An Encounter in Morocco

I was somewhat surprised to discover recently that one of the most common search terms that lead readers to this blog is “Ahmed Marzouki.” You’ll remember that Marzouki is a former political prisoner who spent 18 years and 3 months of his life in the infamous Tazmamart jail. I wrote a review on this blog of his incandescent memoir, Tazmamart: Cellule 10, a few years ago.

I bring this up because I was recently reading Neil MacFarquhar’s new book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You A Happy Birthday: Unexpected Encounters in the Changing Middle East. (Phew. What a mouthful!) This is a memoir of the years MacFarquhar spent in the region, and it includes a chapter on meeting Marzouki. Here is an excerpt:

“It is hard to find words to describe the horrors we lived—all alone, no light, no medicine, little food,” Marzouki said to me. Every time I asked him to remind me how long he had been a prisoner, he always responded “eighteen years, three months,” not rounding off a moment. “It was an eternal night.”

By bribing sympathetic guards, the men finally got word to their families that they were still alive despite the fact that King Hassan and his senior advisers denied that Tazmamart existed. The first significant break came after one officer’s daughter, a high school senior, scored among the top ten students in the entire country on the mandatory university entrance exams. During an audience with King Hassan, the king asked if there was anything they wanted and the girl bravely asked when her father was going to be released from Tazmamart. As Marzouki described it, the king calmly turned to an aide and asked, “Is anyone still alive in Tazmamart?” It took several more years before an international campaign finally pressured the monarch to release the men in September 1991. “We were ghosts, skeletons who could barely talk.”

MacFarquhar’s book came out in April; I picked up a copy at the lovely Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge.