The Rachid Nini Affair
Our very own Glenn Beck has been jailed. For good. This time there is no fine, no (royal) pardon, just outright jail to the Kingdom’ chief moral inquisitor.
I have to confess an ambivalent mixture of relief that he will not be writing his incendiary column everyday, that at least for some time, the populist literature will not benefit from his own, inspired contribution. And, on the other hand, there was a feeling of sorrow. Sadness in fact, that the regime should still resort to these methods to stifle any kind of dissent or criticism.
Rachid Nini has been writing some very strong criticisms right from the starting point of his career, when he had his own column with Assabah newspaper. His informal style and acerbic criticism of what he considers to be moral wrongs or simply the expression of the underdogs’ frustrations made him very popular with a large spectrum of the Moroccan society. The poor level of Arabic he uses in his writings- poor by his own admission- was not a hindrance to his popularity, but rather a sign of strength, the symbol of ‘the truth spoken in simple terms’ carried out by the herald of those who cannot make their voices heard.
The pleasant columns he was writing in Assabah (which I did enjoy once, back in 2002-2003), then in his own Almassae newspaper, centred around his imported column, soon turned sour: homophobic comments, nationalistic, misogynist and vengeful articles too.Above all, a reactionary who took liberties with a great deal of things: with past history, some baseless accusations that left-wingers are the one who wrecked the country’s moral standards and everything it holds dear; Some very nasty pieces of innuendo on the morality of anyone who tries to criticize him. The man, because of -no doubt many of them- the letters he receives from admirers, really believes to be the voice of the people. And maybe he is.
And that’s the trouble with independent journalists in Morocco: they cannot draw the line between reporting the news, and actually making them. Because mainstream politics has been discredited with corruption and nepotism -as well as the effects of power concentration within non-representative circles- journalists like Ahmed Reda Benchemsi (from his days with TelQuel Magazine) or Taoufik Bouachrine (with Akhbar Al Yaoum) or indeed The Jamaï Camarilla with Le Journal (Hebdomadaire) and Nini, all of these and many others, sought news reporting as a convenient way to defend and advance the causes they believe in. Bottom line is, there is little difference between the human rights-loving Khalid Jamaï and the populist Rachid Nini. There is no particular criticism to their proceedings; they are, after all, citizens voicing their opinions by setting up a business so as to reach out for the largest possible public.
The trouble is, they get mixed up, they think of themselves as the new-era politicians, the standard-bearers of their readers (especially when their readership is 80.000-100.000 per year, about 14% of total nationwide readers (OJD figures, 2010) a hefty market share, large enough for Mr Nini to believe he is a Vox Populii (and you know the saying, Vox Populi, Vox Dei) and sometimes, in his fire-and-brimstone posts, he trips over powerful lobbies like the Prosecutors’ corps, the military or the police, and well, he got himself in a cross fire.
So in essence, the man is not condemned for ‘criticizing the government‘. First because his criticism is very targeted, and there are rumours he is basically, a gun (or a pen) to hire, a proxy mean for powerful lobbies to shoot each others. So he shouldn’t be mistaken for yet another victim of our inhumane system, simply because he has been nursed in the regime’s bosom. He is, quite simply, a gambit. a scarified pawn in the rarefied circles of power. That might explain why I don’t feel particularly inclined to defend him.
Still and all, Rachid Nini is another victim. And even if he is a detestable figure, for all his flaws, the least he should be guaranteed is a free and fair trial. And his was no such thing; It was so obvious that the state prosecutor felt compelled to claim that there were no instructions (التعليمات) prior to the trial.
This is the cornerstone of democracy, or at least the way Voltaire defined its corollary, freedom of speech: to protect the freedom of speech even when one does not agree with their point of view. And I wish such noble interpretation would extend to others. Nini is a high profile journalist, he has some considerable following, so not to defend him would be a bit double standards toward those with whom I happen to disagree (or even feel sorry for)
But then again, he is not tried for his speech, he is tried for something else. Therefore, if he is ever to be defended, then the one right we need to make sure he has, is the one of a re-trial, a fair and free one, this time. We now move from an issue of stifled dissidence, to that of a more basic right. All of a sudden, he loses his martyrdom to the benefit of a more down-to-earth kind of status. Unfortunately, not many see it that way. #RetrialNini instead of #FreeNini rather.
For these reasons, and because I would like to remain true to my stated principles, I would rather call for a retrial, rather than free him again. Whoever instructed these puppets magistrates have satisfied their vengeance, but alas created a bigger threat to them and to anyone who happens to disagree with the now-martyr Nini; The argument is simple: Nini has been jailed for writing some stuff on power circles, Power circles are corrupt, therefore he writes the truth. We are all looking forward to the kind of column he will be writing when he would have done his time.