The Moorish Wanderer

The Rachid Nini Affair

Posted in Flash News, Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Moroccanology, Morocco, Read & Heard by Zouhair ABH on May 9, 2011

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, leaner and more alert during the beginning of his career

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.

Le Journal, another firebrand 'agitator', but appealing to another kind of 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.

The Side Show of A Side Show

Posted in Moroccan ‘Current’ News, Morocco, Read & Heard, The Wanderer, Tiny bit of Politics by Zouhair ABH 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.