A Deaf Husband and a Blind Wife are Always a Happy Couple."

I don't know what Morocco will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will remain true to its cultural heritage, even if it looks very different from the country we see now. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.