The man Mohamed VI trusts

Mehdi Qotbi's position reports only partly on her true power. Qotbi has been the president of the National Museum Foundation of Morocco since 2011. King Mohamed VI decided to grant that position in the middle of the Arab Spring to a very humble man of extraction, who became a painter in Paris and who until that time had no experience in the management of any organism


—I'm afraid to disappoint you, Your Majesty,

—You're not going to let me down,

In just three years, Qotbi managed to open the Mohamed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat. And in the last five years Qotbi managed together with the director of the center, Abdelaziz el Idrissi, to host unpublished exhibitions in the country: a retrospective of Picasso, another of Spanish painters, of Goya to this day, ceded by the Bank of Spain, another of Impressionists loaned by the Mues of Orsay, and the first Art Biennale in Rabat, with a marked feminist accent. In all of them he achieved total success of assistance and presence in the international media. Since taking office Morocco has met three culture ministers, but Qotbi has emerged in the most iconic image of the so-called soft power or soft power of Morocco.

The Mohamed VI museum in Rabat, which makes up the 13 foundation centres, has become the bow mask of culture in Morocco. This was the last place princess Salma appeared in December 2017, before her separation from Mohamed VI, and the place where she reappeared last October during the opening of another exhibition. Of course, Qotbi was present at both events. "I am always very grateful to those who have reached out to me. The prince's mother has always supported us. I'm honored and proud of that. She has never missed an exhibition to this day."

Qotbi was born 68 years ago, according to Wikipedia—although he claims his father was wrong to record the data and actually has a few less—in Takadun, one of Rabat's poorest neighborhoods. It was conceived out of wedlock, which in Morocco is an indelible stigma for many children who are known as "children of sin". Qotbi did not feel loved at home, his father beat him and tried to spend as little time at home as possible. When he was just 12 years old he saw a large car pass through his neighborhood and it turned out to be that of the defense minister of the time. He asked for a job for his sister. And the minister was amused that the boy didn't ask for money like the rest of the kids. He got him a scholarship to study at one of the best elite schools and then another to travel to France,

The president of the National Museum Foundation of Morocco in the studio in which he performs his own artistic work.

There, Mehdi Qotbi was reborn. He found a country where no one asked him who his parents were. He changed his name to Mohamed to Mehdi, learned the French language, married, had two daughters who live in Paris, divorced. And in between, he managed to make his way as a painter, working with Octavio Paz, Fernando Arrabal, the Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor, the Syrian poet Adonis, met the diplomat Dominique de Villepin and presidents Francois Mitterrand, Francois Hollande and Jacques Chirac, among many other personalities. Until in 2015 he was awarded the highest French decoration, the Legion of Honour medal,

Legends that Qotbi advises Mohamed VI on the purchase of frames for his private pinacoteca. "That's absolutely false," he says. "Your Majesty does not need any art advisers. He often supports Moroccan artists by buying them his works. And thanks to that he has managed to spread the hobby. Now, in wedding skills, some families ask for paintings instead of silver.


The other legend that runs through Rabat points out that Qotbi lived very cheaply in France until someone from the Moroccan Palace repaired in it and his life changed completely. Qotbi also belies that story: "I didn't live badly in Paris. My wife had a flat in the VIII district (one of the most well-off in the city) and there we received people. Even if we're divorced, our relationship is great and I'll always be grateful to the mother of my children.


As far as his entrance to The Palace, Qotbi recounts the origin. She says that in the 1980s she coincided at a luncheon of the French embassy in Rabat with Assia Alaoui, who was at the time the wife of Ahmed Alaoui, minister of Hassan II and is since 2006 the itinerant ambassador of Mohamed VI. Qotbi showed her his books illustrating texts by several famous writers and she asked him to leave them to him,

"That same afternoon," Says Qotbi, "I got a call from Mrs. Alaoui and she said, 'My husband is waiting for you tomorrow in Marrakech.' I had never been to Marrakech. Mr. Alaoui sent me a chauffeur and I settled in a hotel in Marrakech. I was invited to a reception from the king. The next day, Mr. Alaoui called me at the hotel. 'Where are you? Her Majesty wants to see you and what are you doing?' I took a taxi and within 20 minutes I was already at the Simiramis hotel, at eight o'clock at night. I realized in the car that with the precipitation I had put on two different colored socks. When Mr. Alaoui arrived, he said to me, 'If His Majesty Hassan II is in a good mood, he will let you kiss his hand and then you must withdraw. If he's not in a good mood, he's going to take your hand away and you have to retire too.

Finally, Qotbi kissed his hand and Hassan II spoke to him for half an hour. "That was magical, unexpected," Qotbi recalls. "I just remember when I got to his office he asked me, 'Why are you coming to see me?' And I said, 'Your Majesty, that's up to you.'

Three days later "the best came," Qotbi recalls. The then crown prince, present-day King Mohamed VI, quoted him in Skjirat, near Rabat. "He asked me what my family was, where I lived. And for the first time in my life, I talked about my family. I told her my mother was a housewife and my father was a stretcher. I spoke excitedly, with tears in my eyes. And he accepted me as I am. And I saw his humanity."

When asked, Qotbi has been able to adapt his ways to dealing with influential people, he says he always had a great ability to observe. Qotbi is now shown as a man satisfied with his destiny. "The good God has given me more than I could dream. Yesterday I had lunch with my father and brother. We've already reconciled. I left a slum and now I have a nice apartment in Casablanca and a beautiful house in Marrakech. What else do I want? When I was little, I was barefoot. Now I have almost a hundred shoes. But I can only wear a couple. In my house I have many rooms, but I can only sleep in a bed, in which I am used to. I still have the fear and obsession with starving. I don't want anything else. And I try not to close my door to anyone.