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February 10 2014

In the Information Age, the End of Status Quo for Morrocan Media

Hicham Lasri is a film maker from Casablanca, Morocco. In his second movie called “C'est eux les chiens” (They are the dogs”), Lasri talks about the evolution of media in Morocco [fr] with the expansion of information technology:

Moi j'ai grandi dans un pays où les informations à la télévision expliquent que tout se passe bien, qu'on est géniaux [..]Forcément c'est une information qui ne dérange pas, qui ne crée pas de troubles, qui permet d'anesthésier la nation. Le film raconte deux événements : les émeutes de 1981 et trente plus tard, en 2011, c'est le printemps arabe. La première révolte en 1981 n'a pas marché parce que l'information ne circulait pas. En 2011, il y a une chaîne de solidarité qui s'est créée. Les gens sont interconnectés. Quand on tape sur quelqu'un tout le monde est au courant et l'indignation va gagner en ampleur. C'est la fin du statu quo.

I grew up in a country where tv news told us that everything was OK, that we are doing great [..] It was the type of information that did not bother anyone, did not create any troubles and anesthetized the nation. The film tells the story of two events: the riots of 1981 and 30 years later, in 2011, the Arab Spring. The first revolution in 1981 did not succeed because the information could not be shared. In 2011, a chain of solidarity has been created. Now people are interconnected. When someone is being beat up, everyone knows and outrage will rise. It's the end of the status quo.

Here is an interview of Lasri  talking about the movie [fr]:

January 23 2014

On Love, Politics and the Francophone Culture

Julie Gayet at Deauville film festival  via wikipedia  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Julie Gayet at the Deauville Film Festival via Wikipedia Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

The global community is now well aware of the tumultuous love life of French President François Hollande. Hollande's affair with French actress Julie Gayet and the ensuing illness of his current partner and still-considered French First Lady Valérie Trierweiler have made the cover of newspapers worldwide over the past week. Hollande is also a father of four with former partner Ségolène Royal, a politician who came in second during the 2007 presidential elections in France.

So his love life is a tad complicated, but he is hardly the first French president to have an unorthodox family structure (François Mitterand and Felix Faure come to mind). By most accounts, French voters do not factor in the private lives of their politicians when it comes down to the ballot. In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that French voters may be more lenient towards infidelity than others:

Just 47% of the French say it is morally unacceptable for married people to have an affair, the lowest percentage among 39 nations surveyed in 2013 by the Pew Research Center. In fact, France was the only country where less than 50% of respondents described infidelity as unacceptable. Instead, four-in-ten think it is not a moral issue, while 12% say it is actually morally acceptable.

The French perspective on infidelity and politics has often puzzled many of its English-speaking neighbors. Adam Gopnik in the United Kingdom articulated the cultural dissonance between the two cultures that sprung from the Hollande's affair going public: 

France is not a puritanical society – it accepts that human appetites for sex and food are normal, or “normale”, to use a word much prized there, and that attempts to suppress either, will make men and women nervous wrecks at least [...] 

Puritans are the least buttoned-up people in the world. They can't wait to pin a scarlet A for adultery on someone's clothing, or hold a public humiliation ritual. Nothing could be more illustrative of this than the tone of outraged indignation directed by British tabloid journalists at their reluctant French press equivalents in the past week. 

A few readers disagreed with Gopnik's take. “Sean in Belgium” argued that one needs only to look at the recent mass protests in favor of family values and the ban on prostitution in France to see that the theory does not compute:

It is a caricature of the complexities of French attitudes simply to say that desire is accepted. This, after all, is the country that has just banned prostitution.   

Love and privacy in other French-speaking countries

Given the cultural impact that France has had on the countries within its former empire, one cannot help but wonder: Do the relaxed views on the issue extend to France's former colonies?

At first glance, it would seem that the French laissez-faire attitude did not extend to other Francophone countries. The aforementioned survey by the Pew Research Center noted that a large majority of polled citizens in Senegal, Lebanon, Tunisia and Canada viewed extramarital affairs as morally unacceptable. In Côte d'Ivoire, citizens are often puzzled by France's choice when it comes to matters of love and relationship.

Elsewhere, reactions were more diverse. In Morocco, prominent author Tahar Ben Jelloun empathized with the privacy that public figures ask for when it comes to their love life. Here is his open letter to Hollande's partner Valérie Treilweiler [fr]: 

Je pense à vous en ce moment où votre vie intime, la vôtre et celle de votre compagnon, est sujet de curiosité malsaine, une espèce de cambriolage en plein jour où l'on saccage tout sans penser aux conséquences non seulement sur votre existence, mais aussi celle de vos enfants.[..] Je pense à vous parce que je sais la douleur et la violence, je sais aussi l'attente et l'espoir. Une histoire d'amour est née entre vous et celui qui allait devenir président. Les gens sont durs et s'imaginent que la vie de ceux et celles qui sont sous les lumières de l'actualité ne mérite que des claques. [..] À présent, il vous faudra choisir : continuer à vivre à côté d'un homme qui est ce qu'il est et qui ne changera pas, ou bien tourner cette page douloureuse et trouver votre place

These days I think of you a lot, now that your intimate life, yours and your companion's is being subjected to morbid curiosity, a kind of robbery in broad daylight where your life is being destroyed without a thought for the consequences to not only your life, but that of your children. [...] I think of you because I know that suffering and that violence, as I also know the expectation and hope [of love]. A love story was born between you and the man who would become president. People are cruel and they think that the life of those who are in the spotlight of the news cycle only deserves punishment [...] Now you must make a decision to either continue to live next to a man who is who he is and will not change, or turn this painful page and find your own place. 

In other former colonies, citizens are not shy about discussing matters of the heart. In fact, some seem to relish the use of the word “love”. In Madagascar, former transitional President Andry Rajoelina changed the motto of the country to include the word: “Fitiavana, Tanindrazana, Fandrosoana” (Love, Homeland, Progress). The former First Lady Mialy Rajoelina is in charge of an Association called FITIA (Love), a charity that helps the education of disenfranchised children. 

Her emphasis on sharing compassion seems to have resonated with many Malagasy people, as shown by Twitter user @tagnam:

Who has not signed the petition to keep #MialyRajoelina as the first lady yet ?

In Cameroon, the 237 Online community blog reflected on the rights to privacy for their public figures. Maximilien Ombé wondered how such an affair would be covered [fr]:

On se demande si c'est possible qu'au Cameroun les médias aient le droit de publier des informations relatives aux loves stories des hommes publics notamment du Chef de l'Etat Paul Biya.

One wonders whether Cameroon media would have the right to publish information on public figures’ loves stories such as Head of State Paul Biya.

Dieudonné Mveng added [fr]:

Dès lors qu'on est politique qu'on est une personnalité on est la boussole de la société. La population prend exemple sur nous. C'est aux personnes publiques de bien se tenir.

As soon as a person goes into politics and becomes a public figure, they by default becomes a moral compass for society. The general population takes its cue from them. It is therefore a responsibility of public figures to behave as role model. 

Ampère Simo concluded [fr]:

La règle qui doit guider les médias et les professionnels de l'information dans le traitement des affaires touchant à la vie privée des individus consiste à ne révéler que ce qui est d'intérêt public.  

The rule that should guide the media and any news writers in the treatment of cases involving the privacy of individuals is to only reveal what is relevant to the public interest. 

It seems that while Francophone countries have not embraced the laid back attitude of France towards the love lives of their elite, they are also more willing to move past affairs and love stories to focus on the more pressing public issues.

January 07 2014

A Call for Africans Leaders to Stand Up for the Central African Republic

As the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) drastically worsens [fr] (935 000 IDPs as of today), Thione Niang, the Senegalese head of the GIVE1Project and Mehdi Bensaid, a Moroccan MP, calls from the African continent to stand up and show support to the victims of the  conflict in CAR [fr]: 

Nous ne pouvons plus accepter que des frères s'entretuent sur le sol africain [..] Ainsi doit émerger une nouvelle génération de politiques inquiets pour l'avenir du continent et qui comprennent que servir l'intérêt général est l'unique solution pour résoudre les problématiques de développement en Afrique [..] Nous appelons l'ensemble des parlementaires africains à se préoccuper de la situation en Centrafrique, à inviter leurs gouvernements à s'impliquer davantage dans ses problématiques sécuritaires, à la construction d'une Afrique stable, seule solution possible à une croissance globale et sereine.

We can no longer accept that our brothers are killing each others on African soil [..]  A new generation of politicians worried about the future of the continent must emerge, politicians who understand that serving the general interest of all is the unique solution to development issues in Africa [..] We call on all African parliamentarians to address the situation in the Central African Republic and we urge their governments to get more involved in its security issues and build a more stable Africa. This is the only solution to foster a sustainable and peaceful growth across the continent.  

December 04 2013

French Strategical Report to Counter China's Economic Influence in Africa

Top Francophone economists & diplomats (namely H El-Karoui from Morocco, T Thiam from Côte d'Ivoire,  L Zinsou from Benin, J-M Severino and H Vedrine from France) submitted a joint report [fr] that outlines the strategy that France should implement to remain competitive on the African Market in the near future. Joel Té-Léssia highlights 15 key points [fr] from the report, one of which is to do away with the “Zone Franc” policy and to allow the regional currency to fluctuate with respect to the Euros. Té-Léssia also underlines the fact that the report is clearly devised to counter  growing influence of China and other emerging nations in the Africa continent. Africa economic growth is projected at 5.2 % in 2014. 

 Six special economic zones setup by the PRC in four African countries on wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

Six special economic zones setup by the PRC in four African countries on wikipedia CC-BY-2.0

November 06 2013

Documenting Violence on Video in Western Sahara

Dakhla, Western Sahara. Photo by Yo TuT via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Dakhla, Western Sahara. Billboard in foreground features a photograph of Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Photo by Yo TuT via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

By Madeleine Bair and Sidahmed Tfeil

Recent video footage from Western Sahara has captured the deadly nature of political violence in the region. In a territorial and ethnic conflict that has taken various turns since the former Spanish colony was annexed by neighboring Morocco in 1975, separatist protesters are demanding that Morocco recognize the sovereignty of Western Sahara, which the UN defines as a non-self-governing territory.

Morocco claims that Western Sahara is an integral part of the Moroccan kingdom and accuses the Sahrawi separatist movement of being a puppet used by neighboring Algeria.

The conflict concerning Western Sahara is the last item on the agenda of the UN’s Decolonization Committee. It is largely under the jurisdiction of the Moroccan government, which has been accused by separatists of systematically marginalizing and mistreating people in the region, particularly those involved in the Sahrawi separatist movement. Human Rights Watch has called for human rights monitoring in all areas of Western Sahara — those controlled by Morocco and those under Sahrawi leadership.

In recent years, separatist demonstrators and human rights defenders have documented police abuses during periods of protest. A series of videos that recently emerged from the area tell the story of a young protester who activists say was killed by Moroccan forces while calling for the autonomy of Western Sahara.

The video above shows a September 23 protest in the city of Assa. The figure of 20-year-old activist Shin Rashid is circled so that viewers can see where he stood when a vehicle pulled up to the protest quickly before taking off. When the filmer and others approach Rashid, he is bleeding from a rubber bullet wound. According to the uploader and various reports, Rashid died from a rubber bullet wound. In a video apparently taken later that day, Rashid’s mother tells the cameraman her son had been protesting with friends. In her hands, she holds rubber bullets she says were used to kill her son. She calls on the international community to join her in calling for an independent investigation of the conduct of Moroccan authorities, whom she believes are responsible for her son’s death.

Shin Rashid was killed just weeks before UN envoy Christopher Ross visited Western Sahara in an attempt to resolve its long-disputed status. During Ross's visit, demonstrators surrounded a UN vehicle to draw attention to human rights violations and restrictions on free association and expression. Yet even then, authorities reportedly used violence to break up the demonstrations, resulting in several injured civilians, such as this man filmed in a hospital.

Western Sahara is a dangerous place for those filming protests. In practice, the Moroccan government restricts reports that would support or even document the independence movement or criticize King Mohammed VI of Morocco. Because of that risk, those who film social movements do not dare upload them to their own YouTube accounts, but rather send them to third parties, such as Al Khayma Press, Assa Presse and Equipe Media, which often operate outside of the Western Sahara or Morocco.

UN Envoy Ross presented his report to the Security Council a week ago and announced that he would return to the region soon to conduct separate bilateral talks with Morocco and the Polisario Front (which is recognized by the UN to represent the Sahrawi separatist movement).

 

***

Madeleine Bair is the curator of the Human Rights Channel, a project of the international human rights organization WITNESS. The Human Rights Channel curates and contextualizes verified video by citizens and activists around the world.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on WITNESS’ blog here.

October 24 2013

GV Face: Advox at #IGF2013

Governments have a lot of power when it comes to the Internet — and so do corporations like Google, Yahoo, and Facebook. But does that mean that people like us – the regular users –  have no say in how we use the world's most powerful space for communication? That's the big question at the Internet Governance Forum. Live from Bali, Indonesia, watch Advoxers Hisham Almiraat, Ellery Biddle, Sana Saleem, Nighat Dad, and other friends of GV talk about what's at stake for user rights at this year's event.

GV Face: Advox at #IGF2013

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

October 20 2013

Morocco Censors the Web: Collateral Damage Allowed

On the morning of October 19, many Moroccan netizens woke up to the blocking of a large number of websites, among them popular social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest. Noticeably, one of the main independent media outlets in Morocco, Lakome, has been censored. Targeting Lakome is actually the reason behind the wide blocking, operated by Maroc Télécom, the main Moroccan telephone and internet provider, and other, less influential companies.

Indeed, Lakome’s editor, Ali Anouzla, has been arrested on September 17 after he published an article containing a link to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) video. More precisely, the article was a report on AQIM's 40-minute propaganda video. The video dubbed Morocco the “kingdom of corruption and despotism,” and called for jihad (holy war) in the country, Anouzla wrote. The link to the video was in fact a link to the blog of a journalist with the Spanish daily El Pais. Anouzla was charged with terrorism on September 25, and has since then been in pre-trial detention. Such an abusive treatment has generated worldwide support, translated through social media campaigns with the hashtag #FreeAnouzla and massive calls to set the journalist free.

Meanwhile, Lakome.com was blocked as per alleged explicit demand of Anouzla himself. The story is murky, and various potentially interdependent events intertwine. Anouzla’s colleague and Lakome co-founder, Aboubakr Jamaï, explained that, on October 14, Ali Anouzla has publicized through the website Goud.ma a decision to shut down the Lakome’s Arabic version. This is also the moment when Jamaï is informed that Anouzla has a new lawyer. His confusion is apparent [fr]:

La décision d'Ali me laissait d'autant plus perplexe que la manière dont elle a été exécutée nous était à moi et à Lakome particulièrement hostile. Pourquoi ce nouvel avocat a décidé de communiquer d'abord à travers Goud ?

Et pourquoi ne pas m'informer ? Je suis co-fondateur de Lakome et directeur de publication de son site francophone, et depuis le 26 septembre, directeur de publication de lakome arabophone sans que personne n'y trouve à redire. De plus, Ali avait jusqu'à ce lundi 14 octobre demandé avec insistance que le site continue de fonctionner.

Ali’s decision left me even more perplexed given that the way it’s been put to work is particularly hostile to both myself and Lakome. Why has this new lawyer decided to communicate through Goud first?

And why not inform me about it? I’m Lakome’s co-founder and editor of its French version; also, since September 26, I am editor of Lakome’s Arabic version, a situation nobody has opposed so far. Moreover, Ali had — until this Monday, October 14 — required that the website keeps on functioning.

Aboubakr Jamaï actually decided to keep the website active. On October 17, Lakome.com was, however, effectively blocked. Quickly, the team set up two alternative urls, lako.me and lakome.info, which were swiftly blocked as well. This arbitrary movement clearly illustrates the fact that blocking Lakome is unlawful and politically driven. Mohamed Ezzouak explains (Fr) that suspending Lakome as per Anouzla's demand should have been rejected by the public prosecutor or the National Agency for the Regulations of Telecoms because him being editor does not suffice to legitimate his ownership of the website. Ezzouak finally argues that “the speed of this new blocking [of the newly set-up domain names] demonstrates the authorities’ desire to silence the website at any cost.”

It is how on October 19, Lakome was blocked completely, a move decried by netizen and human rights activist Yassir Kazar as “North Korea style.” The blocking has widened, causing impressive collateral damage:

Initial reports were quoting Tumblr as blocked as well, but it came out the blogging platform was experiencing technical issues on its own side. Irony spread over Twitter as netizens were flagging (un)censored websites:

Youporn is still accessible

They have also cut trib.al for a reason I cannot comprehend, thus one is no longer able to click on @TheEconomist's links

Ruzzle [a word-smithing mobile phone game] censored. This time, it's clear, the regime wants us to remain idiots.

In a surprising move, French-based independent hackers news outlet Reflets.info was also blocked:

Screenshot from blocked within Morocco website Reflets.info. Image from @vxroot

Screenshot from blocked within Morocco website Reflets.info. Image from @vxroot

Two of its co-founders reacted, one of them addressing the French Minister for Digital Economy, and the other asking Maroc Télécom (Fr) for explanations. Reflets.info's blocking seems to be (Fr) politically motivated as it has been firmly standing behind Lakome and denouncing the Moroccan government's decision to censor it.

The censorship was hugely decried on Twitter:

Have a look at @vxroot's timeline if you want to admire censorship in Morocco. They have black-listed the services on which are based plenty of other sites 1/2

now, not only activists are concerned, but also admins, developers and ordinary web users of Amazon 2/2

He was indeed correct, as local entrepreneurs have been showing discontent (Fr) about important services such as Amazon and Heroku being blocked thus directly impeding on the local economy.

On a more vindictive note, Twitter user @L_badikho invited hackers:

[I'm giving free ideas, 2) to hackers] take over a governmental website and install a Lakome mirror on it

Others, such as @sniper_ma, highlighted the negative impact in terms of image the country will have on the international scene:

This websites’ blocking will cost a lot in various global indicators. Kudos!

Quite timely congratulations were apparently also sent to the Moroccan government from China:

The Chinese Communist Party salutes the progress Morocco has completed in terms of internet freedom — MAP [Moroccan Press Agency]

According to personal contacts in Morocco, at the time of writing, the blocking seems to be country-wide for Lakome and Reflets.info while blocking of other services is patchy as it apparently depends on strict IP addresses. Some of the mirrors set for Lakome are also censored. There has been no official declaration yet.

September 26 2013

Moroccan Editor Arrested for Terrorist Video Coverage

View on the medina of Casablanca in Morocco. Photo by Pawel Ryszawa via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The medina of Casablanca in Morocco. Photo by Pawel Ryszawa via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The original version of this post appeared on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Deeplinks blog.

Over the past few years, Morocco has made great strides increasing Internet access for its 32.5 million citizens. Between 2008 and 2013, its population of Internet users increased from 10.2 million to 17.8 million, pushing growth in Morocco’s IT sector. The Moroccan government has put significant resources into increasing Internet access in schools and expanding e-government platforms. Recently, Moroccans enraged by the monarch’s pardon of a convicted pedophile found critical mass to support an online campaign that ended with authorities rescinding the pardon and re-arrest the perpetrator. It has been cited as the first successful online campaign of its kind in the country.

Unfortunately, and despite reportedly having pulled back on web filtering, the Moroccan government has also put resources into targeting journalists and dissidents. Last year saw a rise in arrests of social media users, while more recently, a journalist was charged with criminal defamation for a report on government corruption that embarrassed a high-level minister.

Last week, another journalist was arrested after reporting on forces that have been critical of the Moroccan government. Ali Anouzla, editor of the Arabic edition of the online news site Lakome—which he also co-founded—was detained without charge on Tuesday in connection with an article published by the website on July 13  that commented on a YouTube video allegedly posted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Although the Lakome article did not link directly to the video, it referenced an El País article that did contain a link to a video.

The video, which was reportedly removed from YouTube at the request of Moroccan authorities [ar], criticized the Moroccan king and called on youth to engage in jihad. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Morocco’s general prosecutor said that publishing threats from Al-Qaeda was a criminal action and that victims of terrorist attacks in the country had requested an investigation into several publications that linked to or reposted the video.

According to sources in the country, Anouzla is being held in Casablanca, and has so far been barred from meeting with his lawyer. An Amnesty International report stated that his lawyers have received authorization to visit him last week. Morocco’s Penal Code allows authorities to hold suspects in terrorism-related cases in pre-arraignment detention for up to twelve days, and allows contact with the suspect’s lawyer to be denied for up to six days.

On September 18, more than two hundred individuals participated in a demonstration in front of the judicial police brigade calling for freedom of expression and freedom for Ali Anouzla.

A Convenient Excuse

Recent history in Morocco has seen no shortage of incidents like this one, wherein authorities target a journalist or publication for a petty offense in order to silence them. In 2007, the edgy new magazine Nichane was banned for two months for publishing a compendium of popular Moroccan jokes, some of which authorities deemed insulting to the monarchy. And in 2009, news site Akhbar Al-Youm was banned after publishing a cartoon deemed an insult to the national flag, its editors charged with “defiling the national flag” and “failing to show deference to the prince.” But perhaps the most famous case is that of Ahmed Benchemsi, the creator of Nichane and former editor of TelQuel, who chose self-imposed exile over the death of his magazine.

Although the government has successfully shut down numerous traditional publications over the years, it has had less luck silencing online media. In a 2012 interview with Lakome co-founder and acclaimed journalist Aboubakr Jamaï, interviewer Hasna Ankal addressed this issue head-on, asking Jamaï about the role of the electronic press in Morocco. Jamaï responded:

It is not easy to be a journalist in Morocco. According to the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders pressfreedom [sic] in this country has deteriorated. The imprisonment of journalist Rachid Nini caused damage to Morocco’s reputation as one of the most liberal countries in its region. Yet the new constitution promised greater freedoms for media as well as greater freedom of expression. But for Jamaï the only freedom left is online.

Lakome, which hosts its site on servers in Canada, has sided with the February 20 movement promoting democracy, free expression, and other liberal values, and is therefore an easy target for the Moroccan government. Furthermore, some have cited Anouzla’s “excellent” reporting on #DanielGate—the recent campaign that saw the monarch rescind his pardon of a convicted pedophile—as a possible reason for his being targeted.

Along with our colleagues at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Global Voices Advocacy sees Anouzla’s arrest as yet another attempt by the Moroccan government to silence critical, independent voices online. We urge authorities to uphold their commitments to international human rights agreements, allow Anouzla immediate access to his lawyers, and discourage them from filing charges against him.

 

August 10 2013

Morocco: “Daniel Gate” Sparks Unprecedented National Outrage

On the occasion of the Throne Day in Morocco, King Mohammed VI pardoned 1,000 detainees om July 31. The Royal Pardon occurs during big events and is a well established tradition in the Kingdom. But this time, Spanish pedophile Daniel Fina Galván – who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2011 for the rape of 11 children in Kenitra – was among them. Outrage spread like wildfire on social networks as independent Moroccan news network Lakome broke the news.

An action worth a thousand words #RoyalPardon Message received: Spanish pedophile > Moroccan activist.

Popular mobilization

Immediately, online activists started organising action to protest the decision. A Facebook page titled “Tous contre la libération de Daniel Fino Galván” [All against liberation of Daniel Fino Galván] collected photographs of people from all around the world posing with messages calling for the arrest of the Spanish pedophile.

From India to Mexico, reaction to the royal pardon granted to the Spanish pedophile…

On August 2, people took the streets in an unprecedented round of protests in the country, defying the King personally with one question; how could it happen? Reports and footage of violent repression followed from Rabat, where one of the most important protests was held.

New footage showing a female protester being beaten by 3 policemen.

People are being locked up in police trucks. Violent bumps. Intensive beating inside.

The Royal Cabinet issued a press release the next day where it discharged the King of any implication.

Twitter hashtag #Mafrasich [Moroccan Arabic: I didn't know] immediately went viral, blaming the King for such an easy shortcut.

#Mafrasich, or how Moroccans criticise the King on Twitter

Who is Daniel Galván Vina?

The fact that Daniel Galván left the Moroccan territory immediately after his release, with an expired passport, raised even more questions as of the reason why he was pardoned in the first place. His past as an Iraqi spy who worked with Spanish secret services to topple the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein emerged.

Daniel is the only one among the 48 pardoned Spanish nationals who “left” the Moroccan territory? With an expired passport?

If I were Spanish, I would want to know why my government wanted to soften the detention conditions of a pedophile.

Initially disclaimed by both Spanish and Moroccan Royal Cabinets, reports of one list, then two, of specific Spanish detainees given to the Royal Cabinet by the King of Spain during his last visit came to surface. One of them was for a royal pardon, the second for extradition. The Royal Cabinet would have released all 48. Daniel Galván was on the second.

It’s interesting to see the arguments of the leaders of Morocco and Spain. They’re all pretending that they didn’t know anything.

New version according to the Spanish media, claiming that there has been a confusion between two lists; the condemned and the pardoned.

The real story; the crown prince played with the prisoners lists.

A second press release announced the cancellation of the pardon on August 4. Hafid Benhachem, Director General for the prison administration, got removed from his post as a result of the inquiry promised by the King in his first communiqué. Online activists quickly talk of too little, too late:

Is the King aware that he cancelled the pardon?

The King hasn't been informed, didn't apologise, dismisses Benhachem. The latter denies his involvement.

Daniel Galván got eventually arrested in Spain after Interpol issued an international arrest warrant, but without any clear outcome as for where and when he would be tried.

Media blackout

There hasn't been any mention of Daniel Gate in the Moroccan state media, nor of the violent repression against protesters, until August 5, when 2M TV channel organized a debate around the Daniel Galván scandal. El Mostafa Ramid, Minister of Justice, justified the use of violence against the protesters, claiming they were armed.

Friday's protesters had cell phones. In the Moroccan jargon, that counts as a weapon.

Ramid also commented on the arrest of Daniel Galván that occurred earlier that day, and how he could possibly go back to prison:

Ramid: 3 scenarios: extradition (unlikely), pursuit of the charges in Spain, or new trial in Spain.

In a blog post [Fr], Saad El Adraoui ridicules the debate by providing a sarcastic cartoon of the affair. Twitter user Ahmed Benshemsi sums up the Minister of Justice's intervention:

Sum-up of Ramid's interview: 1. I didn't do anything 2. It's all Benhachem's fault 3. The Police had the right to beat the protesters. Or not.

View from Spain

Spain's main opposition party PSOE has referred to the Government's responsibility in this case:

The Government is responsible for solving the situation and making sure Galván ends up in jail.

In the current state of social, economic and political tension in Spain, some tweeps have criticized the way this case has been instrumentalized by the opposition.

(Spain's main opposition party) PSOE criticizes the Government for its “disastrous management” of the child abuser pardoned in Morocco. Anything goes to hit (president) Mariano.

Since Galván was not the only prisoner who received pardon, some users have wondered who are the others.

OK, Daniel Galván was a child abuser. But who are the other 30 Spanish prisoners who have received pardon by mistake?

What's next?

For the first time since the February 20 movement that brought people to the streets two years ago and called for reforms, the Moroccan people united in one voice to denounce what was felt as another blow to their dignity. In a country where protesting the King's judgement can lead to prison, the events of the last few days are a precedence in the Kingdom's history.

Many congratulated themselves for the achievements:

@Atourabi: the Moroccan people did in 3 days what all political parties didn't achieve in several years. Hats off.

Others, more skeptical, consider that this should be a beginning. Moroccan blogger Larbi writes Fr:

Il s’est passé quelque chose durant les derniers jours, qui constitue un tournant. Cette regrettable grâce royale a apporté d’elle-même la démonstration pédagogique et parfaite de ce que beaucoup essayaient en vain d’expliquer : il ne point y avoir de pouvoir sans responsabilité et sans comptes à rendre. C’est l’heure de choix : le palais doit arrêter son hégémonie, se séparer de sa boite noire et abandonner le rôle de monarchie exécutive ou alors il sera fatalement confronté directement à la rue qui demandera des comptes à l’occasion d’autres affaires. A chacun de faire son évolution et en l’occurrence seule l’opinion publique a pour l'instant fait la sienne.

Something happened in the last few days that can be considered as a turning point. This pitiful pardon brought the perfect demonstration of what many tried to explain in vain; there can't be power without responsibilities or giving accounts. It's time for the choice: The Palace must stop its hegemony, abandon its black box [i.g. Royal Cabinet], and drop the role of executive monarchy, or it will have to face the street on other occasions. Each one needs to evolve, and so far, only the public opinion did.

August 07 2013

Congolese Teacher Pushed Out of Moving Police Van in Morocco, Dies

The death of Toussaint-Alex Mianzoukouta, a french teacher in Tanger is symptomatic of increasing brutality towards sub Saharan immigrants from the Moroccan police, Afrik Online reports [fr]. Mianzoukouta was not given the opportunity to  present his immigration documents before he was taken into the van, the report says. He died from multiple head injuries and leaves behind a wife and two children.

July 01 2013

June 20 2013

‘Qandisha', the Women's Webzine that is Ruffling Feathers in Morocco

A webzine for women in Morocco is causing a stir for its frank treatment of religion and sexuality.

A year and a half ago, Fedoua Miski, who lives in Casablanca, launched Qandisha [fr], a magazine for women in Morocco and beyond. For the 32-year-old trained doctor, her involvement in human rights propelled her to get involved in citizen journalism. The magazine has since earning a strong following in Morroco and abroad, but along the way it has been hacked twice and attracted a share of disparaging comments and threats in retaliation for its coverage.

Global Voices recently caught up with the founder of this “magazwine”, as Miski calls Qandisha to bridge the words “magazine” and “webzine”, during her trip to Montpellier for the third instance of 4M [fr], a conference attended by members of the media on both sides of the Mediterranean, organised by CFI (Canal France International) and Montpellier.

Fedoua Miski magazine qandisha

Fedoua Miski, founder of Qandisha “Magazwine”. Photo by author

Global Voices (GV): Why did you create this webzine for women?

Fedoua Miski (FM): Pour apporter quelque chose de différent. Il y a beaucoup de webzines au Maroc, mais c'est le premier webzine féminin sans le trio beauté-mode-cuisine habituel. C'est aussi un magazine collaboratif. Notre rédaction, c'est notre lectorat. Le sentiment d'appartenance au journal est plus important. A travers les sujets qu'on aborde, on a une étiquette engagées-militantes assez évidente. Les valeurs universelles, le respect des droits humains, des libertés individuelles. Plus concrètement, on voudrait pousser toutes les femmes qui le souhaitent à discuter et commenter l'actualité, qu'elle soit politique, sociale : encourager la prise de parole féminine. Dans nos pays arabo-musulmans, conservateurs, les femmes ont moins l'habitude de prendre la parole.

To bring in something new. There are plenty of webzines in Morocco, but this is the first woman's webzine that is not about the typical beauty-fashion-cooking trio. It's also a collaborative magazine; our writers are our readers. That sense of belonging to the magazine is very important. Through the subjects we cover, there's an activist branding that's pretty evident. Universal values, respect for human rights, individual liberties. More concretely, we want to give a boost to all the women who want to discuss and comment on current events, whether political or social –  to encourage women to speak up. In our Arab Muslim conservative countries, women are less inclined to make their voices heard.

GV: What does the name Qandisha mean?

FM: C'est le nom d'une démone dans la mythologie locale. Une femme diabolisée parce qu'elle a dérangé. On savait qu'on allait être diabolisées, donc, on a pris ce nom d'une femme diable. La légende dit que cette femme rendait fou les hommes, les ensorcelait. En réalité, ce devait être une nana très belle ou très forte. On voulait l'isoler, donc, on l'a diabolisée.

It's the name of a demon in the local mythology. A women who is demonised because she causes a stir. We knew we would be demonised, so we took up this name of a female devil. Legend has it that this woman drove men crazy, she bewitched them. In reality, she must have been a very beautiful, strong woman. They wanted to isolate her, so they demonised her.

GV: What has been the most-read article on Qandisha?

FM: Le témoignage d'une jeune femme à qui le syndic de son immeuble interdit de recevoir des amis hommes chez elle, à Agadir. On ne la laissait plus accéder à son appartement avec ses amis. Nous l'avons soutenue et encouragée à porter plainte, ce qu'elle a fait et cela a entraîné un débat sur la moralité et sur les libertés individuelles.  La femme marocaine n'a pas de libertés dans l'espace public, mais elle n'en a pas non plus chez elle. Les réactions ont été très diverses. Certains hommes et des femmes l'encourageaient à faire respecter ses droits, d'autres lui conseillaient de se plier aux règles sociales.

The account of a young women in Agadir who was banned by the management of her building from allowing male friends to visit her. They wouldn't let her enter her apartment with her friends. We supported her and encouraged her to report it to the authorities, which she did, and that sparked a debate on morality and individual liberties. The Moroccan woman has no liberty in the public space, but she has none in her own home, either. The reactions were very diverse. Some men and women encouraged her to demand that her rights be respected, others advised her to bow to social norms.

GV: Who reads Qandisha?

FM: Peu de magazines ou webzines féminins au Maroc peuvent se targuer d'avoir autant de lecteurs masculins que nous. Parce que nos sujets sont sociétaux, politiques. Les hommes seraient plus tranquilles si on se consacrait à la mode, à la beauté et à la cuisine, ça les rassurerait. Et en même temps, beaucoup d'hommes nous soutiennent, au Maroc même. Il faut arrêter de croire que le Marocain est un macho primaire, il y en a beaucoup qui soutiennent l'émancipation de la femme. Dans nos statistiques, nous voyons que c'est de Casablanca que viennent le plus de lecteurs, et, au second rang, de Paris…Nos articles ont été repris par Courrier International, par Rue 89. Nous avons maintenant des contributrices françaises, tunisienne, algériennes. Ce serait génial si des femmes d'autres origines écrivaient (en français ou en arabe) chez nous.

Few magazines or webzines for women in Morocco can claim to have as many male readers as us. Because our subjects are societal, political. Men would be more relaxed if we just focused on beauty, cooking, that's reassuring to them. But at the same time, a lot of men support us, even in Morocco. People need to stop thinking about the Moroccan male as a simplistic, macho type; many of them support women's emancipation. From our stats, we see that the highest concentration of readers is in Casablanca, and then Paris… Our articles have been republished by Courrier International, by Rue 89. We now have contributors from France, Tunisia, Algeria. It would be great if women from other origins would write (in French or Arabic) for us, too.

GV: Have you encountered any problems due to the causes you're involved in or the subjects your articles touch upon?

FM: Le site a été piraté deux fois, en représailles d'articles portant sur la religion ou sur la sexualité. Il a été piraté juste après la publication du témoignage d'un jeune homosexuel qui vit au Maroc. On a des commentaires anonymes, des menaces mais on s'y est habituées. Le camp adverse n'a pas d'arguments solides, il se sent ébranlé dans ses convictions.

The site was hacked twice, in reprisals for articles on religion or sexuality. We were hacked right after we published an account of a young homosexual living in Morocco. We get anonymous comments, threats, but we're used to that. The opposite camp lacks solid arguments, they end up with their convictions shaken.

April 05 2013

Opening the Black Box of Governance: Alleviating Poverty With Data

Global Voices bloggers have been commissioned to liveblog the OECD Global Forum on Development in Paris on April 4-5, 2013. Leading up to the meeting, our team is submitting posts about development issues that help serve as weekly online discussion topics on their website (#OECDgfd)

The constant rise of Internet and mobile phone use is an opportunity to enable more citizens to engage with governance. Technology can help improve citizen participation in decision-making and can re-energise participation in public life. Transparency and accountability is becoming a diverse and dynamic field for exploration worldwide.

Opening the data produced by public administrations is part of an effective approach to poverty alleviation. Incredible amounts of data are produced every day, by a wide range of stakeholders: governments, media, mobile operators, citizens themselves. Despite the huge potential for using data about a society or government for the public good, it is rarely released and shared for public use. Additionally, reliable statistics can be hard to come by or are still the exclusive property of government or corporate officials.

The benefits of citizen engagement are numerous, wide-ranging and significant for all stakeholders, as Striking Poverty, a World Bank initiative, illustrates:

For the marginalized poor, participation mechanisms can provide channels for shaping solutions and holding governments accountable for policies and services delivered. For organizations, governments, and funders, engagement with communities is beneficial in that citizens will support, adopt, champion, and eventually share in the ownership and success of programs.

Does Open Data work in developing countries?

Open Data endeavours in both rich and poor countries often come up against a shortage of technical and political skills that prevent citizens from actively engaging with them. There can easily be a gap between the goals of data advocates and citizens’ understanding of the data. Still, a huge number of creative approaches to collect and make sense of data related to public life show promise that this is the most straightforward way into civic engagement.

The Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI), the first national Open Data project in Sub-Saharan Africa, was launched in 2011. The released data sets (over 400) provide data for socially-relevant domains from education to sanitation. Kenya is in fact the first developing country to have an Open Data portal. In greater Africa, Morocco was first to launch an Open Data platform. Tunisia followed in 2011 with Open Data Tunisia.

Open Government Data

Open Government Data by Justin Grimes on flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Seizing the potential of Open Data for developing countries and the growing number of national ventures, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has launched the Open Data for Africa portal, as a part of the Africa Information Highway initiative. It encompasses Open Data platforms for the following 20 African countries:

Algeria, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Although the challenges are numerous, multiple success stories show that the key to using technology for transparency and accountability efforts is to employ a collaborative approach and ensure that tools are user-friendly and quick to offer results.

A report by the Global Voices ‘Technology for Transparency’ initiative looking at citizen initiatives for transparency and accountability across the globe found that:

Data visualization and navigation tools are a key feature in more than half of the projects we documented, as are diverse forms of data collection from citizens. Approximately one third of the projects use mobile phones in some way, most commonly by allowing citizens to submit or receive information via text messages.

These observations illustrate that citizen initiatives are not only directed towards gathering data but also towards making sense of it for the wider community. The projects show great opportunity for well-managed data and related statistics released through open government data programs. The next milestone for governments in developing countries is to solve the problems of data quality and availability, as well as the technical and statistical capacity of staff and institutions.

Opening the governance

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched back in September 2011 when the governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States took stance in favour of more transparent governance by signing the Open Government Declaration:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

Shortly after, the World Bank recognized the importance of the foundational principles of the Partnership and declared its support to the initiative “by facilitating knowledge exchanges and helping to build the capacity of OGP member countries to elaborate and implement their plans to become more open and responsive.”

The OGP already has 50 members. Although several African countries have presented their action plans and three of them — South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya — have already delivered their commitments, Africa is still trailing in involvement.

The most recent OGP Africa meeting indicates that slow progress is being made, with Ghana and Liberia developing their respective ‘Action Plans’ in order to apply for membership at the Open Government Partnership.

New approaches, new challenges ahead

Is technology the panacea for developing countries? Definitely not. But it definitely paves the way for addressing open, socially and politically relevant questions. Even though the KODI has not had much impact on Kenyans, and very few African states rush to join the OGP, these dynamics are irreversible. The very existence of the endeavours described above is a solid step in the right direction.

March 10 2013

The State of Torture in the World in 2013

On January 23, 2013, an excerpt from the annual report of l'ACAT-France, A World of Torture 2013, makes a fresh assessment of the state of torture in the world [fr]:

“A report called A World of Torture in 2013, assesses torture practices that continue to be alarming, from Pakistan to Italy, by way of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Bolivia. From authoritarian regimes to democratic countries, none are exempt from criticism on the topic. In 2013, torture remains as endemic, omnipresent and multi-faceted as ever”.

December 29 2012

MENA: Acclaimed Authors’ Favorites of 2012

M. Lynx Qualey, blogger, who is interested in Arab and Arabic literature, wrote a series of posts introducing acclaimed Arab poets, novelists, and short-story writers’ favorite Arab reads of 2012. She started with a list of nonfiction books, then followed by a list for poetry [En] and fiction [En].

November 18 2012

Moroccans Beaten Up for Protesting the King's Budget

Moroccans protested in the capital Rabat against the royal budget today. Their protest was violently repressed by police, who beat up activists as well as journalists who turned up to cover the demonstration.

Reports claim that the royal palaces of Morocco cost the kingdom's coffers 700,000 Euros a day, in a country where the number of poor people has increased dramatically over the past few years.

According to a study published by the World Bank, the number of poor people is on the rise in Morocco:

… the total number of poor increased from 13.1% of the population in 1990/91 to 19% in 1998/99 (or, from 3.4 to 5.3 million). The number of “economically vulnerable”, i.e. those who are at or below 50% above the poverty line, increased from 35 to 44% (or, from 9 to 12 million).

In response to the protest, Mamfakinch says activists, human rights defenders and even journalists were attacked at the protest. The award-winning collective blog reports:

Several human rights defenders were violently repressed by forces during a protest in Rabat against the royal budget.

[…]

Journalists who came to cover the protest were not spared either. Omar Radi, Hind Bennani, and a journalist from a Spanish news agency were beaten as well. Souhail Karam from Reuters was insulted.

Samia Errazzouki anticipates a strong reaction even before the protest started:


@charquaouia
: Protesters in Morocco are directly protesting against the king's budget. But will this also be swept under the rug as illegitimate dissent?

She continues:

@charquaouia: Regardless of the percentage the palace's budget figures into the overall budget, the king's role in economic sphere can't be discounted.

And Omar Radi, who was at the protest, spells out why Moroccans are protesting the royal budget [fr]:

@OmarRADI: Rappel: Le roi vit à 700000 Euros/jour au frais du contribuable. ##BudgetPalais

Reminder: The king lives on 700,000 Euros per day - at the taxpayer's expense #BudgetPalais

Soon after the protest started, Moroccan blogger Hisham Almiraat reports:


@__Hisham
: #Morocco, now: police violently disrupts protest against royal palace budget - activists

In a follow up tweet, he explains:


@__Hisham
: #Morocco: activists beaten, threatened in protest agst palace share of public money in a country that struggles w/ abysmal budget deficit

And a third tweet provides context:

@__Hisham: #Morocco protest (context): King pays no taxes. salary, paid for by taxpayers money > Obama's > Holland's. #Budgetpalais

Errazzouki further explains:

@charquaoia: Beyond the fact that state allocates a budget to sustain king's palaces & courts, he pays no taxes, and is the wealthiest businessman.

Rue Zanka shares a video of the repression on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KRq_sjRI4I&feature=player_embedded

The video is aptly entitled [ar]:

الهراوات في تفريق الاحتجاج على ميزانية القصر

Batons used in breaking up the protest against the palace budget

On Twitter, Montasser Drissi shares this photograph from a protest against the king's budget in Marrakech:

Protesting the King's Budget in Marrakech

Protesting the King's Budget in Marrakech. Photograph shared on Twitter by @montasserdrissi

For more reactions, check out the hashtag #BudgetPalais. Many of the tweets are in French and Arabic.

November 02 2012

September 03 2012

Morocco: Sexual Abuse to Cry Long Live the King

Once we got to the police station, they stripped us of all of our clothing and stuck hard objects into our anuses. They also ripped out our eyelashes, reports Nour Essalam Kartachi, in order to force us to cry, “long live the king.”

reports Moroccan site Mamfakinch on the plight of a young prisoner.

August 30 2012

Morocco: Jail Sentence for Ramadan's Public Eater

A court in Rabat has sentenced a young man to serve three months in jail for failing to fast in public during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. “[Individual freedom,] a right we are not likely to see protected anytime soon,” laments Yabiladi [fr], who reports the news.

August 22 2012

Morocco: Is The ‘Allegiance Ceremony' a Thing of the Past?

The bay'a is the name of the annual “loyalty” ceremony where dignitaries from across Morocco pledge allegiance to King Mohammed VI. Critics [fr] of the ceremony decry a “shameful show of servility and a display of archaism,” whilst proponents contend it establishes a symbolic contract between the ruler and the Moroccan people.

Originally, the bay'a is an act of allegiance to the successors of Prophet Mohammed. The Moroccan King claims to be descendant from the Prophet and derives part of his authority from his supposedly sacred genealogy.

Abdelilah Benkirane is the serving prime minister. In a statement he made while he was still part of the opposition, he described the bay'a as “shameful ritual” and “a thing of the past,” fueling speculation as to whether the King will decide to cancel this year's ceremony.

But much to the chagrin of bay'a's opponents, on Tuesday, August 21, the ceremony did take place (video posted by hespresslive):

The bay'a follows a strict protocol whereby notables and elected representatives present themselves before the King. The monarch, cloaked in a golden robe, parades on horseback, protected by his personal guard, all whilst being covered by an umbrella which, according to commentators [fr], conveys the cosmic symbol of the monarchy. Dignitaries then bow before him, loudly praising his status as “Commander of the Faithful,” before retreating deferentially.

Many followed the event on Twitter like OnlyZineb who tweets:

There's a degrading allegiance ceremony going on right now in morocco where officials bow to the king like slaves to a master #TwittoBayaa

On Facebook, over 1,000 people pledged to gather on Wednesday, the day after the bay'a, at a “public celebration of loyalty to freedom and dignity”.

One member of the group writes:

I am getting ready for another celebration in Morocco, an alternative celebration in which I will declare my full allegiance to the Moroccan people. I will do so with an unshakable sense of honor, with the heightened consciousness of my full Moroccan citizenship and with my irreducible human dignity; I will do it as would any free citizen, standing up tall, proud and dignified

The ritual is also a matter of concern for blogger Larbi, who writes [fr]:

Mardi […] lorsque les images des prosternations feront le tour du monde, beaucoup de Marocains vivront l’instant comme un moment d’humiliation nationale.

On Tuesday, when images of the prostrations will travel around the world, many Moroccans will live the moment as one of national humiliation.

Reda disagrees. He writes [fr]:

je [me prosterne] a chaque fois que je rencontre mes parents […] sans que cela ne soit accompagne d’aucune dégradation a ma personne [certains esprits trop occidentalisés y verront de l'humiliation pas moi]

I bow before my parents each time I see them, without it being accompanied by any feeling of self-degradation. Some minds, too Westernized, will see in this humiliation. Not me.

The bay'a is a ritual rife with political symbols. It establishes a relationship of hierarchical power at the center of which sits the monarch. Ahmed thinks the ceremony is a reminder of the power relations between the people and an all-powerful, unaccountable monarch. He writes [ar]:

أعتقد أن محمد السادس أضاع على نفسه فرصة عند توليه “العرش” عند مشارف القرن الواحد والعشرين، أن يكون “ملكا مواطنا”، بقطع تلك العادات المشينة بكرامة الإنسان من ركوع وتقبيل اليد وأيضا ألقاب التعظيم والتمجيد..

I think that Mohammed VI missed the opportunity, when he came to the throne at the dawn of the 21st century, to become a “citizen king”, to get rid of those degrading and shameful rituals including bowing, hand-kissing and the idolisation…

For the latest updates on the alternate “ceremony” activists are planning to stage in front of the Moroccan parliament today, follow the hashtag #TwittoBayaa on Twitter.

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