The Moorish Wanderer

Cry, O My Beloved Country. My Day at the Police Station

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Read & Heard, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair Baghough on December 28, 2010

I just emerged from a nap. Yes, at this hour and on this side of the hemisphere, it looks like over-laziness. I am recovering from a 6 hours stand as part of my application for the new ID card. I have successfully completed the third and penultimate step before I can be granted my new ID card.

It’s not like I did that for the first time. I already had mine this summer (and I would have written about it, but some considerations prevailed) but the dumb-witted, incompetent, and careless police services mis-transcribed my family name. Both in Arabic and French. So in my ID card, I sound like I do not belong to the Baghough family (although my family name is not Baghough. but you get the gist, right ?). Spooky. And because of that, I had to go round the application process all over again; Common sense would be for me to present the police services with a paper stating they made a mistake, then print a new card.Common sense, or indeed the most straightforward, rational and inexpensive course of action. But no! You will have to start all over again, Mister, and make sure you stop by every potential police centre before they showed you the one you are supposed to go to to get your fingerprints done. And [drum rolls] that was the same one I was in for this summer.

I am middle class, with some working class background, with which I have nothing to be ashamed of. My neighbourhood however, is part of an aggregate of  heterogeneous districts. Bad luck, the constabulary overseeing the borough is located right in the outskirts of a shanty town. So there I was, having the incommensurate pleasure to deal with policemen whose regular day involves shoving delinquents for mugshots, with a more than acceptable amount of verbal abuse, and some occasional physical one as well. How could a mild-manner, cosmopolitan and liberal Moroccan like me be possibly at ease in such place? By the way, most regular applicants there were good-mannered, partly because they came from similar neighbourhoods to mine, or because of this gut-feeling fear for the police uniform. There was little difference between what I lived through last summer and today. I have now the opportunity to report on these matters.

Civil services can err sometimes. As far as Morocco is concerned, they do that a lot. But in my case, they most certainly are in a striking form: first my baccalaureate degree, then my passport, my first ID card, my second ID card, my first Scholarship application, you name it. I understand the civil service in Morocco is not some sort of coalesced conglomerate administrations, but rather a motley of departments, each one ambushed with a missing paper, a mistyped name, an uncompleted application form on their behalf. Each department made mistakes, but I am the one paying for them.

Today, or rather, the couple of days before, the sole institution I had every motive to believe to be doing its job right, admitted, -explicitly- its own carelessness. Because I tend to write some carping pieces about Morocco, more specifically on some influential spheres on Morocco, and because of some much-prided family history, I thought I had my own entry with the intelligence services. I still think it to be so. I have no problem with that, they are after all doing their job in monitoring potentially troublesome elements. I now realize they might not be getting my name right, a revelation that strikes a fatal blow to the image I had of police and security services, as a juggernaut of ‘can-do’ attitude. I mean, the guys have all the papers, all the records, my family records, my dates of entry and exit from the country, possibly some tapes and recordings of phone conversations with the family, my internet history for all I know. How can they miss such a thing?

I wrote a post for Talk Morocco about the need and benefits for a civil service. I still stand by it, but the extent of time wasting and the ferociously contemptuous attitude the policemen affected there was a bit of bewilderment: ‘how can they hold the country together if they keep on being like so?’. Things started at 7 a.m, where about 70-ish people already were waiting by, their names on that piece of paper the policeman in charge of lining (applicants, not suspects) collects at 8.30 am. There’s at least one commendable thing on allowing elderly and disabled people to go through the fast lane. But for others, hellish waiting list. at 9.a.m. the shout-y lining constable came in, and started barking his orders: ‘get in line’, ‘check your papers’, ‘women on the left-hand side of barrier, men on the other side’, ‘shut up, I’m talking’… Just regular morning talk.

At the station. Today was apparently a light day. 100 applicants.

I don’t need to bother the readers with trivial details during the waiting bit, unless you might be interested that the police is cracking down on sub-Saharan immigrants: loads and loads of them were boarded out of the Police vans and hurled onto the gates, sometimes with helps of forceful shoving and contemptuous ‘happy slaps’. This unexpected encounter triggered some racist comments from my fellow applicants about their skin colour, and the usual array of stereotypes about our fellow Africans. At that moment, I wish I’d brought my earphones. I would have gladly argued with them, but when it comes to Cartesian arguments with Moroccan average Joe, I tire rapidly. Women looked more disciplined, in the sense they kept on to the line, and displayed some surprising solidarity, like this young lass cadging her fellow liners to let her in first, because time was running out, and she was due to go back to the factory. Or indeed that young mother who lost sight of her child (who brings children to police station? She might have circumstances, though). Mixing backgrounds give surprising results: I unfortunately eavesdropped on a conversation between a fair-skin middle-aged woman (which, by my account, looked and sounded like a native Rbati) and a darker, more humble-background young woman, on the benefits of education, and how they dealt with their respective offspring.

I held off reasonably well till noon. My patience started to run out. I felt I was actually looking for a trifle to start off a riot-y shout against the police station. I thought the poor guard was going to bear the brunt of my angst, even though he had little direct responsibility for it. I cooled down with a gum, but soon after I started wondering: ‘what was I doing here?’ I even considered walking out. Come what may, I thought I should be content I had my ID card, albeit with a small typo. Who cares? That’s what happens: within a brief amount of time, I radicalised to the point of looking for a brawl with the hateful representative of the oppressive regime, and the moment after, I was down in the troughs, just wishing to go back home. The humiliation of being reduced to a number, waiting for the good graces of a fifth-rate constable are unbearable, even to the coolest.

1.30 p.m, I was finally let in the vestibule leading to the fingerprints room. staff computing the data on computers are dressed in civilian clothes. They look young, and some of them are indeed young graduate from Police institute. They smell poor: they had a rise a couple of months ago, so they started buying new clothes, with a profound lack of harmony in their choices.They frankly looked bedizen, gaudy, and for some of the female staff, openly bawdy even without make-up. I assume they work with the Renseignements Généraux. they looked down on the constables, giving them orders with obvious sneering. Some offensive jokes flew around about what they thought were comical names. No ethics, no respect for the applicants.

20 minutes later, I was called in. The young female staff in front of me was dyed-hair blonde, garish-clad, with a soupçon of ill-educated tone when she addressed me. She had a look to my ID card, then, without looking at me, uttered: ‘something’s wrong with the card?’. I surprised myself into answering ironically, but I was even more surprised to note she did not response to my pique.

- ‘My family name was mis-typed. You people made a mistake and I had a hard time trying to correct it’

- ‘It can’t be helped. Oh wait… (She compares papers and card) there’s nothing wrong with your card.’

- ‘If I may. there’s a space here that should not be there. Someone was being incompetent at the central, or here when I applied last July. You people should check your paperwork more carefully’

At that point, I felt I my nudge was unbearable to her. She had to assert her authority back. She had to rebalance things up, to show who’s the boss. But I had the taste of open rebellion in my mouth, and I was not ready to give it up.

-’What do you mean, incompetence?’

-’I mean some of your colleagues were sloppy in transcribing my family name. My parents and others pay for your wages, you know. And you just had a pay rise, so please do make sure you do not screw up this time’

My line must have had an effect on her, because she retreated carefully into her redoubt of papers, while her co-workers looked me up in an estranged manner: ‘who’s that young lad ?’ I had crossed a line in confronting the staff with their own incompetence. But right now, they had so much work they did not pay much time to my calculated insolence.  Fingerprints went down fairly quickly. In ten days, I will have to go to the central station to claim my ID back, and resume my dignity as a would-be citizen of this country.

The Side Show of A Side Show

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair Baghough on October 8, 2010

Three main courses for current Moroccan news: Ould Salma, reportedly released from his Polisario jail, Nichane newspaper that went under and finally Fodail Aberkane, an individual killed in a Police station. Mainstream and Blogoma are all over it, so I thought I could add my voice to the herd too. No harm done.

First, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud. It is great to get all misty eyes and all fired up over his misfortunes, and in a way, it would be fair game because last year at the same time, Morocco was down the international gutter because of its behaviour towards pro-independence Sahrawi activist Aminatou Haidar. The tide has since then changed slightly to Morocco’s favour, but overall it does not further our claims, nor does it bring about a final settlement to the present unfortunate situation. I don’t know about my fellow bloggers, but when I watch Moroccan television, or read some of the MAP news agency about the “القضية الوطنية”, the National Issue n°1 as it were, I have the uncomfortable feeling the propaganda is targeted towards the domestic audience.

And what bombastic propaganda that was! Following our forensic experts like M. Nini, we are about to go to war with Algeria (or even Spain) and within a week our soldiers would be sipping tea at Tindouf. All of that while the truth is carefully toned down (there was little publicity about the negotiation rounds that took February 2010), Moroccan officials are in direct negotiations with the Polisario, and matters that occasionally arise are used by each side to put pressure on the other and get the maximum concession out of it.

There is nothing in it for the interest of the common Moroccan or the Sahrawi in Tindouf. As for Ould Salma, he gambled on international support, whether he lost or won is still a matter of debate. Bottom line is, let’s not get too excited and heated up for this.

Ould Salma, former Polisario top raking Police officer, jailed after expressing favourable views on Morocco's autonomy plan

This is merely international politics, a sideshow to cover up for politics that matters. Another sideshow is Nichane newspaper that (finally) shuts down (and up in the process). It is always sad to witness another newspaper shutting down in Morocco; This particular case however is not the result of direct oppression, and one can certainly assert that freedom of speech does not shrink further because of that.

A business has been closed down, but the journalists can still write articles. Nichane, just like its French-speaking sister newspaper TelQuel, and the late Le Journal are not what one can describe as all-out opposition newspapers.

Their founders (Ahmed Réda Benchemsi and Aboubakr Jamaï for Le Journal) are not firebrand dissidents. Both come from quite wealthy backgrounds (Ulad Jamaï are a wealthy family that long served at Imperial court and Benchemsi is related to a former Governor), and if their newspapers close down, they are not going to starve or go on the dole.

In fact, the terms of debate are wrongly defined: the central issue here is not the gagging of freedom of press, it is merely the closing down of a business.

Both Le Journal and Nichane were compelled to close down because of the direct cause of financial difficulties: the first had unpaid social securities contributions, and the second for the lack of advertisement support. Both closed down because they were short of money.

Ahmed Réda Benchemsi Aka “ARB” is known for his fired-up editorials against Islamists

One can cast doubts on whether both newspapers were ill-managed but the fact remains that both newspapers were first and foremost businesses that were profitable at a time, but eventually reached an unbearable level of losses and had to withdraw. As journalists, their founders could always open up a collective blog, or set up another newspaper, their freedom of speech is not endangered.

Their freedom was endangered when they published dissident articles, but not this time with Nichane, nor with Le Journal in February 2010.One can reasonably argue that this seems to be the new strategy censors are pursuing to gag dissidents, and they deserve solidarity but only up to a point.

Journalists in Morocco put themselves in a bit of a spot: right from the start -say the early 90′s- independent journalists hammered a dangerous message on their readers; politicians are all alike, corrupt, opportunists and weak. The message was so well conveyed -and confirmed by unfortunate examples- that in a way, journalists became politicians themselves. No one can deny that Rachid Nini, Ahmed Reda Benchemsi or Jamaï senior and many others do not have their own respective agenda, whether as a reactionary, an anti-islamist or a constitutional reformer

Rachid Nini: Die Nachtrichten Führer

. Independent journalists are the new politicians in Morocco. They do however, fit admirably the cruel yet strikingly in Baldwin’s apophthegm: “Power without responsibility, the prerogative of Harlots through out the ages”.

Power because they do have considerable amount of influence (Nini as a Populist, ARB and Jamai as intellengtsia favourite writers ) but they are answerable to nobody. The other behemoth player is the Makhzen, who occasionally play them off each others, or crush them whenever it is necessary to remind them, and the public that they set up the rules and there are things not to be trifled with.

It is all good to worry about freedom of speech, but one has to keep in mind the wider picture speaks better. It is, quite simply, a storm in a weak tea-cup. Now, do we need to worry about Nichane or independent newspapers in Morocco? Frankly, who cares? the days of militant and impoverished -yet high-standards- journalism in Morocco are over (Mohamed Belhassan El ouazzani was not expecting journalism in Morocco to stoop so low in the business race); we are talking business, and in such matters, there are no good guys and bad guys, only big bucks.

I was amazed to the strength of international media coverage (old farts stick together, don’t they?) as though corporatist solidarity allows journalists to pose as victims (and they certainly are, to an extent) but not in a manner such as the ordinary citizens of  Ben Smim for instance.

37 years old Fodail Aberkane. An anonymous victim of Police brutality

The last piece was left so on purpose, because it is much more important; The first one does not affect us directly as citizens, but merely concerns an unnecessary nationalistic pride we can do without.

The second one is just a matter of money and would-be journalists. The last is about how random and hazardous it is to walk in a police station and walk out of it unharmed and more importantly, alive. I needn’t bore you with details because others have spoken quite eloquently about it. It is as though a brutal reminder was sent to all would-be dissidents that the old institutions are still there, and that at any time, one can meet his maker (and Orangina bottle down their bottom in the process) in a nasty dark little room, downstairs one’s very local police station. Suffice it to remember than, in a Morocco so full of new things and so resolute in its democratic process and open-mindedness, the murder of Fodail Aberkane remains a blot that has never been addressed.

One would certainly say: well, it just happened once, and if it was not for a life, it is no big deal. A reasoning ab absurdo would prove it to be otherwise: assuming what happened in Salé police station was merely a security cock-up, why didn’t the interior ministry suspend the policemen and launch an inquiry on the matter? Don’t they realise that what happened is a disgrace to the uniform of Moroccan police; (the satirical Young Retarded Moroccan Society published a very moving piece about it)

On that melodramatic tone, I wish you all a good week end.