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Moroccan Injustice System

Sadly, the world doesn’t stand still for bloggers, or follow our idealistic wishes. While I’ve been comfortably going about my business these past couple of weeks, sitting in my favorite cafe, watching animes or chatting with friends online, 26-year-old Fouad Mourtada has been in a Moroccan jail because he created a page on Facebook in the name of Prince Rachid, the younger brother of the Moroccan king.

His case provoked an outcry across the Moroccan blogosphere, because of the feeling that if such a thing could happen to Fouad—a mild-mannered IT engineer who has always been a model citizen—then it could happen to anyone. Yet the outcry didn’t sway the Moroccan injustice system. On February 22, Fouad was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of about $1300. This despite the fact that his foolish gesture harmed no one, and had no malicious intent.

Just last night I stumbled upon a YouTube video in which a man claims that in 1999, he shared cocaine with Barack Obama in the back of a limousine while performing oral sex on him. Needless to say, we have only the man’s word for his sensational claims. Yet far from being kidnapped by police, blindfolded, beaten up, denied contact with his family, and finally sentenced to years in prison—as happened to Fouad for something far more innocent—he is still walking around free, seeking publicity, even repeating his story on the radio. The claims are almost certainly false, but Obama won’t take the man to court, because that would only fuel the controversy.

The price of public life in a democracy is to be the victim of scandals, including invented ones. For example, we can read on the internet that as a young woman, Laura Bush killed her ex-boyfriend with a car and got away with it because it was written up as an accident; or that Hillary Clinton had someone murder her longtime friend Vincent Foster, faking it as a suicide, because he knew about her involvement in criminal acts. The people making these claims are walking around free today. Perhaps we have too much free speech in the U.S., and we should take Morocco as a model? There’s no need for that. People still respect Obama, Bush and Clinton, seeing these charges for what they are—the work of a few crazy people who want attention.

What possible justification is there for treating Fouad the way he was treated? Does the honor of the Moroccan monarchy demand the destruction of a young man’s life? Apparently so. Apparently, their honor will be defended even at the price of revealing to the world that in Morocco, an innocent citizen can be snatched off the street, taken to a room and brutally interrogated, with no possibility of redress, no chance that the real criminals, Fouad’s interrogators, will ever be punished. The message to the Moroccan people is, “Watch your step.” In Morocco, freedom is not a right, but a gift of the state. It can be distributed or withdrawn at the whim of its rulers, from moment to moment.

As I said, reality doesn’t always correspond to the idealistic wishes of bloggers.


Comment from Ahmed
Time: February 27, 2008, 03:40

Great post! I conveyed similar ideas on my post on the issue. Unfortunately, it’s not just the Moroccan justice system that needs reform, but the whole Moroccan political mentality is in dire need of reeducation.

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 27, 2008, 04:29

@Ahmed — I agree that the “whole Moroccan political mentality” needs an overhaul. In fact I was discussing this with a friend just a few days ago. So I’ll ask you as I did him, where can such a change begin? Small steps like working together with your neighbors to change the quality of life in your community? Educating people about their rights, and getting a lot more people involved in the political process? Changing the Constitution to mean that the people elected are the same ones governing? Or making a huge new investment in the next generation through educational reform, which is probably the best answer, but might mean delaying the change until that generation comes of age?

Comment from Hisham
Time: February 27, 2008, 07:35

Hi there;
I don’t quite adhere to the idea that Moroccans (or Arabs for that matter) have a mental disabilty so that they are enable to understant the kind of injustice they are trapped into. Change can only occur as a Top-Down political reform project. People try just to survive. You can not blame their mentality when they clearly understand that the shortest way to get you papers signed, your administrative queue-time shortened is by paying bribes. When the elite of the nation is stealing the public money, is unrespectful of the rules and regulations it is supposed to uphold, don’t blame the street man who has understood that it is better to play by the rules of the game, to adapt and survive.

Now, Thanks eatbees for the kind words you left on my blog and also for the questions you asked.

I’m very flattered by the fact that an intelligent (and now famous) blogger like you my friend, finds an interest in knowing what my positions would be in the current race taking place in the US. And It’s a pleasure for me to try to answer your queries.

First, I can’t help having serious doubts about the ability of Barak Obama to change (which is the only candidate of seemingly progressive agenda who have the potential and cash to make it to the white house, something people like D. Kucinic can’t unfortunately claim). I may be wrong but I understand that the system of governance in America is now so locked that it is almost practically impossible to change it through mere political process albeit democratic. I mean that the political system in Washington is designed in a way to give ordinary Americans the IMPRESSION of democracy whilst the real power holders (the oligarchy) remain in the shadows, invisible, putting pressure on what ever administration is in place, what ever congress comes, with the potential of shaping policies and manufacturing decisions. Does Obama have the willingness, and later will he have the ability to change things? I doubt it. I think that the USA needs a grass root revolution. A non-violent but decisive one. Which form or shape will it take? I have no idea. The left in America has abandoned the battle for too long and has given up too much for the two hegemonistic (business-)parties.

Having said that, I agree that Obama may bring some new input to the American political machine. The very fact of having a young black man as the head of the most powerful empire the world has ever witnessed, could have a warming and pacifying effect on world politics. You must admit that having to support the ugly faces of the Bushies on the Tele everyday in itself may have contributed to many tragedies.

As for lessons that the hoped victory of Obama would bring to politicians and young people in my own Morocco, I think that if Mr. Barak proves to be what he claims to be, a self-made, progressive candidate who fights for change, then he would surely be a role model for all of those disenfranchised, socially- (and sometimes even racially-) abused people in my country. Obviously, the people of the Makhzen (Fouad Ali el Himma and Co.) will adapt. It will be business as usual for the Moroccan power, making sure that the civil society and voices of decent are kept as silent and invisible as possible.

Keep up the good spirit my dear friend. May your fight for justice and genuine liberty for all bring you personal satisfaction and meaning to your life. As for the future of America… I think it’s wise to cautiously wait and see.

Comment from Van Kaas
Time: February 27, 2008, 11:37

The justice system is Morocco is a war-time system. Fouad
is simply considered to be an enemy. Change will come when Morocco has peace at it’s borders.

Btw. Don’t forget the Sahrawi prisoners and have a look at:

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 27, 2008, 14:36

@Hisham—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Moroccans themselves describe the situation in their country as a kind of mental illness. One of my friends in Tangier said the only solution was to wipe the country clean of people and start over with a new generation! Others have said things like, “The only way things will get better is if we have a complete revolution in our mentality.”

Of course, as you point out, this is a symptom of adaptation to a cruel and unjust system. Such a system deforms people, just as growing up with an abusive father can deform a child’s sense of love and trust. These patterns are fixed at an early age, and they are hard to break later, even after circumstances change. For me, the tragedy of Fouad is that he had the sort of mentality Morocco needs. A positive, innocent attitude and a sense of play. But the system destroyed him in a vengeful way, as if unable to tolerate anyone who feels free.

You’re right that it’s rational for the common man to give bribes because that’s what is needed to survive. I’m not criticizing such a person too harshly, because they’ve already been beaten down and are victims of the system. But on a deeper level, you have to admit that this behavior feeds the injustice and keeps it going. So long as Moroccans think that taking abuse from authority is normal, it will continue. If Moroccans wake up tomorrow and simply say no to these people—if everyone, simultaneously, refuses to play this game any longer—then corrupt authority will lose its legitimacy and the people can finally reclaim their control over the system.

Of course, there are places like Algeria or Lebanon that serve as reminders of the dangers of instability in the Arab world. And as Van Kass points out in his comment, Morocco is not at peace with all of its neighbors. So something more is needed than simply saying no to corrupt authority — there also needs to be a spirit of solidarity among the people. Only once Moroccans are confident that they can keep society together on their own, will the strong hand that provides security stop making sense. Many Moroccans are afraid that if they were suddenly to be left without a central authority, the nation would tear itself apart into factions and tribes. In a way, this is also a symptom of the “abusive father.” People who are used to discipline from above lose their capacity for self-discipline. Even you, Hisham, say that change needs to come through “top-down” reform, rather than “from the ground up.”

Developing new ways of thinking will take time, and I’m convinced that even though we are far from power, the kind of conversation we’re having here is part of the process. So I’m wondering if you want to try to take this further by answering some of the questions I asked Ahmed above, either here or on your own blog?

Comment from Hisham
Time: February 29, 2008, 11:30

Thanks for providing me with the kind of food for thought I was craving for, especially in these lethargic times when you struggle not to stop fall into the anaesthetic traps of junk television and nonsensical media programs.

What I meant by “top-down” reform was that it was the core strategy of any program for change. Intellectuals have of course the duty to educate the people around them, set examples of integrity, honesty and perseverance for their fellow citizens. Also by making “investment” as you put it, in next generations. Change comes as a result of all of that. But as I previously suggested: only Top -Down Reform plan -constitutional reform in the case of Morocco- can realistically push forward a country which has been languishing in poverty and ignorance for so long.

Comment from eatbees
Time: February 29, 2008, 21:22

@Hisham — Thanks for rising to the challenge and starting to explain how you think change can come about in Morocco. Now that you’ve explained “top-down” as intellectual and moral leadership and constitutional reform, I agree with you completely. I’m definitely in the camp of those who believe that meaningful change can’t happen unless Morocco’s elected representatives are given real responsibility for governing, so they can be held accountable for the result. And we clearly agree on the importance of educating future generations. Are you aware of the bloggers’ education initiative here and here? On the other hand, I don’t think the needed reforms will happen unless there is pressure from below, through citizen action such as blogmeetings, teach-ins, opinion pieces in the media and demonstrations. What is needed isn’t only “top-down” reform, but a circulation of reform energy from the top to the bottom and back again! We might as well go all the way in our dream ;)

Comment from Hisham
Time: March 1, 2008, 08:29

That’s it! The base is essential. The civil society in Morocco have gone a long way since the darkness of the “Lead Years” and have asserted itself as a mobilizing power. The new regime (which I like to call it, the ‘New Makhzen’) has maliciously set about to dismantle this growing force by dividing its leadership (remember the chasm created when the late Driss Benzekri was appointed head of the -so-called- Advisory Committee for HR), the constant attacks on the independent media and lately, the imprisonment -as you courageously largely publicised- of peaceful citizens who demonstrated for the very constitutional reform we all dream of. The Moroccan state has taken a very aggressive posture, comforted as he is by assurances from foreign western capitals that no HR-related pressures will be put on it.
Progressive intellectuals have the duty to teach, set examples, elaborate a project for the future and take risks. The civil society is alive and kicking and has been putting pressure (from bellow) but found out that the intellectual leadership has either capitulated or has conspired with the regime.
I think that the weaknesses and failures in Morocco (and in the Arab world as a whole) are mostly the product of the abdication of the elites. That’s why I called for a top-down action, bearing in mind that “the base” has already identified the illness, ready for change but still waiting for an inspiring and catalyzing leadership. Don’t you think my friend?

Comment from eatbees
Time: March 2, 2008, 16:01

@Hisham — Now I get what you are saying, and I totally agree!

You’re right, it’s the responsibility of the educated elites to grasp and articulate the people’s aspirations for change. Rather than sit back and complain that the people are following religious fanatics, they need to engage the people themselves with meaningful ideas!

Sadly, all too often they jump to defend the power they claim to oppose. When Nadia Yessine expressed her “personal preference” for a republic, she was condemned by everyone for saying the unthinkable. More recently, no other than Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, himself a victim of arbitrary power, has been circulating a petition calling on the authorities to use a strong hand to protect individual liberties against so-called extremism!

Here is the problem. Bob Dylan said that “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” — but intellectuals in their sinecures have too much to lose.

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