The Lamalif Years

Years ago, when I was a junior in high school, one of my younger uncles came to visit us, a copy of Lamalif tucked under his arm. “What’s this?” I asked, and pulled out the magazine. I started reading it then and there and was instantly hooked. I was seventeen, and didn’t completely understand the significance of all the articles, but I loved it, and would always buy it or borrow it. Back then, our newsstands in Rabat were dominated by the shrill, partisan press, which didn’t really speak to me, or by French publications, which didn’t speak to me either.

Lamalif was different. The magazine was a form of challenge (the title comes from the Arabic letters lam and ‘alif, which together spell out the word “No”). It was the expression of a homegrown movement. It had amazing art covers. It was ours. Under editor Zakya Daoud (and her husband, Mohammed Loghlam) it published high-quality articles on politics, art, and culture. Its contributors were seasoned journalists, intellectuals, and, more often than not, university professors. It was informed and informative, and I have often wondered what it would be like today if it had survived as a publication. (Constant pressures by the government forced the magazine to shut down in 1988.)

So imagine my delight when I found out that the Casablanca Book Fair was hosting a discussion on “30 years of journalism in Morocco 1958-1988: The Lamalif years.” The panelists were Zakya Daoud herself, Mohammed Jibril, Mohammed Tozy, and Ahmed Reda Benchemsi. Aboubakr Jamai was unable to attend, but Driss Ksikes stepped in for him. The best way to describe the mood is to say it was made of emotion, pride, and quite a bit of regret. Emotion because those present–contributors to the magazine as well as those who were their readers–have fond memories Lamalif. Pride because it did amazing work (it was to the 70s and 80s what Souffles/Anfas was to the 60s). And regret because there really is nothing like it around anymore.

Zakya Daoud apologized that the book she had written about the magazine, Les Années Lamalif (Tarik Editions, 2007) was not ready in time to present at the fair, but she gave an outline of it, describing the early years of enthusiasm (1966-1968); the years of hard work and disappointment (1968-1972); the Sahara years (1973-1977); the years of calling everything into question (1978-1985) and the end (1985-1988). The difficulties of publishing–including meetings with the redoubtable Minister of Information of the time, Moulay Ahmed Alaoui–were hard on her, but there was also plenty of joy and laughter. “I have turned the page, and that is how I was able to write the book. Lamalif‘s story is my story, it’s our story, and, beautiful or not, it’s our history.” Mohammed Jibril briefly talked about what set the magazine apart from other publications of its time: Lamalif, he said, was attached to its ethical values and it had professional rigor, something which few publications can boast. Several past contributors (Salim Jay, Najib Boudraa, and others) said they were proud to have been a part of the adventure; some said they regretted now that Lamalif had been so serious–perhaps it needed some humor from time to time.

Then it was the turn of the “new guard” to speak. Ahmed Reda Benchemsi revealed that when he wanted to start his magazine, he had originally wanted it to be called Lamalif, and he had talked to Zakya Daoud about possibly buying the title from her, but it didn’t work out, and he ended up starting Tel Quel. Generally speaking, he said, the press situation now is very different from what Daoud and her contemporaries went through. But he also pointed out that while the “red lines” in the 1980s were very clear, they are more blurred now, so that it becomes nearly impossible to know whether something will run afoul of the system.

Ksikes, meanwhile, felt that the current press in Morocco does not exist in a continuum, but in cycles. Regarding the more liberal press environment, he said, “We may have opened the windows, but now we’ve started to put shutters on them.” For him, the difference betwen the Lamalif years and the present is that there used to be a greater dialogue and collaboration between university professors and journalists; now there is little, and sometimes he sees the reverse, in the sense that some in academia lead the charge against independent magazines.

My one complaint (as usual with these sorts of events) is that the moderator did not leave enough time for questions, and we had to vacate the room so the next panel could be set up.

For those who are curious: The entire archive of Souffles magazine is now available online, through Swarthmore and Lehman colleges. Someone should try to do the same for Lamalif.