mardi 6 août 2013

Morocco - About the King's Blunder #Danielgate

- The scandal of the Moroccan king releasing serial child rapist (who allegedly was also a spy) through royal pardon is an example of what happens when power is concentrated in the hands of a few, unable to manage it all in a way that ends up jeopardizing victims, their families and people at large when the king is the one making decisions and signing documents without being aware of the details / impact. 

- The king retracting his pardon is a band-aid solution, as the need for independent judiciary remains a top priority, one that the Feb20 movement has expressed clearly for the past two and a half years.

- Protests to retract king's pardon were violently repressed. This clear violation to the constitution's article 29 - theoretically granting Moroccans the right to protest peacefully, is reminiscent of the repression that February 20th movement activists have been facing throughout the past years, while calling for – among other equally important demands- an independent judiciary.

- The king meeting with victims and/or their families may heighten their stress level and expose them further to the public, which comes with substantial psychological hardship and bears negative consequences for them. In addition, no official or clear apologies were made, as the King and his cabinet's primary concerns are damage control and PR after this scandal. 

-The king put all the blame on the process, denied prior knowledge that the list comprised a serial child rapist, and did not take personal responsibility as the one who authorized his release, knowing that the Minister of Justice reported issuing a warning to the King's cabinet regarding the list that includes said rapist. The head of prisons was subsequently sacked, but the highest authority responsible for the pardon - the king, and the cabinet- remain unquestioned.

- The ministry of justice withdrew its initial press release with regards to the warning that was provided to the King's cabinet, in an attempt to further clear the King from responsibility in this blunder.

- Political parties were highly criticized by the public, with their only response to the king's pardon being silence, reportedly after receiving high instructions from the king's cabinet to refrain from issuing any press releases. 

- People, through tweets, hashtags #Danielgate #Mafrasich #Balagh #لا_للعفو_عن_مغتصب_الأطفال , and facebook posts, together with online press (news sites such as Lakome are harder to censor by the regime) have succeeded in creating the strongest linkage institution in the kingdom. Expressing anger so clearly and compelling the Palace to respond and issue so many press releases in less than a week is unprecedented, because a crowd as angry and as big as the one in social networks cannot be silenced the way crowds in real protests are consistently repressed. 

- This scandal depicts slippage, not progress. Many praise Morocco as an example in the region, however, Morocco is a politically weak state headed by an iron-fisted king, a ministry of interior clamping down on the pro-democracy public outcry, and political parties that may as well be collectively called "King's Political Parties". This destructive pattern prevents the youth from organizing and positioning themselves in a political arena that's under lockdown. The regime's  autocratic defense mechanisms are further deepening the gap between youth that aspire to a democratic state and representatives that seek to please the King in order to secure their political careers. 

mercredi 8 mai 2013

Fez Riots - Students jailed and tortured

Morocco - 5/8/2013 

Reports of torture from Ain El Kadous prison in Fez multiply as Mohammed El Harrass, yet another student at D'har El Mahraz Law School was arrested on May 6th, 2013 following clashes that broke in April between police and students at the university. He's severely wounded and was reportedly taken today to Cell 9 of the prison located in Taouba district, along with 21 other political detainees who had been arrested. Proceedings of a mock up trial took place at the court of first instance in Fez today. Mohammed immediately collapsed and lost consciousness when he got to the cell, due to the wounds sustained during the two days he spent at the municipality, where he was beaten prior to the trial. Witnessing non-stop bleeding from Mohammed's eyes and his body entirely bruised prompted his 21 cellmates to protest inside the cell, with slogans and chants denouncing the crime and demanding immediate medical assistance for the political detainee. Mohammed El Harrass is now in the prison's hospital. U.N rapporteur on torture Juan Mendes visited Morocco on February 2013 and reported that "highly charged events" that the regime perceives as a "threat to national security" including "large demonstrations" result in "a corresponding increase in acts of torture and ill-treatment during the detention and arrest process". The report highlights the fact that "conditions in most prisons are still alarming, due to overcrowding, cases of ill-treatment and abusive disciplinary measures, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and limited access to medical care". Today, Cell 9 of Ain El Kadous, its 22 political detainees and Mohammed's torture show that the situation hasn't changed in Morocco.

lundi 6 mai 2013

Morocco’s Politicians, Jails and Sahara this Spring

“We visited him today in the hospital. His hand tied to the bed, he was asleep. Police at the door said we were not allowed to see him. We asked them for a quick glance from afar. Abdessamad woke up as we became louder. He opened his eyes and painfully attempted to move. Slowly, he raised index and middle fingers in a profoundly victorious V. That’s Abdessamad Haidour, the one who would shout out loud what we would whisper quietly among ourselves. Prison walls inhaled the flesh from his thin skeletal body. Is this the destiny of Moroccan youth who aspire to a better future for all? Prison or death?”

Those were the heart wrenching words of Saddam Cherif, February 20th pro democracy activist and friend from Taza. Abdessamad Haidour was sentenced to 3 years during a trial where no lawyers were allowed. Tarek Hamani-- a student who’s also from Taza-- is a victim of an even more ruthless ruling: Six years of prison and a 25 000 dollar fine.

Tarek el Hanfali, from Marrakech, was sentenced to two and a half years along with a dozen of young protesters whose social demands got them arrested at the end of 2012. The luckiest will be wrongfully deprived of their freedom for a year.

With twelve more political detainees locked up in El Hoceima, many in Fez, Kenitra, and tens scattered nationwide, the issue of random arrests and political imprisonment has become a full-blown cancer in Morocco. Metastasis spreads as the number of activists that are beaten, arrested, tortured then incarcerated in Moroccan prisons continues to rise. Puppet judges and circus courtrooms are as cosmetic as the so-called changes in Morocco since the wave of protests swept across MENA. They are as loyal to the oppressive ways of the Palace’s Ministry of Interior as the “new” constitution is void of articles that have transformed from ink to change. Nowadays, King Mohammed VI’s speech promises on March 9, 2011, seem as empty as the detainees intestines on their 60+ day of hunger strike.   

The large campaign demanding the release of political prisoners continues. Actions included taking part in the large May 1st protests, signing an online petition, making signs, sharing pictures and raising awareness on social media, as well as Mamfakinch and Moroccan Human Rights Association's initiative, a website in which data related to Moroccan political detainees is published.

The Parallel World of Politicians:

Abdelilah Benkirane: Leader of the majority winning political Party for Justice and Development (Said to be Islamist but isn’t; supposed to rule but doesn’t) was appointed chief of the current coalition government by King Mohammed VI. One of his signature quotes refers to senior officials who had committed fraud, stole, or were behind Tax Expenditure irregularities: "God has forgiven the past". His most recent controversial action was taking part in last week’s May 1st protest in Rabat, with workers and pro-democracy activists, against his own government. Benkirane is regime-friendly.

Hamid Chabat: Recently voted leader of the Independence Party (al Istiqlal is a deeply-rooted powerful party, that is part of the government coalition). He is a former mechanic, in addition to being the head of a workers’ union. His political ambition is also makhzen-bound, thereby pushing him to aim for Benkirane’s prerogativeless, yet sought after job title. His quest for limited power began a few months ago when he asked Benkirane for a ministerial reshuffle. Benkirane refused. The quarrel continued as Chabat said on April 8:

“Benkirane should stop complaining about evil spirits and crocodiles”. Chabat did not make that up. The head of the government used the words a metaphor to depict corrupt officials he was too afraid to denounce publicly. “If Benkirane suffers from evil spirits, he should go spend a night at the Tomb of Marabout Bouya Omar”, Chuckled Chabat. 

On May 2nd, a meeting brought the two in the same room and a verbal tirade inevitably ensued as Chabat refused to apologize for accusing a minister of coming to the parliament while drunk. Benkirane left abruptly before the meeting ended, while urgent matters were yet to be discussed. The Moroccan government is imploding. 

These officials who are supposed to be representatives of the people have begun to stray from their common cause, as their quarrels get more personal and more puerile. They fight for high-status administrative titles, leaving all real prerogatives to the King, and stirring more public criticism from disappointed voters and taxpayers. Meanwhile,  universities and neighborhoods across the country are boiling as students riots spread, while the King continues to steer Moroccan affairs: internally through the iron-fisted ministry of interior and externally via his advisors.

The Sahara

The thorny issue is one that remains unresolved, due to an array of geopolitical reasons that have only gotten more complex since the wave of protests flooded Arab streets in 2011. The UN Security Council extended MINURSO’s mandate as pressure on the Moroccan regime heightened after talks of tasking the UN with monitoring human rights violations. Human Rights Watch supported the move. The Moroccan regime succeeded in getting a renewal that excludes the human rights bit, an item that the regime blew out of proportions in state-run media and oddly celebrated it as a triumph over.

However, clashes between pro-polisario separatists and Moroccan authorities spread on May 2nd, while the Moroccan National Council on Human Rights reported 2000 protesters came out in Laayoune on May 4th, demanding the right to self-determination. Before long, videos showing clear human rights abuses by the Moroccan police in the town of Boujdour were uploaded to facebook, youtube and viewed by the tens of thousands.  Instead of attempting to restore order, policemen were shown stoning houses, and assaulting women as a response to riots. The minister of interior reacted by claiming that 150 policemen were wounded in the clashes, with not even one protester hurt. This approach is failing to bring credibility to the Moroccan authorities who ultimately seek to mend fences with Sahrauis. 

Far from being knowledgeable in this particular matter, I would nonetheless like to offer an opinion that’s perhaps simplistic, but stems from thoughts taking into consideration the basic demands of people. I’d also like to clarify my personal conclusive view now so that no judgments are made based on this mere invitation to think critically about the issue: I think of Morocco as one nation, including the Sahara, and would like nothing more than for the people to see their actual demands met wherever they may be.

On a meta-level, don’t the Sahrauis demand dignity and freedom? By asking for self-determination, are they not seeking representatives chosen by them, who care about their people? Are they not seeking equitable wealth distribution and denouncing a regime that has inflicted human rights abuses upon people? Are they not demanding justice? Are these calls any different from a Moroccan citizen who is aspiring for a better tomorrow in Tangier, Marrakech, Taza, or Fez?

February 20th movement has faced so much criticism as the regime compared its members to pro-polisario separatists and launched a systematic makhzen-lead propaganda campaign to tarnish the image of youth who demanded change.

Would Sahraui people seek a separate state if their demands—similar to  Moroccans’ across the country today, were met? Why are simple Sahraui people who are burdened by social inequalities immediately singled out as traitors as soon as they become outspoken before even mentioning self-determination? The regime’s finger pointing, paranoia, and occasional violent response to pro-polisario riots throughout the crisis may have exacerbated the situation.

The violence shown in the recent videos exposes the Moroccan Authorities’ inability to contain and absorb anger. It depicts abuse to vulnerable Sahrauis that further aggravates the situation. Even the most makhzen-friendly Moroccans find it appalling to see a woman who’s merely passing by, beaten and uncovered. The subsequent denial by Laenser-- minister of interior, make the situation even more difficult to resolve. On the other hand, I find myself asking the question: Has Polisario’s long sought after independence become an end exploited to draw frustrated sahrauis’ support, who merely view the idea of another state as a means to freedom, justice, and dignity just like Moroccans do in several regions where protests are continuously erupting?

Maybe if the ideal values most Sahrauis seek were readily available in a larger more welcoming nation, and embodied by the Moroccan authorities, they might welcome unity without being forced into it. Sahrauis cannot all be bribed, beaten, or indoctrinated into makhzeni submission just like February 20th activists and more outspoken citizens are protesting the regime’s humiliating ways nationwide. I think efforts to work towards peace and unity must involve more space to openly discuss what the regime has done wrong and where it has failed in advancing in this issue. The cliché saying: “you cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results” is quite relevant here. Already, Makhzen fanatic Amine El Baroudi, who is widely known by Feb20 activists for his violent outbursts posted a Youtube video where he threatens Sahrauis to come kill them, showing a loaded gun and calling for a people Vs. people civil war. Black or white thinking stirs more unrest. Behavior such as Baroudi's is highly dangerous and can only lead to armed conflict. I believe it is wiser to avoid the risks of violence. 

The traitor Vs patriot approach is reductive, yet it has been the way the regime wants the issue to be portrayed to avoid a profound need for reform. Never in my life have I viewed the Sahara as separate from Morocco, but even if it has only been two years since I have started witnessing the dark side of the regime when citizens ask for their rights, I can see how citizens who push for change can become targeted enemies of the Makhzen. Pro-democracy activists around Morocco were tortured and imprisoned, and the regime labeled them all traitors for demanding positive change. This label may stick to pro-polisario separatists in the minds of most Moroccans, but as tension heightens around the country, people might start to wonder beyond the Polisario flag: Why is the Makhzen failing to convince people to be proud Moroccans? Why does a growing number of people in the south want out so badly?

A young man called the Sniper of Targuist—a town in the North East of Morocco, began to take videos of Gendarmes taking bribes from drivers who preferred the cheaper alternative to paying the full amount of a ticket. He uncovered many corrupt officers. Amid national campaigns to end corruption in Morocco, the young man who decided to reveal his identity through an exclusive interview should have become a national hero. Instead, his fearful friends and neighbors shunned him, while police harassed him constantly and decided to strike back. Unfortunately, corruption is more than a rampant cultural aspect in Morocco: it is a built-in cancer that authorities continue to defend. The sniper of Targuist was forced out of the country. He recently wrote: “What is this country that doesn’t love and respect me back?”

Beyond Polisario, maybe more Sahrauis who were caught in the middle of the conflict have been wondering the same thing.

As things continue to heat up this spring nationwide and more pieces of the Moroccan puzzle emerge, real change makers have yet to surface with credible, reasonable plans in response to realistic future scenarios, thereby arranging the pieces in a way that will hopefully make more sense and soothe Moroccans’ general anxiety.

vendredi 15 février 2013

Moroccans Know

Two years have passed since the first call for protests was made by Moroccan youth-led pro democracy movement #Feb20. Ignited by awe-inspiring and then-peaceful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, February 20th Movement in Morocco launched a Youtube video inviting people to take to the streets as social media orchestrated revolutions dominoed their way through MENA, overthrowing dictators that had formed rigid statutes blocking the esophagus of democracy in the region. The video prompted tens of thousands to flood the streets nationwide, calling for change. Overall, the demands were not explicitly linked to the monarch or the fall of the regime. Those who did not take to the streets blamed the movement for stirring instability and jeopardizing national security.

The most disenfranchised were convinced by decades of national state-run TV propaganda through daily 10-minute opening news segments showing the King’s activities, that the country’s progress is completely dependent upon his generosity. The King inaugurates as many places as possible, regardless of which ministry, CSO, foundation, or foreign institution actually funded said projects. He takes credit for each and every community center, initiative, while Moroccan people would be shocked to know that he takes millions from taxpayers’ money for each – very costly –inauguration trip with his entourage, and more for his palaces, family member salaries, while still keeping a firm grip on the country’s political scene and economy, as he is the top Moroccan business man.

With half the population kept consciously illiterate during King Mohamed 2nd’s rule and high percentage of poverty: survival and coping strategies that involved corruption to make ends meet became institutionalized, while political opportunism in Morocco became the norm, advertised in most TV shows and movies as such. Issues related to identity and values grew, as the palace’s executive tentacle – the ministry of interior- continued filling the void with the King’s name, coupled with fear when deemed necessary.

Nowadays, there is an uneasiness filling the current Moroccan political scene with confusion, as the strain of potential austerity measures heightens, shyly peeking out of the imminent recession’s intestines and out of cautious ministers mouths.  So many struggle to figure out a bloodless way out of this mess, and February 20th comes as a checkpoint: is the second anniversary a time to celebrate the martyrs and few survivors of the regime-waged war on megaphones of truth, youth, rappers, cartoonists, and protestors, systematically crushed seeds whose voices the regime fails to recognize are a dire necessity to the progress of Morocco? Or is the anniversary another date to point at each other and play the blame game citizens and representatives have become so proficient in?

Two years after the first hemorrhage, the deeply rooted issues that caused much of the turmoil in this country remain unchanged; while a PJD (Party for Justice and Development, a bleached Islamic party) led coalition government that is reminiscent of USFP (Socialist opposition party that ended up making concessions under the monarchy and joined the government in the nineties after a long fight by founders, while some were assassinated, members tortured by the regime in the seventies) forms a solid shield that protects the real decision makers from blame and perpetuates the concept of the King’s perceived holiness. The King, his friends, his advisors, his entourage, and his officials in the Ministry of Interior steer the country and rule through a shadow-ish government with all prerogatives, using elected representatives to bow to phone-call-instructions. Meteor rain from up above continues, as gibberish speeches and gibberish documents land on a Molotov cocktail of illiteracy and poverty, with the constitution of “sidna” (meaning “our master” in Darija and referring to King Mohammed 6th) voted yes in July 2011 as herds of people yelled and chanted “long live the king”, for 10-50 Dirhams each, courtesy of the ministry of interior.

This –sadly- renders the process of blame rather convenient for the King and his agents when things go wrong: they are never questioned, their mistakes never associated with them. Moroccan people vent their frustrations by blaming the representatives/ King’s couriers openly, the elected pseudo-decision makers take the blame, with no unspoken fear of going to jail for attacking the “sacred”, and media outlets get their fake minute of political buzz, while the absurdity behind our country’s system of governance prevails as real power is not linked to responsibility. Moroccans know that. We know that we live in a country where the King is above all. We deserve to live in a country where rule of law is above all.

The ruling foggy-whateverness that has taken over our country for decades -playing puppet master- is only there because civil society is weak, scared, and people’s representatives allow themselves to be used as pawns for the concrete ceiling that is blocking the light from this country. These representatives that have come to desire their titles so bad, that they agreed to believe their own lies that strengthen the core of injustice in place. For their own convenience, they chose to believe that “little is better than nothing”. Two years after the Feb20 protests, and regardless of how bloody and confusing other uprisings have become today, people in Morocco are still coming to the realization that “little is not enough”, and that our revolution might be different, but we need to change, individually, collectively, and change the way our system is thought and designed in order to be better and do better for ourselves and our people. Moroccans deserve to know better.

Today, the only thing equally rigid, and even more stubborn than the Moroccan regime is people’s drive to move forward. People’s conscious and subconscious unwavering expectations will shape up the future of this country. Moroccan people’s aspiration for change continues. Many Moroccans might not have liked the members of Feb20, nor adhered to protests (certainly not after random arrests, beatings and incarceration began), but the quest for dignity, freedom, a government that actually represents people and answers to them as a opposed to a higher power, and an independent judiciary for a better tomorrow in this country will not falter. Moroccans know that. Thanks to Feb20, we were able to knock off two stages of experiential learning. We are past "concrete experience" stage, as we sort of experimented with protests, saw how other countries are emerging (or not) from their own uprisings, and we are now approaching the end of the "observation and reflection" stage, albeit being a bit stuck in it. The next stage is forming abstract concepts, and that is a pivotal step to move forward.

February 20th, 2013 is approaching, and I think this date is worth pausing to identify our society’s ills, and not in a superficial bullet point format. It is time to assess what WE have been thinking and doing wrong all along, and start to think about better ways WE could think and act as active citizens to address the underlying issues that have hampered progress and change for so long. The intellectual vacuum needs to be addressed and filled with what could restore Moroccan identity and shape the future of being Moroccan. Beyond “reporting”, “analyzing”, chewing and spitting events that occur in Morocco over and over again (although that is needed as well, and exposing is an important part of educating and lobbying), we need to learn to think creatively, learn to know who we are, and capitalize on existing models and extraordinary experiences from our own history, link them to the best the rest around us has to offer, and finally break away from copying and pasting ideologies, to come up with new, worthy martyr concepts that Moroccans can discuss openly and widely, tweak, perfect and reorganize as alternatives to the vicious cycle we’re stuck in.

Morocco’s biggest challenge is to ensure a bold move is made beyond the phase of perpetual transition, chronic denial, defensiveness and self-righteousness regarding who is responsible for the ills in our society and who is responsible for setting things straight. The even bigger challenge is to do so with certainty as to why we’re making said move, all the while securing popular acknowledgement regarding the vision of what Morocco should be after that, in every aspect. We deserve to know that we are responsible and learn to take responsibility.

A young member from the Feb20 protest movement, openly plucked out of a Casablanca protest, tortured and thrown in jail, has recently said: “Soon, when things turn bad, both the people and the regime will say: we wish we had listened to the nice protestors from the Feb20 movement, at least, they were peaceful”. It is time for us to know that disagreeing properly is constructive. In a region where heroism beyond being killed in a protest was abolished by the crowds throughout the uprisings in MENA, and no one (individual or distinct group) is allowed to stand and pretend to lead while aspiring to control again, calling for creative thinkers is crucial to sketch other ways that would make use of available resources (even if limited in places like Morocco where accepted dictatorships still exist) to think, write about, launch, discuss, and try alternative and transitory systems, custom designed for us. 

This cannot be hijacked, it cannot be exported to fail, time and again, and if we all define and work every single detail together towards an acceptable common ground concept of who we are, and of what “change” is, and know why we’re doing it, “how” will follow. Moroccans know.