Moroccan minister says of course he knows Arabic

Morocco’s education minister rejected reports that he is not fluent in Arabic after his ‘I do not speak Arabic’ riposte

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After the storm he created with his “I do not speak Arabic” remark, Morocco’s education minister sarcastically dismissed reports that he is not fluent in one of his country’s national languages, asking journalists: “Do I look like I don’t speak Arabic?”

The minister, Rachid Belmokhtar, expressed bewilderment that people believed he did not speak the language after a France 24 journalist asked him for an interview in Arabic. The minister replied in French saying “je ne connais pas l’arabe,” or “I don’t speak Arabic.”

In his defense, Belmokhtar told local newspaper Alyaoum24 on Wednesday that he replied as such because the journalist spoke in “bad French” and that his own eloquence in the French language was “much higher.”

However, Belmokhtar landed himself in hot water with the initial remark.

A group geared toward protecting the Arabic language called on Belmokhtar to leave the post he has held since the cabinet reshuffle of 2013.

The National Coalition of Protection of the Arabic Language made the call in a statement received by the local Al-Maghrib Today newspaper and urged “the minister to resign after disrespecting the country’s values, constitution and language,” describing him as “threatening the educational and the linguistic security of the Moroccan people.”

While reiterating that he “derided [Moroccans] their social and constitutional values,” the group noted that Belmokhtar belongs to a government that promised to protect Morocco’s official languages of Arabic and Berber.

Some social media commenters described the minister as “illiterate.”

However, he had defenders.

One Twitter user said: “The most important [aspect of] the story is that the Education Minister Rachid Belmokhtar doesn’t speak in French in parliament, according to my knowledge, nor Chinese, but speaks the Moroccan vernacular.”