Morocco World News

It might be said without fear of exaggeration that the appetite for Moroccan news among non-Moroccans in the United States is limited.  This may explain why the number of English-language publications conveying news of the Maghreb is few.  Certainly there are some top notch blogs, such as Maryam Montague's My Marrakesh and Sandy McCutcheon's View from FezLaila Lalami offers frequent and cogent stateside critiques. And there is the Morocco News Board as well.  However, recently I find that my regular news and opinion from Morocco comes from Morocco World News.

Partly this is because the stories are readily available in my Facebook feed.  Clearly, that is only part of the reason, however, because mere availability does not explain why I find myself stopping to read them more and more lately.  Typically the headlines are provocative and the stories, which tend heavily toward opinion pieces, are thoughtful and generally well-written.  I frequently find myself engaged even when I disagree, which is often.  Given the frequency with which I disagree even with my own countrymen, this is perhaps not surprising.

So for those to whom Casablanca means more than Rick's Cafe, who miss the savor of atay be naa naa and the succulence of mechoui, the pungency of zait el bldi and the beauty of the Atlas, the starkness of the desert and the warmth of the hammam, the labyrinth of Fes and the crowds at Jmaa el Fna, couscous and the call to prayer, and most of all the unforced warmth and generosity of the Moroccan people, Morocco World News is a little reminder of home away from home.

U.S. of Hate

One might think that a country whose longest standing treaty of friendship is with the Kingdom of Morocco would be free of the most virulent forms of anti-Muslim prejudice. If so, one would be mistaken, as recent events in Orange County, California, demonstrate. At a Muslim fundraiser for a homeless shelter, people flaunting American flags viciously taunted, berated, and intimidated men, women, and children attempting to enter the community center where the fundraiser was taking place. In attendance and addressing members of this hate rally against the fundraiser were Congressmen Ed Royce and Gary Miller.

Royce has since attempted to deflect criticism of his attendance and encouragement of the protesters by questioning the character of the speakers at the event, Sirraj Wahhaj and Amir Abdel Malik Ali. On the basis of a quick search, Wahhaj appears to be a respected Muslim cleric who has even given a prayer before the United States House of Representatives, although Royce insinuates that he was implicated by association in the first, failed attempt to bomb the World Trade Center. The second, Amir Abdel Malik Ali, is clearly a bit more controversial, and has been cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center for blatantly anti-Semitic fabrications about Jews. It is quite possible that Mr. Wahhaj and particularly Mr. Ali, as public figures who have expressed controversial views, are legitimate targets of protests. I find Mr. Ali's alleged statements about Jews particularly troubling. But I fail to see how a principled objection to the views of Mr. Wahhaj and Mr. Ali provides any justification for mobbing the people who came to hear them speak. Moreover, the language of the protesters had very little to do with the speakers and a great deal to do with the religious and ethnic identity of the attendees. This is shameful, and it ought not to be tolerated.

Clearly, especially in light of Snyder v. Phelps, the law will permit even the most hateful protests. It does not prevent other Americans from drawing conclusions about the characters of the protesters. It does not limit criticism, obloquy, and ostracism of the "protesters" and especially of the two Congressmen who egged them on. We may have to hear these heirs of the Westboro Baptist Church, but we are not prevented from answering them.

In the event anyone wishes to make their displeasure known to the Congressmen involved, the Capitol switchboard is (202) 225-3121.

All Politics Is Local

It was a refreshing surprise to see my local Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, come out in support of exiled Moroccan journalist Aboubakr Jamai. The Committee to Protect Journalists quoted Van Hollen in a press release deploring the limiting of press freedom in Morocco.

Al Jazeera English - News - Morocco Court Sentences Journalists

Al Jazeera reports that a Moroccan Court of Appeals has handed down only slightly reduced sentences for reporter Mustapha Hurmatallah and editor Abderrahim Ariri of Al Watan Alaan. The pair were originally charged for publishing allegedly secret information related to heightened government security in response to an anticipated Al Qaeda attack. At present Hurmatallah faces seven months in jail, and Ariri a five month suspended sentence; both are being assessed 1,000 dirham fines.

In general, in a free society the dissemination of information by the press is not subject to criminal sanctions. (Illegal dissemination of information by a member of the government or armed forces is another matter.) For a narrow range of offenses -- primarily libel and slander -- the press like anyone else should be at least theoretically subject to monetary penalties, but in the United States even these are very unlikely to be assessed for defamation of any public figure (George Bush included). (The United States is ranked 53rd on Reporters Without Borders' ranking of countries by the freedom of their press; Morocco is 97.)

Morocco will never be a free society so long as journalists are being put in jail for doing their jobs.

Backsliding

The two journalists from the weekly newspaper Al Watan Al An, Mustafa Hormatallah and publisher Abderrahim Ariri were convicted by a criminal court in Casablanca for "concealing items derived from a crime."

VOA News. The conviction of two journalists for apparently violating Morocco's version of the Official Secrets Act, is the kind of prosecution that before the Bush Administration would have been laughable in the United States. Ironically, it would appear that, with its support for secret detentions and torture, the Bush Administration's effect on press freedom and human rights in Morocco has been generally malign at a time when the Kingdom has become more liberal generally.

Depression

Other than the fact that I deplore the suppression of TelQuel and NIchane and the arrest of editor Ahmed Benchemsi, I am too depressed to say much. For a comprehensive description of this latest outrage to freedom of the press in Morocco, see Eatbees.

Routing Around Moroccan Censorship

The Morocco Report calls upon the Blogoma to rise up in protest of Morocco's decision to block access to YouTube, joining the likes of China, Syria, and Iran as Internet censors. Fortunately, an attack on the Internet is often defeated by the Internet itself, and there are a number of suggestions online for circumventing such censorship: see for example, Blogspot Blogs Banned in India and How to Access Blocked Sites. Unfortunately, since I am not in Morocco, I cannot personally verify whether any of these methods work, although I would certainly appreciate feedback from anyone who tries them.

Solidarity

Sexual Threats Stifle Some Female Bloggers - washingtonpost.com

The Washington Post today ran a story on women bloggers being targeted with harassment and threats of violence:

As women gain visibility in the blogosphere, they are targets of sexual harassment and threats. Men are harassed too, and lack of civility is an abiding problem on the Web. But women, who make up about half the online community, are singled out in more starkly sexually threatening terms -- a trend that was first evident in chat rooms in the early 1990s and is now moving to the blogosphere, experts and bloggers said.

Beyond the obvious revulsion against threats of sexual violence against anyone, there are several additional reasons why this story is particularly disturbing. Not only are many of the attacks quite graphic, but also the perpetrators are often able to remain anonymous on the Internet. While one's first sympathies go to the victims, the consequences for the blogosphere are also likely to be severe. I would venture to say that a majority of the high quality blogs that I read regularly are written by women, and for women in the Maghreb the Internet seems to have been a particularly liberating opportunity for public expression. It would be a shame for the criminal actions of a few sociopaths to shut down access to free expression on the Internet for over half of the population. Finally, if my daughters want to blog when they get older, I want them to be able to do so without fear.

Another Blow to a Free Press

The Morocco Report: Aboubakr Jamai Resigns, Cites Unpayable Fine

Morocco Report has a good background and analysis piece on the resignation of publisher Aboubakir Jamai from the leadership of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, one of Morocco's leading magazines. Crushed under the burden of a fine in the neighborhood of $350,000, Jamai is resigning before the government starts to seize the magazine's assets, and he is rumored to be contemplating exile.

To my mind, crushing an independent press is not the best way for the Moroccan government to counter the threat of impending Islamic radicalization. In the end, education, literacy, and the free exchange of ideas is going to be the best bulwark against fundamentalism of any stripe. One is reminded of Thomas More's comment in Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, that if you cut down all of the laws to get at the devil, then in the end there will be nothing between the devil and you. Then again, More was ultimately no favorite of the King.

Sword of Damocles

Laila Lalami | Nichane: Update

Laila Lalami weighs in on the Nichane judgment, which despite being less than the penalty sought, she characterizes as a "Sword of Damocles" over the journalists' heads. One misstep, and they could be subject to jail time. As a strategy by the palace for dealing with Islamists, she deems it a failure, a strategy more likely to encourage them than not.

Better Than Expected

The Morocco Report: Nichane Journalists Given Three Year Suspended Sentence

Morocco Report appears to break the news in the English blogosphere of the sentencing of the Nichane journalists:

Nichane editor Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanae Al-Aji were each handed a three year suspended sentence today for having published an article considered "defamation to Islam."

In addition to the suspended sentence, the magazine was banned for two months and fined 80,000 Moroccan dirhams (about $9,320 USD).

Although the sentence is lighter than that sought by the prosecutor, it is a grim portent for freedom of the press when journalists are prosecuted for reprinting popular jokes.

See also Larbi (French) and the usual brisk commentary. As one commentator points out, the real battle now is to change the press law, which dictates imprisonment over expressions of opinion.

Update: Eatbees and View from Fez have further analysis; Morocco Report says that a change in the press law may be in the offing.

Nadia Has the Scoop

Nadia's Blog (French) has a scathing description of the opening of the trial of the magazine NIchane for offending public morals by reprinting popular jokes. Nadia reports that the presiding judge played a role more reminiscent of a parent scolding children than a magistrate upholding the law. Not only does her account evoke the bias in the proceeding, but it also suggests that the majesty of the law has been forsaken for popular prejudice and political games. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand what is going on in the Nichane affair, and brava to Nadia for her courage in reporting it!

Dear Mr. Ambassador

His Excellency Aziz Mekouar
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
1601 21st Street, NW
Washington DC 20009, USA
Tel No : (202) 462-7979 Fax No : (202) 265-0161

Americans disappointed in Morocco's recent actions toward Nichane and Le Journal Hebdomadaire may want to drop a note to Morocco's Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Aziz Mekouar. It goes without saying that the most persuasive letter is one that is respectful of the Ambassador and the government and calmly reasoned.

Freedom of the press is a value that Americans cherish and respect in others, and one that they would like to see observed by their longtime friends in Morocco. Moreover, freedom of the press supports a healthy and stable civic society and serves to counteract extremism of every kind. Freedom of the press is not a threat to Islam, which can and will be vigorously defended in the press by Muslims and others. For these reasons, we ask that Morocco reconsider its recent actions limiting freedom of the press through the prosecution of Nichane and Le Journal Hebdomadaire.

The Impending Fate of Nichane and the Riddle of the PJD

Eatbees has a timely but grim reflection on the likely sentence awaiting Nichane journalists Sanaa El Aji and Driss Ksikes for having the temerity to publish some popular jokes that happened to mention God and the Prophet.

Eatbees also poses the following very insightful conundrum: The monarchy appears to be taking harsh measures against Nichane in order to preempt popular Islamist sentiment. The Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), however, like all legal parties in Morocco, is subordinate to the king. So why do the monarchy and the political classes seem to be so panicked over the possibility of a PJD electoral victory? (Not that I think this would be a good thing, but thwarting it might be worse.)

A better approach, it would seem, would be to uphold the freedom of the press and basic civil liberties and allow the citizenry to vote freely for whom they prefer. A naive policy in the short run perhaps, but a wiser one in the long term.

PastTime to Repeal the Press Law

CPJ News Alert 2006

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports bad news all around for the Moroccan press. First, CPJ states that staff members at banned magazine Nichane have received death threats:

Benchemsi told CPJ that staff at Nichane had received death threats via phone and e-mail since the government made the charges against the publication. He said that the religious jokes involved God, angels and prophets as characters, but did not make fun of them. He added that Nichane staff did not write any of the jokes.

Second, CPJ also reports that Le Journal Hebdomadaire may close as a result of an unprecedented 3 million dirham damages award for alleged defamation in reporting on the Western Sahara. CPJ stated that Belgian journalist Claude Moniquet sued after Le Journal reported that his think tank's report on the Western Sahara was "guided by" the Moroccan government. Le Journal was denied the opportunity to introduce expert witnesses who would have testified that a report on the Western Sahara by Moniquet's think tank closely paralleled the government's position.

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Blank Post is a protest against the suppression of blogs by the Tunisian government. Bloggers are asked to participate by posting a blank post and nothing else for 24 hours on December 25, 2006.

Merci a Mon Massir pour le lien.