Friday, August 31, 2007

My 5 Absolute Favorites

Blog Day 2007

Today is the International Blogging Day. I've come across some wonderful and inspiring blogs throughout the last year to the point that some bloggers have become a primary source of information for an expat like me, thirsty of news about Morocco, the Arab-Muslim Worlds and all other centers of interest.

  1. Morocco Savvy: the absolute portal for news on the Moroccan blogosphere. It's run by Global Voices' editor for the region. It's a must!
  2. eatbees: a progressive blog by someone who knows what he's talking about and who happens to be another Moroccan savvy. Also the main page is worth looking at.
  3. 'Aqoul: that's another one introduced by Moroccan Savvy. A prolific blogger. He (or she) has just posted a three part extended analysis on the History of elections in Morocco and a profound reading of events ahead of next 7th of September legislative elections. Highly recommended! (I later discovered, thanks to a comment by eatbees, that in fact this blog is " a collective blog that writes about a variety of Middle East subjects, not just Moroccan politics. They recently invited Moroccan blogger Ibn Kafka to write the three-part series you describe.")
  4. Ben Hein: the Israeli cartoonist is not only a wonderfully talented artist, he's also a courageous and undefatigable pro-Palestinian activist. Inspiring!
  5. And last but not least... The Gazette: a roundup of Palestinian posts and blogs.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Basri Gone... The Makhzen Still Alive and Kicking

The Demise of the Right-Hand Man of Hassan II.

Driss Basri died yesterday in Paris, after a long illness. He was the architect of the repressive policies of what is widely known in morocco as the "Lead Years". His ruthless rule over the all-mighty Ministry of Interior & "Information," was marked by waves of unlawful abductions, torture and disappearances. An awful period that almost two generations of Moroccan people had to live through.

Soon after his accession to the Throne, Mohamed VI sacked Driss Basri unceremoniously in a clear move to get rid of the legacy of his father Hassan II. The Dismissal was perceived by the majority of Moroccans as a powerful and encouraging sign for a more liberal and bright future. Eight years later, the picture is less appealing. In his recent speech, the Moroccan monarch clearly indicated that what he called "the Grand Objectives of the Nation" are not subject to debate or discussion since, as he added, "these are a question of national consensus." Many are today questioning the necessity of such electoral process if public debate is limited beforehand and in such language, reminiscent of the "Years of Lead." Journalists who dared asking that question, soon understood that the Makhzen (the name given to the Moroccan state and power establishment) is still alive and kicking.

Basri always claimed he was the mere executioner of policies that "were aimed at safeguarding the monarchy, the stability and the unity of the country." (see the 2004 Aljazeera interview-ar-). He chose to go to exile in Paris where he died yesterday, aged 69.

"He escaped, as did many of those responsible of the worst crimes and attacks on Human Rights, with total impunity" deplored yesterday Abdelillah ben Abdeslam, head of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, himself a victim of the "Years of Lead."

(pictures from "TelQuel-Online")

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Nichane Reloaded

Morocco is Definitely Backtracking!

If you ask publicly a fortune teller in Marrakesh mythic place, "Jama' L'fna," about the future and present of his country, his answer would much probably be: "Everything is good and well under the reign of Sidna (our Lord the King)." Later in the same day if you meet the same fellow, and if he trusts you enough, he would most certainly confess how life is getting tougher and how the future seems bleak. That's the way it goes in the north-African Kingdom of Morocco: People wouldn't acknowledge their plight in public; they are still very reluctant to discuss politics with strangers or people they don't trust. A bad reflex of the past? I'm not sure it's a thing of the past. People are probably right to be cautious and the recent State behavior to quash freedom of speech proves their caution to be right.

Once again a magazine has been blocked from circulation. Once again the Makhzen decides what should Moroccans read, hear or say, and once again the culprit is one of the two finest titles of Moroccan press: Nichane. The same magazine that has been punished some months ago for having reproduced popular jokes, is in the dock again.

It all started when Ahmed Reda Benchemsi published a courageous editorial criticizing the recent speech of Mohamed VI. In his annual discourse to the nation, the Monarch made it clear that he is the unchallengeable head of the state, adding that "The essence of elections does not consist in confrontation over the grand objectives of the nation, since these are a question of national consensus… and we will be the guarantor of their continuity even if conditions change, because that is how we see the national monarchy.”(Translated by eatbees).

You don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand that the Moroccan King is here reminding those who may have forgotten that Morocco is an absolute monarchy, that he and the Makhzen are still in charge as in the good old days. Benchemsi's editorial merely echoed what the crushing majority of Moroccans (especially the young) are craving for: COMPLETE AND GENUINE DEMOCRACY.

As reported by eatbees, The Nichane issue was confiscated by the authorities as soon as it reached the stands, but not before some avid Nichane readers got hold of it. TelQuel, the sister-publication of Nichane, directed by the same Reda Benchemsi, was also seized before it left the presses.

This move by the Neo-Makhzen shows its extreme sensitivity, utter stupidity, lack of touch with the fundamental changes shaking the Moroccan society and the futility of trying to muzzle the press in this day and age.

Since his enthronisation, the new King and his lieutenants have been proclaiming their attachment to the values of democracy. Phrases like "Human Rights," "Righteous State," "Freedom of Expression"... have been repeated ad-nauseum to the point that those values have been completely emptied from their meaning and have become jargon words.

All this happens amidst another electoral masquerade. The sort of parody of democracy that Moroccans are fed up with. And the King's speech only confirms the pointlessness of the whole process. It's helplessly laughable to see all those political parties' representatives (all those nuts) -most of whom well known to the public for their dubious past and corruption activities- showing up in front of state-owned cameras, speaking non sens, each one claiming he has the ultimate program to solve all country's problems. This rhetorical cacophony has only added to the general malaise and disillusionment of the Moroccan society as a whole.

Forty years after independence, one Moroccan out of two is illiterate, large parts of the population live in the most abject poverty, while corrupt Makhzen people and the clients of the state live in obscene wealth, and can afford ostentatious villas and properties, fancy cars and enjoy almost total impunity. Nothing significant has changed in the country in the last eight years, quite the contrary. The monarch hasn't relinquished an inch of his prerogatives, and he has now (with this speech) confirmed his intentions.

Aboubakr Jamaï, the founder of the most popular Moroccan magazine, Le Journal Hebdo, was forced earlier this year, to leave the country in order to avoid paying a record breaking fine of $350,000, that would otherwise bankrupt his magazine. He is one of the most popular and charismatic young journalists that the country has ever produced, and one who marked the recent Moroccan journalistic scene by bringing a revolutionary new style of professional investigative journalism. He openly challenged the monarchy and the military and literally paid the price. In November 2005, Jamaï wrote a ground-breaking open letter to Mohamed VI in which he urged the monarch to grab the opportunity of his political virginity and his capital of popular sympathy to put the country on the tracks of reform. The letter fell on deaf ears.

It's deeply depressing to see how Morocco dramatically fell from a state of overwhelming enthusiasm and hope in the future at the beginning of this century, to a situation where the elite has to flee, where voices of dissent are silenced and where Moroccans are forced to live under a medieval system.

The Kings Walked Past Here

Celebrating the Memory of Two Giants

This week many across the planet celebrated the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. He was a hell of a performer. He set the world on fire like no other before or after him. Although he never wrote or composed his own songs, he boldly reached out to different communities across the world and most importantly, within the troublesome America he lived through. He had the guts to cross the railway tracks and reach out to the Black community in times of segregation and institutionalized racism. He also always acknowledged the Black roots of his music. "If I can Dream" was composed and performed during the darkest hours of civil rights struggle in America and is a clear homage to another great King: Dr. Martin Luther King Junior.

Last April was the 40th anniversary of a milestone speech delivered by Dr. King in which he marked a clear break with US's foreign policy. "America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world" he noted. The speech, titled "Beyond Vietnam; A Time to Break Silence," was delivered at the heights of the Vietnam War and the actions of successive US administrations, have only confirmed the visionary words of Dr. King.

His Courageous analysis placed him at odds with the American Establishment and some other Black "leaders" of the time. He went on asking his followers:" [let us] rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter -but beautiful- struggle for a new World"

Here is an excerpt:

Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on...
...Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition...
Doctor King was assassinated exactly one year later.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

the Slaughterhouse ** المَسْلَخ

Crimes Against Feminity in the Arab World

Arab poets have been worshiping women from time immemorial. The Islamic Era has produced a plethora of authors who dedicated their work to feminity and beauty. Today's radicalization of Arab and Muslim societies, together with the totalitarian regimes they live under has yielded a "Culture of Ugliness" which describes almost everything that is beautiful as Haram (or forbidden by Islam), misusing the Koran and the religious and cultural traditions to restrict people's freedoms and to transform their lives into an austere and monotonous experience.

In those circumstances, women are often subjugated and are the ones who pay the heaviest price, so as the society as a whole.

An example of this regression, amongst many (and I have to admit: not the worse of examples, but one that speaks to me personally) has been the recent attempt by Islamists to cancel the Cherry Festival's Beauty Contest in the Moroccan city of Sefrou. I've come across this story by reading the excellent and well informed, Morocco Savvy blog. This festival has been conducted for more than 80 years in a city that was once home of a large Moroccan Jewish community and was the symbol of Moroccan traditional tolerance and integration of its religious and ethnic minorities. In recent years though, religious fundamentalists have been harassing the authorities to replace Miss Cherry with a six-year-old girl "in order not to attract men from around the country to attend the festival" (sic).

Many are quick to blame Islam or some "inherent" misogyny that Arabs may carry in their genes. I don't buy into that at all. I believe rather that any human group, put in the same circumstances of poverty, ignorance, political use and misuse of religion, lack of democracy and the absence of basic rights would produce similar dysfunctional societies where huge pressure and social expectations are put mainly on women who feel they have to act accordingly.


This is a poem by Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998), the most revered and renowned contemporary Arab poet and a man I hold very dear in my heart. It sums up elegantly, the plight of women in our Arab-Muslim societies, the sheer hypocrisy that we've been living in for so long, the continuous oppression of human beings either in the name of the Leader or the God, the systematic destruction of everything that we hold dear, everything beautiful, everything innocent...
It's called "the Slaughterhouse" (المَسْلَخ) :
(Sorry, I didn't find a proper English translation for this particular poem)

ليسَ سوى مَسْلَخٍ للنساءْ

هنا الديكُ يحكُمُ وَحدَهْ.

كما الثورُ يحكُمُ وحدَهْْ.

كما القِردُ يحكُمُ وحدَه.

كما الحاكمُ الفَرْدُ في العالم العربيِّ

يُغنِّي... ويَسْمَعُ وحْدَهْ.

فلا من حوارٍ..

ولا من سؤالٍ..

ولا من جوابْ..

مُعْتَقَلٌ عَسْكَريٌّ

وكَسْرُ عظامٍ

وفيه سِياطٌ..


وفيه اغتصابْ...

هُنا ..

مَصْنَعٌ جاهليٌّ قديمٌ

وتجليدِ شدو الحَمَامْ..

يتطاير ريشُ الدّجّاجْ

وتَلْمعُ، فوق الفِراشِ

عيونُ الذئابْ..

هنا الجِنْسُ..

أشْبَهُ في حَفَلاتِ (الكوريدَا)

فتُطعَنُ فيه النُهُودُ..

وتُسْفَكُ فيه الدماءْ.

هُنا.. يذبحونَ المَهَا..

وعُيُونَ المَهَا..

ولا يَسْمَحُونَ لها بالبكاءْ..

هناكَ رجَالٌ..

يرونَ النساءَ مُجرَّدَ ثُقْبٍ..

وحَفْلَةَ جِنْسِ..

هناكَ رجالْ.

لُعبَةُ سيفٍ وتُرْسِ..

يُضَاجعْنَ كُلَّ ذكور القبيلةِ

دونَ رضاءٍ.. ودونَ اشتهاءٍ.

ومن غير نَفْسِ..

هناكَ رجالٌ.

يُحبُّونَ مثلَ الجواميسِ

من غيرِ فِكْرٍ..

ومن غير حِسِّ..

أنا لستُ من هؤلاء الرجالِ

فصَعبٌ عليَّ ممارسةُ الحُبِّ
من غير رأسي

(pictures by "Aphrodite" & "Savaman")


Sponsoring Instability
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand the US strategy in the ME. Divide and Rule, as the old adage goes, has been at the core of American policy towards a region considered as early as 1945 as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world History." Eisenhower later described it as "the most strategically important area of the World." (source: Hegemony or Survival by Noam Chomsky)

Since the US took over Britain as the World's new imperial power, the aim -contrary to their predecessors- was control, not necessarily access or military occupation. That supposes sponsoring client states, ruled by "moderates": i.e. weak, corrupt but docile and obedient compliers.

The recent military "deals" with the rulers of the feudal monarchies of the Gulf, with Egypt and Israel, come as a confirmation for this unwavering policy.

Reasons that were given to justify this move are not surprising either. The American secretary of state bluntly explained that Americans needed to show their commitment for the "security" of these "friendly" regimes against "threats" represented by newly designated evils. (For the record, Israel will be GIVEN almost as much as the rest of the Arabs altogether without having to spend a penny).

In the 1960s, "radical" Arab Nationalism was identified as the enemy and a threat for the "stability" of the region. Later radical Islamism became the total evil. What is new this time is that the Bush administration has chosen to put Al Qaida, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Sunny insurgency in Iraq, all in the same basket, claiming that they all constitute a homogeneous block against the American interests in the region. Whilst the US policy's thrust in the ME hasn't significantly shifted, this time round, the Americans seem to have lost any consistence or logic in their dealings with an already volatile and calamitous situation. This reveals, at best, a total misunderstanding of the realities of the region; at worse, a total incompetence.

The Arab "street" has long understood that the real enemy of the American establishment's interests in their part of the world was not Islamism, nor secular Nationalism, but THEY... themselves! Each time they dream of a better tomorrow, each time they think of living with dignity and each time they hope of benefiting from their own wealth, they become a threat for the American "national interest." But most Arabs, I hope, should have the intelligence to distinguish on the one hand, the American people, overwhelmingly tolerant and friendly, and on the other, the American rapacious political class which
only believes that Might is Right.

Kissinger once said that "disorder is worse than injustice." I think he should have listened to Dylan singing: "When you got nothing... you got nothing to loose!"
(picture by "thePatrick")

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The New French Cuisine

In the Menu: French Fries, a Lot of Lies and Some Missiles

Sarkozy has wasted no time in showing his contempt for democracy both at home and abroad. Acting as an elected dictator, he recently decided, without any consultation with the french parliament, to sell weapons to the Libyan despot Khaddafi. It's no secret that Sarkozy has very close links with French arms dealers like Dassot, Lagardère... who openly sponsored his presidential campaign.

The newly elected president capitalized on the recent release of the Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who were held and tortured in Libyan prisons, and accused of deliberately infecting children with HIV in a grotesque attempt to
coverup Libyan health system's own failures.

Sarkozy seized the opportunity to reward his good old chaps, offering them a deal worth US$400 million. Never mind the total absence of Human Rights in Libya, the systematic torture and imprisonment of political opponents... not to mention the psychopathic and totally
unpredictable kind of nut, Khaddafi is.

One can only feel disgusted by the utter hypocrisy of most Western leaders' rhetoric on almost all topics ranging from Fair Trade to Darfur. A disguised propaganda aimed only at gaining always more markets, more money, even when that means empowering ruthless dictators. It's almost the resurrection of the good old Imperial ambition disguised in Humanitarian interventions or, as in the case of Sarkozy, openly dealing with the autocrats.

Jacques Chirac, the former French president, once said during an official visit to Tunisia that the "first of Human Rights is to EAT"(sic). If that was right, what made the French people revolt against their kings? what kind of madness stroke the British people to protest against the ruthless rule of their monarchs and spark a civil war? How crazy were the Russians to refuse their exploitation by their own emperors?...

Is History condemned to sway forever from blunders to redress... endlessly repeating itself?
(Picture by "Azrainman")

Satire Therapy

The Necessary Catharsis

The least that religious extremist murderers deserve, is to be mocked, ridiculed and laughed at.
These psychopaths have tarnished and destroyed the image and reputation of Muslims around the world and have given the opportunity to widespread bigotry and racism to flourish across the Western world.

"Jihad the Musical" is a comedy that opened last Wednesday in the Edinburgh summer Festival. That has apparently stirred up controversy, not least amongst Muslims but also among victims of religious extremism who set up a petition against the show.

Satire is part of a necessary and healthy process of coming to terms with things that preoccupy or terrorise peoples minds, especially things held as taboos and forbidden territories; things like religion or politics. For the victims, it's a necessary cathartic process, to overcome terrible fears.

One can say a lot about shows like "Jihad the Musical" or satirical cartoons like "Islamic Rage Boy," which makes fun of an angry bearded young Muslim, or about stand up comedians like Allah Made Me Funny troupe... For some it's "bad taste"; for others, it's provocative... But if you ask me: should it be banned all together? the answer is definitely NO!... if you don't like it, you don't watch it; plain and simple.

To be honest, I don't know if the authors of these kind of shows and cartoons intended to provoke debate or if it is simply a cynical marketing strategy... nor do I know if their intention is to make people less afraid or if it's a disguised attack on Islam... The fact is that I DON'T CARE. Indeed, I found those jokes terribly refreshing and hilariously funny.

Stretching the limits, going across the red lines, mocking the powerful, be it religious or political, is a terribly exciting fantasy. What's more, it's (again) a healthy process to break the permanent state of grief and suspicion that has been poisoning intercultural relationship in the recent years.

I can understand the concerns of the victims of terrorism and religious violence (many of whom are Muslims by the way), but people have to get over the fact that, that's what creativity is all about: exploring the limits. If all artists become strictly respectful of so-called conventions and "moral" limits, the world would become a really boring place.

Should there be any limits? of course. But a question remains: Who defines those borders? I would personally be suspicious of religious or political establishment, imposing them from above and I would rather go for a more spontaneous process that can only occur in democratic and free societies, where people themselves through the independence of judiciary, mark the limits.

I remember a satirical movie released just recently in Germany, directed by a German Jew, making fun of Hitler and his Nazi regime. Despite some critics, the German public enjoyed and appreciated the show.

The majority in the Arab-Muslim "street", (those who very rarely get the media attention, which is given to the more radical and vocal) are overwhelmingly tolerant and open, believe it or not. In fact, the most popular jokes now (more than ever) are related to God, sex and politics.

The media focus on the most extreme, gives this distorted image of Muslims, who, as any other people in the world, have more immediate and worldly concerns.
(picture by "vista")