Nichane: Banned

The Arabic-language weekly magazine Nichane was banned yesterday by the Moroccan authorities, by order of the Prime Minister’s office. Nichane‘s issue #91, dated December 9th to the 15th, had a cover story on “Jokes: How Moroccans Make Fun of Religion, Sex, and Politics.” It included a long article, written by Sanaa Al Aji, describing the cathartic role of jokes, and sharing a few juicy ones with readers. The jokes that were deemed particularly offensive were the ones dealing with religion. There were seven in total, ranging from the subversively funny to the unfunny or downright offensive, but these are jokes that readers could just as easily have heard at work, at school, at home or at the café, and therefore they’re nothing new.

But their publication in Nichane was enough to prompt the Guardians of Morality ™, specifically members of the religious right, the Party of Justice and Development and others of similar sensibilities, to start a campaign against the magazine, and against the journalists, who have already been accused of being “apostates.” What makes this campaign against the free press particularly troubling is that its fomentors include journalists, people who should at the very least know something about freedom of the press and show some solidarity for their fellow writers, editors, and reporters.

For instance, conservative journalist Mohammed Lachyab posted a long tirade on his blog, not just against the article, but against the magazine, and against its sister publication, the Francophone Tel Quel, accusing them of persistently insulting the “religious and national” feelings of Moroccans through their “editorial line.” Lachyab also attacked Nichane‘s use of Moroccan Arabic, saying that “the secret goal” behind such a move is “the destruction of the Arabic language, after the failure of the Francophone magazine in that role.” (Journalist and conspiracy theorist, all in one!) Lachyab followed this post with a long list of contacts and asked his readers to make their opinions heard. The list included not only the email address of the magazine’s director, Driss Ksikes, but also those of the Prime Minister’s office, the Minister of Waqf and Islamic Affairs, and even the theology school.

This veritable witch hunt resulted in the ban of Nichane. A lawsuit has been filed against Driss Ksikes, the magazine’s director, and Sanaa Al Aji, the writer, for “insult to the Islamic religion” and “publication and distribution of writings that are contrary to the morals and mores” of the country. The trial is set for 8 January 2007, and they risk prison terms of 3 to 5 years. It should also be pointed out that, while the ban looks like (and will be interpreted) as a win for the PJD and its ilk, the magazine has not endeared itself to the government with its articles on corruption, the economy, party financing, etc.

As of this morning, the Nichane website appears to be down, so you cannot access the article in question. Ironically, the only place I can find the “incendiary” material is ….on the website of the very people who claim to be offended. They have scanned the jokes and you can see them there.

Reporters Sans Frontières condemns the ban. Popular blogger Larbi offers his support to the magazine, as does Mohammed Said Hjiouij.