The El Manouzis have always been people with a ‘fire in the belly’, says Nizar. It’s a family trait. “Generations of El Manouzis have fought against inequality and for freedom in Morocco. There’s even a book about our family called Jaren van lood written by Sietske de Boer.” The book, literary non-fiction, describes the struggles of many, including Nizar’s grandfather, against the French for an independent Morocco. However, independence didn’t usher in a period of freedom and democracy as they had hoped, so the El Manouzis continued their opposition, now against King Hassan II. This led to harsh reprisals in which some family members were killed. Nizar’s father came to the Netherlands to study Philosophy, but immigrating didn’t extinguish the fire. The fighting spirit was literally passed on from father to son. “How you live your life is always up to you. That’s what my father taught me.”

Nizar visits his family in Morocco three times a year. Over the past few years, he hasn’t made this journey on his own. Instead, he invites other students to accompany him. “I thought: I’m going anyway, so why not give others a chance to learn about Morocco? Around seven students come with me each time. They could be students from IBCoM or Law; each group has people from a wide range of backgrounds.”

Moroccan roots

Thanks to the presence of other students, Nizar also learned about another side of Morocco. “If I walk through the market alone, people ignore me, but when I’m with a group of tourists, people always want to strike up a conversation with us.” According to Nizar, because of his Moroccan background, he doesn’t stand out from the crowd when in Morocco. And while he recognises some of his own traits when he’s there, he doesn’t feel these are an important part of his identity. “I have much more in common with people who have the same values and purpose. If someone also coincidentally has family in Morocco, that doesn’t automatically mean we’ll get along well. What makes a lasting impression on me is when someone shows respect for others and is curious about their stories.”

Still, Nizar is aware of how his Dutch and Moroccan sides have an influence on him. As he puts it, in the Netherlands it’s more about substance, while in Morocco it more about the relationship. “This summer in Morocco I was sent on an errand and when I walked into the shop, I immediately asked for the product I needed. The man in the shop was almost shocked by how blunt I was, and he said so too. His response was ‘First tell me how you’re doing’, while I just wanted to get the job done.”

Nizar appreciates that blunt approach, but at the same time he sees the value of investing in relationships. “At the University Council we often have a lot to discuss, so the substance of these discussions is essential. If you also take the time to get to know each other, it becomes easier to discuss issues. It also makes the work more enjoyable.”

Nizar El Manouzi and his dad
Nizar El Manouzi and his father Image credit: Sanne van der Most

It wasn’t Nizar’s Moroccan roots that motivated him to be one of the people behind establishing the Student Inclusion and Diversity Work Group, a group of students committed to making ‘education more sensitive to diversity and inclusion’. It also wasn’t his idea. The idea came from fellow student Bo van den Berg. “Of course I had noticed that students with the same background formed their own groups. I wanted to take all the different cliques and create a more unified whole by encouraging students to talk to each other. Following a conference on diversity and inclusion, Bo wanted to take action to change healthcare and education, and I fully support this.”

Nizar studies with his father in the University Library on Campus Woudestein twice a week. “My father finished his studies years ago and now works as a strategic analyst at the National Crisis Centre (NCC). But he simply enjoys learning and this is something we’ve been doing together for years now. When he was studying for his doctorate, he would take me with him to Woudestein. I would play with my toy cars while he studied. He has always challenged me to read about all kinds of subjects. If I was finished reading a book, we would discuss it.” Nizar still lives at home with his younger sister (17) and younger brother (13) in Rotterdam-Prinsenland.

Creativity v.s. strategy

His mother is the polar opposite of his father, he says. She teaches biology to pupils in the international preparatory class at the Wolfert College secondary school. Where his father deals in rationale and strategies, his mother is a more emotional person. “My father doesn’t understand why I want to act if I plan to be a doctor. He’ll ask about my strategy behind that decision. My main reason for doing it is because I enjoy it, because it’s uplifting.”

His mother wanted him to go to a Steiner primary school. “That would be better for developing my creative side.” And that’s just what happened. Nizar went to the Steiner primary school and in no time he could often be found on stage. He played in the school’s theatre, took on roles in the Ro Theatre and talked his way to the finals of the BBC public speech competition on the topic of happiness.

With his two study programmes and work in various committees, Nizar is extremely busy. He is also acutely aware that he has to watch out for his health. “This year my master in Medicine is on the back burner. The same goes for my master in Philosophy. If I’m really overdoing it, I quickly feel the impact this has on my health.” But he has no regrets about his busy schedule. “The double degree, for example (Nizar completed his bachelor programmes in Medicine and Philosophy this summer, ed.), was the best decision I ever made. Philosophy teaches you to really think and that skill keeps me on my toes. I always think carefully about what I’m doing. I have to enjoy it and it has to give me energy when I do it.”

Nizar El Manouzi
Image credit: Sanne van der Most

Acting debut

Acting is the perfect example of something he finds invigorating. On a friend’s recommendation, he signed up with a casting agency a few years ago. For a long time he heard nothing from the agency, and then this past year he was asked if he were interested in playing the role of Brahim in the Dutch feature film Catacombe. The film is about professional footballer Jermaine Slagter (Willem de Bruin) who is deeply in debt. The individual he owes money to offers him one way out: match fixing. Jermaine is a player from the older generation while Brahim is a young rival on the verge of making it big.

In the coming year he will appear in Gappies, a new VPRO series. “It takes place in a supermarket and each episode will feature a different character. I’ll be playing an Art History student who has a side job restocking shelves. A lot of fun and it doesn’t require a huge investment of my time.”

Nizar harbours no doubts that everything he does will help him be a good doctor. And becoming a doctor is his ultimate goal. Everything else he’s doing now is because the opportunity is there and because he has the ability to do it. “I’m very conscious of the fact that everything I do is possible because I’m in good health. That’s how I got interested in studying Medicine. I want to help others, especially children,to have that experience too.”  When he’s a doctor, his total focus will be on healing patients. “What I want most is to be able to prevent any child from ever being seriously ill.”


part of special

This was 2018

2018 is (almost) over and therefore we are looking at the past year in review.