Fodail Aberkane is a name you will not have read much about in the press. He was a Moroccan construction worker, a man of very modest means, who spent the last week of his life fighting for the return of his motorcycle. It seems like such a trivial thing to lose your life over, a motorcycle, but when you have nothing, even an old moped, little more than a bicycle with a low-speed motor, can make a difference.
One reason you haven’t heard about Fodail Aberkane is that the facts about him are few and slim, and come mostly from an account given by his brother to newspapers in Morocco. Aged thirty-seven, Fodail Aberkane lived in Hay Inbi’at, a working-class neighborhood in Salé, the town that sits across the river from the capital, famed for its fortress walls, its medina, and its pirates. On September 9, which was the eve of Eid in Morocco, Aberkane was riding his moped when he was stopped by police, on suspicion of being under the influence of cannabis. The officers took him to the Hay Salam station, where he was held for two days, before being released on judge’s orders.
On September 13, Aberkane returned to the police station to collect his moped and his mobile phone. The police told him they could not release the vehicle without proof of insurance, which he did not have in his possession. Instead, he showed them a document attesting that he had declared the loss of his insurance papers to the relevant authorities. The police refused to accept the document. On September 15, Aberkane returned to the station yet again, this time bringing with him a new insurance contract, but the officers still refused to release his moped.
Here an argument broke out, which resulted in his arrest for insulting police officers. When his brother Mustapha visited him at the Hay Salam station, he says, he saw agents beating Fodail in full view of everyone. The police then threw Mustapha out of the station and warned him, “Don’t ever come back.” Two days later, on September 17, Fodail Aberkane was turned over to Ibn Sina Hospital in Rabat, where he was pronounced dead. The district attorney has opened an investigation, and everyone connected with the case is waiting to see whether charges will indeed be brought against the agents responsible for his murder. Until then, it’s the usual Wait and See.
The other reason you will not have heard about Fodail Aberkane is that he is the kind of victim who does not attract the attention of the English-language press. He is not a famous journalist, he does not run a political party, he has not run afoul of the Islamists, and he does not have any connection to terrorism. This particular victim is an easy one to ignore and to forget. When stories about Morocco are written, who will remember his name? Who, aside from his family, will mourn him? Who will hold his alleged murderers to account? Who will make sure that no other man or woman is beaten to death?
In 2004, Morocco established an Equity and Reconciliation Commission to document cases of torture during the Years of Lead. Since then, however, the country has once again started down the old, familiar road. Fodail Aberkane is not an exception. Over the last few years, allegations of torture have been made against the police in Morocco on many occasions. Two years ago, Zahra Boudkour, a 21-year-old university student from Marrakech, was arrested for taking part in a student demonstration. She was stripped naked and beaten, but no one was brought to account for the violence that was visited upon her. In his encounter with the Marrakech police, another university student, Abdelkebir El Bahi, found himself thrown from the 3rd floor window of a dorm. He is now in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Boudkour and El Bahi were abused and tortured because of their ideas and their ideals. Fodail Aberkane was trying to get his moped back.
Torture has become one of Morocco’s most popular exports. According to the New York Times, the kingdom has provided its services to CIA investigators in the case of Binyam Mohammed, the Ethiopian citizen who was detained for five years at Guantánamo Bay, and later released after all charges against him were dropped. Morocco was also the site where Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the 9/11 conspirators, was allegedly questioned. Videotapes of the interrogations were discovered under a desk at the CIA last year, the Associated Press recently revealed.
At a plenary meeting of the United Nations last week, Morocco’s king Muhammad VI spoke about the National Initiative for Human Development he has committed himself to for the last five years: education, job creation, poverty alleviation, environmental protection. These are all wonderful goals. But even an educated, employed, middle-class citizen with a low-carbon footprint cannot enjoy her full rights if her human life, that most precious of gifts, is not itself respected. Morocco cannot—indeed, it will not—progress as a nation, if the rule of law is not obeyed. Until then, the names may change, but the story will remain the same.