Meet Morocco’s New Ambassador to Canada

Souriya Otmani was named Morocco’s ambassador to Canada in 2018. The appointment of a woman should not be a big surprise, as the efforts of the Moroccan government to improve the status of women are nothing new Nor should it be a surprise that she wears Western clothing. King Mohammed V was the monarch when Morocco gained independence from France in 1956. He made his statement on the status of women when, in a public display, he ripped the veil from his daughter’s face. Education for women was then an issue for him, as women need to be seen, not just be some exotic hidden specimen, they also need to be educated. The Qu’ranic verse that tells us “Read!” needs to apply to women as well as men.

The current Moroccan government under Mohammed VI, grandson of Mohammed V, has prioritized women’s issues. “Sexual equality is enshrined in the constitution, but Morocco is still a patriarchal society,” said Otmani. Making a reality of what the constitution says “is tough.” She illustrated the cultural barrier that has to be faced in dealing with the resistance to equality by referring to the struggle over a new family code with stronger protections for children.

The authors of the proposed legislation studied various codes, including that of Quebec. Opponents saw the bill as “too Western.” After all, father knows best. Part of the divide is that of the more sophisticated urbanites as against their rural cousins. The two sides were at an impasse, so it was decided to make the King the arbiter. It needs to be understood that Morocco is now nominally a constitutional monarchy, but the King has more actual power than does the Queen in the countries of the British Commonwealth. Morocco’s government is actually semi-autocratic. In any case, Morocco got its new family code, thanks to the King.

Otmani was one of a family of eight children. “They didn’t have birth control in those days,” she explained. Besides, large families were the norm at that time. Her parents were themselves uneducated. Yet, her father, a merchant, saw to it that all his children had schooling. As one might expect with eight children, their mother stayed to care for the home.

As a young person, Otmani attended a French school in Morocco, before heading off to Belgium to attend the Université Libre de Bruxelles, where she earned a degree in educational psychology. Then she returned to Morocco to earn a diploma in law at the Université Mohammed V de Rabat. After that she began her work career at the Ministry of Education. But that was not for long.

In 1981, she entered the foreign service as secretary of foreign affairs. A couple years later she was named counsellor, and soon her responsibilities expanded to include among other things heading up a unit to promote women in development. She worked in this unit for five years. Just as her later experiences in Montreal and foreign capitals extended her horizons, so did this experience, which immersed her in the life of people in rural and remote areas. “I was very fascinated by one special development project that was successfully implemented in 11 villages located in the High Atlas Mountains.” The population of the High Atlas Mountains is largely Berber. The villages she worked with experienced heavy snowfalls. “In this project, 98% of the girls attended school. Micro businesses generated some money income for families. In spite of the hardships they faced, the women were happy with the little they had. They had the great outdoors, the produce from their limited agriculture, and their family and village social life and celebrations.” She noted that Global Affairs Canada has funded an effort to help women in Morocco establish small businesses.

Otmani was also responsible for a program promoting the advancement of women working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As she benefitted from the earlier strides made by other women in the foreign services, this assignment gave her the opportunity to pay it forward.

She began to take her responsibilities abroad in 1995, attending regional conferences and United Nations sessions. That same year she became number two in the Vienna embassy, soon being transferred in the same position to Stockholm. Then back to Morocco to new challenges in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs till her first Canadian posting, as Council General in Montreal in 2004, where she stayed for seven years. After Montreal, Otmani became ambassador to the Czech Republic, then seven years later ambassador to Canada.


Postings as a diplomat immersed her and her family in the cultures of different countries. Seven years in Montreal and the same in Prague provided a substantial living experience in these places, broadening the outlooks of all family members and bringing a multitude of friendships with people across cultural divides. Her daughter, for example, had no favourite country. “She liked them all because she managed to make friends and really enjoyed living in each of them.” While the Moroccan embassy is located in Ottawa, currently she and her family live in Gatineau, Quebec, across the river from Ottawa. The large home is the official ambassadorial residence, with the Moroccan flag flying out front. In Gatineau, in alignment with her early schooling in Morocco, her university years in Bruxelles, and with her past placement in Montreal, the ambiance is largely French but with various minorities incoluding Arabs and other Muslims. There are two mosques in Gatineau.

She is married to Merouane Sadqi, who was a colleague in the foreign service. Sadqi has been a loyal diplomat’s spouse, assisting his wife in her responsibilities, especially for cultural events. He also keeps busy caring for their daughter and getting her to school. Sadqi is the only male in the gathering of Arab diplomats’ spouses. He plays an active role in the group.

According to Otmani, the issue of equality for women is no longer top of the agenda in her country. There are expanding opportunities for women in many spheres, as doctors, pilots engineers, government officials, and so on. She sees the big issue now as that of domestic violence. “This occurs to 60% of wives, according to government statistics.” The government is working to bring in programs to deal with this serious problem.

Why is there so much family violence? It appears that this problem is on the increase. She thinks that the rate of violence may be due to the strides women have made, a backlash by men who fear a loss of their authority which threatens their sense of masculinity. More women are able to take care of themselves now. They are less dependent on men.

About the Author:
Reuel Amdur
Is a social worker and freelancer living in Val-des-Monts Quebec.

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