Category: all things moroccan

I Am Fodail Aberkane

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.



Applebaum on Morocco

It almost never fails. When a Western reporter goes to Morocco to write about the process of democratization, the resulting article will inevitably mention sartorial choices and give them positive or negative values. Jeans = good. Jellabas = bad. At Slate, Anne Applebaum visits Morocco and finds that many women “would not look out of place in New York or Paris.”

So what? What does Moroccan women’s fashions have anything to do with human rights and democracy? Under King Hassan, Moroccan women used to dress much less conservatively, but that didn’t mean that the country was a haven of human rights. Just look at what happened to women activists during the Years of Lead.

Her contention that protesters outside Parliament were “politely” waving signs is bizarre. If she had spent any kind of time, day after day, watching what happened to them, she wouldn’t be praising their politeness or the police’s restraint. The elections themselves are really nothing to write home about: turn-out was low and the results were, as usual, entirely unsurprising. If this is what she qualifies as “transformation from authoritarianism to democracy” then Lord help us all.



Occupational Hazard

The Committee to Protect Journalists is reporting that Ali Anouzla and Jamal Boudouma, managing editor and publishing director of the Moroccan newspaper Al-Jarida Al-Oula, have received suspended jail sentences and large fines for “defamation” and “insulting the judiciary.” Specifically:

The lawsuit, the second in less than three months in regard to the same article, was filed by Khalil Hachemi Idrissi, publishing director of the daily French-language newspaper Aujourd’hui Le Maroc in January. Idrissi filed a previous lawsuit against Anouzla in September 2008, after the newspaper reported on an incident in which Hassan al-Yaqoubi, the spouse of King Muhammad VI’s aunt had shot and injured a traffic policeman who had stopped him.

“We urge the court of appeals to overturn this unjust ruling,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayam, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “This fine and another that was issued in January smack of political score-settling and are likely to bring down the newspaper if upheld by the court of appeals.”

So let me see if I get this straight: One prominent journalist sues another for defamation and wins. (And it just so happens that the latter was critical of the regime’s handling of the al-Yacoubi case.) The censorship machine is so well-oiled nowadays that the Moroccan government doesn’t need to do anything.



Watch Out, Barça Fans

Moroccan judges seem to be in a competition to find out who will issue the most excessive, most ridiculous, and most embarrassing ruling for the country. The latest example comes from the town of Ait Ourir in the province of Marrakech, where a high school student named Yassine Belassal was arrested, tried, and promptly sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for insult to the king because he allegedly wrote “God, Nation, Barça” on the blackboard.

Morocco’s motto is ‘God, Nation, King’; Barça is the Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona.

Belassal is in his senior year and also a national champion in karate.  He may or may not have had legal representation at his speedy trial; he may have written the motto on a wall outside or on the blackboard in class; he may have acted alone, or with a group of three friends; his last name might be Belassal or Ait Ben-Lassal—the facts of the case are somewhat unclear. What is clear, however, is that he is now in prison, serving a sentence at the Boulmharez jail, for what seems like a harmless case of football hyperbole.

You can find out more about the case from Al Massae (in Arabic) or El Mundo and El Pais (in Spanish.) For some legal background, check out the blog of Ibn Kafka. There is also a Facebook group.



Twitter

News Topics