Thanks to the support of the FiSahara Film Festival and the Arab Studies Institute, I spent about a week in the Dakhla Sahrawi refugee camp, about 170 kilometers outside of Tindouf in southern Algeria. I went in my capacity as a freelance writer, graduate student, and activist. During my time there, I stayed with a Sahrawi refugee family and met a number of Sahrawi refugees, international filmmakers, journalists, and members of the Polisario and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic government.
Going into this trip, I carried with me a series of baggages that weren’t the kind you could measure on a scale. My privilege was the biggest baggage. As a Moroccan-American, I came from two countries who have being powerful actors in the Western Saharan conflict: Morocco, the country that invaded the Western Saharan territory in 1975, and the United States, the country that largely supplies the military and financial aid that allows Morocco to sustain its (violent) presence in the territory. The other baggage I carried with me was my ignorance. Having largely been informed of the conflict through the Moroccan side, I held severe misconceptions that colored my understanding of the conflict and the Sahrawi population in general. Among these misconceptions were that mobility within the refugee camps was severely restricted, that the area surrounding the camp was a hotbed of insecurity and violence, and that my presence in the camps as a Moroccan would trigger negative responses and reactions among the Sahrawi population. I also went into this trip with the overarching anxiety about what the consequences would be for me during my next visit to Morocco and the issues my family living in Morocco would face. Without even having visited the camps, members of my family and neighbors have already been subjected to unannounced visits from Moroccan intelligence services and their incessant questions about me and my work. While I have plenty to recount about the political atmosphere, the conditions under which Sahrawis live in the refugee camps, the role of the Polisario, the socioeconomic realities Sahrawis face, and questions of women’s rights and gender, among others–which I will discuss in forthcoming articles–this post, along with future posts on this blog are meant to focus on my personal experiences. Continue reading Part 1: Notes from the Western Saharan Refugee Camps
During 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 The Illegal Kiss
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.