Ahmed Marzouki’s Tazmamart, Cellule 10

Ahmed Marzouki’s Tazmamart, Cellule 10 is a memoir of the eighteen years he spent in the infamous jail of Tazmamart, in Morocco. In 1971, Marzouki was a student officer at the Ecole Militaire d’Ahermoumou. He was taken, along with hundreds of other classmates, to the town of Skhirat for what he believed were military exercises, but later turned out to be a coup d’Etat, plotted by General Mohamed Medbouh and by the director of the school, Lieutenant-Colonel Mhamed Ababou.

The coup failed, and the entire student body was arrested, jailed, and sentenced to serve various terms in the military prison at Kenitra. Then, two years into their sentences, fifty-eight of the prisoners (some of whom, like Marzouki, not only didn’t know about the coup but didn’t even fire a single shot) were taken to a new prison that had been built for them: Tazmamart. They were to stay in solitary confinement for eighteen years. Only twenty-eight of them survived.

Marzouki struggled for years to understand the arbitrariness of his imprisonment, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this book is written not so much as the narrative of his years in jail but as a close examination of the facts of the case. The reader is given the names and biographies of each of the prisoners, the names and dispositions of the guards, the daily menu, the schedule devised by the prisoners, the constant (denied) requests for water or medicine.

Of course, this is all interesting but the book is somewhat lacking in two aspects. First, the chapter on the coup feels very distant and doesn’t go into what Marzouki saw. This is a missed opportunity to give us an eyewitness account that is different from the accepted, official narrative. The second shortcoming is that, although Marzouki’s fate was decided by an apparatus which was ultimately controlled by King Hassan, the king is curiously absent from the book. Still, Tazmamart, Cellule 10 is an important and necessary read.