Category Archives: politics

The Illegal Kiss

teenage-moroccan-couple-arrested-for-kissing-in-facebook-photoDuring the beginning of October 2013, two teenagers from the northern city of Nador were arrested for uploading an image of them kissing one another. The two teenagers and a male friend who took the picture, faced charges of “public indecency.” After they were held in a juvenile detention center, the teenagers’ trial was postponed from 12 October 2013 to 22 November. The defense attorney cited the pursuit of “an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers” as the reason for the trial’s delay. In reaction to the arrest of these teenagers, netizens launched a solidarity campaign entitled #FreeBoussa on social media. The campaign included images of couples kissing one another and calls for a sit-in, which ended up taking place in Rabat on 12 October 2013. Following the widespread media coverage of the case, the judge acquitted the teenagers, who would have otherwise faced jail sentences of up to five years.

The multiple layers of political authority, morality, and gendered norms of public decency embedded within this case and the reaction that followed merit a deeper reading. Firstly, the arrest of these teenagers was, first and foremost, a grave violation of their right of expression. With the public prosecution citing laws relating to “public indecency,” the case demonstrates the role of the state in policing social norms and defining morals along conservative lines. Secondly, the state’s moral arm in its role as the “social” police is bolstered by its socioeconomic policies that have marginalized the northern Rif region, where the arrest of these teenagers took place (specifically the city of Nador). Moreover, the selective enforcement of rigid moral codes fits into a broader pattern of the Moroccan regime’s ongoing repression and marginalization of politically contentious actors. While the teenagers targeted in this case did not explicitly engage in political expression, the fact that they come from a region that has been the site of broader dissent directed at the palace raises questions about the political implications of this case.

Thirdly, the solidarity campaign that grew in response to the arrest of these teenagers has succeeded in gaining wider media attention and drawing more scrutiny to the case. To the extent that the #FreeBoussa campaign acted as a societal disruption, such as the public kiss-in that took place in Rabat, aspects of the campaign uncritically embrace liberal views on individual freedoms. Such an approach, which fails to address the fact that the arrest of these teenagers is beyond the simple act of kissing, opens the window for more state oppression. Continue reading

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My latest: On Morocco’s “New” Cabinet

The following is an excerpt for my latest piece on Jadaliyya, contextualizing the recent cabinet changes in Morocco and the political implications behind it:

The fluidity through which parties float from the coalition to the opposition and from the opposition to the coalition reveals more than just the pursuit of political interests (i.e., Istiqlal wanting to disassociate itself from the price hikes on food and fuel). This fluid movement practically renders the parliamentary election process in Morocco futile. Even if the parliamentary elections were intended to feed a narrative of a liberalizing political system, the shifting movements of political parties reverses any changes brought about by an electoral process. Moreover, the inability of parties to tow a consistent political line places more reliance on the monarchy as an institution, especially when it constantly intervenes in inter-party disputes at the expense of policy-making. The palace (the king and his shadow cabinet) is increasingly viewed as a stable mediating actor, rather than its true nature as an institution that operates with unchecked powers and impunity. It is through this strategy of capitalizing from the partisan squabbles among political parties that the monarchy has anchored itself in Morocco’s political landscape as a “uniting” and seemingly “necessary” actor.

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Paying for the sins of others – #FreeAliAnouzla

[I wrote the following article for Mamfakinch, click here for the full post.]

The scenario borders sheer absurdity. Ali Anouzla, a Moroccan editor and journalist, whose work is most often featured on the online Moroccan news publication, Lakome, was arrested for reporting on a video that the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released. The AQIM video targeted King Mohammed VI as leading a kingdom of “corruption” and “despotism.” Moreover, the video calls on Moroccans to wage a violent resistance to the monarchy’s rule. The video itself, with its context, origins, objectives, and timing, certainly merits coverage. And as Lakome stands as the most consistent source of information (they were the site that originally broke the story of #DanielGate: the royal pardon of the convicted Spanish pedophile), Lakome‘s coverage of this video breaks no norms. Contrary to reports circulating online, Lakome did not post the video, but rather published a screenshot along with a synopsis of its contents.

Three days after Lakome covered the video, news spread across social media that Ali Anouzla was interrogated, then arrested in response to Lakome‘s coverage of AQIM’s video. Moroccan site Yabiladi was one of the first to break the news based on confirmed information. Within hours, a #FreeAliAnouzla campaign was in full force, including the launch of a petition calling for his release. There are several factors to consider in light of this blatant violation of a basic journalistic freedom: the singling out of Ali Anouzla, an unchanged precedent of the regime’s oppression of online and independent media, and the outward projection of the Makhzen’s fragility and its insecurities.

Those who of us who first heard of Ali Anouzla’s arrest were dismayed but not surprised. Ali Anouzla has long been a torchbearer with regard to maintaining a critical perspective toward the Moroccan regime in its entirety–including the king. His articles carried a consistent bite that delivered incisive commentary that inspired, pushed boundaries, and set precedents. It was only this past June that Anouzla wrote a damning article that pointed out the king’s consistent absence from Morocco for his own personal vacations and the political implications behind those extended periods of absences. Anouzla also co-authored a pertinent piece with Aboubakr Jamaï, who heads the French version of Lakome, on how the inherent authoritarian nature of the Moroccan regime is a factor to consider regarding its position toward the Western Sahara. Continue reading

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