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Prison of Liberty

This is a guest post by my friend Doga, in which he responds to the controversy surrounding a recent editorial by Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, which was critical of a speech by King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

As a young Moroccan, I believe that what Benchemsi said in his article is important, because he calls for constitutional reforms that all Moroccans hope to see realized as soon as possible, in order to achieve a balance of power. I don’t see why there are people who attribute to him the worst motivations. Perhaps they are paid to do it, or perhaps they are upset that they have neither the ability, nor the courage to speak as he did.

Even the tone of his article appeals to me, because the majority of young people in Morocco talk like that, and at the university I’ve heard plenty of students say the same thing, in the same way. You would need an international military force to round up all the young Moroccans who think like Benchemsi, because there are so many who share his ideas.

The King himself, when he came to power, did away with the obligation to kiss his hand, because he understood that there are plenty of people who don’t like doing it, even if there are others who take pleasure in it. And there is also a third group, who kiss the King’s hand because their spirit is carried away with hypocrisy.

The essence of democracy is that we should be able to speak out like Benchemsi did without the slightest fear of reprisal. Yet perhaps freedom of expression and democracy, which Morocco proclaims endlessly and without shame, are merely a way to numb our thoughts, as if our future were really quite narrow, and limited to the voice of one man. Even to speak we need the authorization of the State! Maybe we should remind the State that freedom of expression is our natural right, given to us by God along with use of our brains, not a privilege handed out by the Minister of the Interior to suit the hypocrisy of those in power!

It is ridiculous for Morocco to believe that this type of evolution of ideas can weaken the unity of the nation. Have they forgotten that evolution is a force in itself? It is what lets us determine which road we should take, and by what means. I want to remind all those who sincerely love Morocco that it isn’t enough to distance ourselves from the abuses we see, we must do whatever it takes to cure them. Otherwise, we can no longer hope that Truth will prevail. Nor is it wise for us to wait until our own turn comes to have our mouths shut by censure.

— • —

“I was hoping to join you in prison, because it is a prison of liberty.”
Aboubakr Jamaï to Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, August 11 in Casablanca, quoted in Almasae (quote not online).

Doga is a 21-year-old Moroccan who graduated near the top of his high school class, went on to study computer networking and law, and is now trying to find a job to support himself and his family, like millions of others his age. He told me that the king’s recent throne speech had discouraged him from voting in the upcoming elections, because now more than ever he is convinced that voting won’t result in the kind of change he wants to see, namely constitutional reform. Because his ideas are similar to Benchemsi’s, I encouraged him to write a defense in his own words, and the above post is the result.

As a reminder, in Benchemsi’s recent editorial “Your Majesty… What Are You Saying?” he criticizes King Mohammed VI for contradicting himself by claiming absolute political authority while at the same time dismissing as “nihilists” those who say the upcoming elections are a farce. He addresses the king a familiar tone that some would consider disrespectful, and which he himself refers to as “insolence” (dssara). The response by the Moroccan authorities was to confiscate all copies of the editorial, and charge Benchemsi with “disrespect of the king” for which he now faces a penalty of up to five years in prison.

Doga has posted here three times before (Young Moroccans: A Neglected Future, Political Paralysis in Morocco, and If Not Now, When?) and participated in online conversations I’ve transcribed (What Is Truth? about Holocaust denial, and Debriefing Doga about political reform in Morocco). If you want to reply to him, feel free to write your comments in either French or English. He doesn’t read English (his text was written in French) but I will be happy to translate.

My French-speaking readers may be interested in this audio interview in which Benchemsi himself discusses the recent events.

UPDATE: Yahia has published a French version of Doga’s text on his famous Antiblog.


Comment from a
Time: August 13, 2007, 03:47

Could you please ask Doga for the source of the first quote?

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 13, 2007, 06:28

@a — I was looking for it myself online, but couldn’t find it. I’ll ask him, and link to it if I get a link.

Comment from punchman
Time: August 13, 2007, 08:15

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously.
and the word (democracy) it self become scary
word in some part of the world while to others mainly the rich and powerful country turned out to be a very useful weapon to wage wars , regime change , sanctions , interference and the list goes on all in the name of hypocrisy sorry my mistake democracy

Comment from amine
Time: August 13, 2007, 08:59

thanks a lot eatbees, i m not in morocco so couldnt figure out what press outlets actually covered the issue…was gessing maybe almasae, we’ll see when they post yesterday’s issue online…

Comment from oskar
Time: August 14, 2007, 15:12

It is really intersting going back and forth in your various posted subjects, I have a bunch of question at the risk of pulling you way back:
1) whatever happened to the idea of putting moroccan jockes in a book, I find that a great idea

2) did any one try to raise a fund to pay Jamai’s fine

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 14, 2007, 19:21

@amine — You’re right, he says it was almasae, but when he went online to look for the article, he couldn’t find it. I guess he read it originally in the printed version….

He recommends this video interview with Khalid Jamai (in Arabic) which discusses various cases of censorship in Morocco, such as Nichane and the Mrabet case.

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 14, 2007, 21:44

@oskar — About the Moroccan joke book, no one really picked up on that idea. It would need the involvement of a huge number of people, as contributors and then as editors. I still like the idea too!

About Jamaï’s fine, I think he decided not to pay it (though there were people willing to help) in protest against the injustice of it, even though the consequence of that was leaving Morocco to save his magazine.

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 14, 2007, 21:54

@punchman — “The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously”—how right you are!—because any serious exchange of views demands maturity on both sides. Freedom of speech cannot guarantee this maturity, but it is still a precondition.

Comment from oskar
Time: August 15, 2007, 11:32

Too bad for Jamai, it is a big punch for alt those who are trying and hoping to see the country change for the best. I repsect his decision and certainly support his effort to not let them throw him in jail, but at the same time i feel that this affair does not concern him only but all of us.
all the best

Comment from punchman
Time: August 15, 2007, 16:38

to eatbees
don’t take me wrong i love to see morocco takes the road to democracy , freedom of speech and all the flavor it goes with it i lived in europe for 15 years and i have a pretty good knowledge about democracy & freedom of press. morocco have bigger problem to fry now like education , health , unemployment , security , clean water those are some of the basic human rights in meantime we should modernise the political parties and give them the support and tools to reach the level of democracy we have i think 53 political parties to me this is madness for small country and Some of the press who speak loudly about the freedom of the press are themselves the enemies of freedom. Countless people dare not say a thing because they know it will be picked up and made a song of by the press. That limits freedom.

Comment from alle
Time: August 15, 2007, 16:55

punchman – yeah, the excessive press freedom is certainly morocco’s biggest problem right now…

Comment from punchman
Time: August 15, 2007, 17:07

to alle
there’s no polisario here so check wso that’s world spin organisation

Comment from alle
Time: August 15, 2007, 20:55

not quite sure i follow.

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 15, 2007, 22:59

@punchman — We all know Morocco needs to develop its infrastructure, its educational system, its job base, and somehow create a better distribution of wealth and opportunity. But where you seem to draw the conclusion “too much freedom too soon could be dangerous,” the opposing view is that development will never benefit the people until they have won accountability from their political leaders. In this view, which I share, the free exchange of ideas is the engine of development.

Development has never been easy in any nation that has achieved it, whether the U.S. or France or Japan. There have always been mistakes along the way. But one of the prerequisites is to have an elected government, answerable to the people, with the authority to change national policy—what M6 called the “grand objectives” in his recent speech. That is what this debate is about. M6 claimed that authority for himself, Benchemsi objected, and he now faces censorship and perhaps prison. Is this fair? When will it be possible in Morocco to discuss the fundamentals that free people everywhere discuss? “Why do we have the system we have? Is it working? Can we imagine a better one?” 230 years ago, Thomas Paine wrote the following in The Rights of Man. I feel that he could have been discussing the Benchemsi case!

“The defects of every government and constitution both as to principle and form, must… be as open to discussion as the defects of [any] law, and it is a duty which every man owes to society to point them out. When those defects, and the means of remedying them, are generally seen by a nation, that nation will reform its government or its constitution…. It is to a nation [i.e., the people] that the right of forming or reforming, generating or regenerating constitutions and governments belong; and consequently those subjects… are always before a country as a matter of right, and cannot… be made subjects for prosecution.”

When it comes to Morocco, I believe that you and I have the same hope, though we may differ on how to get there. For me, what we are doing right now is part of the solution. If only this sort of exchange could be part of every Moroccan’s experience in the classroom, in cafés, or with their colleagues at work. When I arrived in Morocco in 2003 (I’m an American) I sensed a definite chill in public discussion compared to what I was used to. When I left in 2006, the air felt much clearer, and people seemed confident in expressing their views. What I worry about now are “signals” that things are set to go backwards.

When you say, “Countless people dare not say a thing because they know it will be picked up and made a song of by the press. That limits freedom,” it reminds me of an unhealthy facet of the Moroccan mentality, its paranoid or fault-finding side. This isn’t unique to Morocco either, it is part of human nature. But I think Doga is right. Rather than turn away from problems, we must work diligently to solve them. In the arena of free speech, it means defending the rights of others, even when we don’t agree with everything they said. It means exercising our own right to speak, courageously and honorably. No right is given freely, it must be earned, and it grows by example. Our example will encourage others, and before long, Morocco will discover its elusive freedom.

“For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it”—the Marquis de la Fayette.

Comment from Hisham
Time: August 18, 2007, 19:08

Morocco is definitely back tracking…

Comment from Hisham
Time: August 20, 2007, 12:17

Since his enthronisation, the new King and his lieutenants have been proclaiming their attachment to the values of democracy. Phrases like “Human Rights,” “Righteous State,” “Freedom of Expression”… have been repeated ad-nauseum to the point that those values have been completely emptied from their meaning and have become jargon words.

Comment from tangerino
Time: August 20, 2007, 16:40

True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.

Comment from eatbees
Time: August 20, 2007, 19:55

@tangerino — IMO, neither indivdual freedom nor economic security precedes the other, because they are completely inseparable. And they are both incredibly fragile things, because they require us to choose our best instincts over our worst ones (paranoia, clannishness, greed) not just once but over and over again!

@Hisham — It’s not just Morocco that is slipping. The wealthy nations are slipping back into a fortress mentality that can’t truly be called democracy on the inside if it fails to practice it on the outside… and authoritarianism seems to be growing in its appeal worldwide.

Comment from Hisham
Time: August 21, 2007, 07:46

@eatbees: I couldn’t agree more eatbees! keep on keeping on my friend.

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