A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Sidi Bouzid's Uprising in Tunisia.

As the year winds down, one must wonder again about the state of the Arab street. Past years witnessed quiescence and relative calm. 2010 may stand as an exception as Tunisia is arguably enduring one of its most spontaneous revolt against the despotic regime of Ben 'Ali. For the past few weeks, the oft marginalized town of Sidi Bouzid has been under the brunt of the police assault of the Tunisian authorities. The protests were triggered by the attempted suicide by immolation on December 17 by unemployed 26-year old man Mohamed Bouazizi. The riots that followed are wholesale rejection of the socio-economic plight of millions of Tunisians lingering in poverty, unemployment and bleak future. The demonstrations are also a rejection of the corrupt and clientelistic regime of Ben 'Ali.

Ben 'Ali condemned the rioters and vowed to create more jobs for the thousands of unemployed youths. Ben 'Ali also pledged that "the law will be applied in all firmness" to punish "a minority of extremists and mercenaries who resort to violence and disorder." Mr. Ben 'Ali, what about your own mercenaries and thugs that have assaulted civilians? Ben 'Ali seemingly does not recognize that this is not a minority of Tunisians, but the majority of his own citizens that are reaching the zenith of their frustration with his police state and dictatorial rule. The riots in Sidi Bouzid soon escalated to other towns outside the capital Tunis, including Kairouan and Ben Guerdane.

This blogger is firmly in support of the brave Tunisians that are rioting against arguably one of the most brutal regimes in the Arab world. Stay steadfast in your fight and protests. As the year 2010 comes to a close, Ben 'Ali should carefully ponder his list of new year resolutions. Top priority on that list must be to loosen up the grip of his mukhabarat state on Tunisia. His tyrannical rule can only be sustained for so long without a mass volcanic-like social eruption.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks and the Western Sahara

As in various regions of the world, the Maghreb has not been immune to Wikileaks. The leaked cables provide some empirical insight into the politics of the region and the interplay of power between different states of the Maghreb. Over the next few blog posts, I will attempt to condense some of these leaks as they pertain to the Maghreb region. Today, I came across an interesting exchange during a February 2008 meeting between Tunisian President Zine al-'Abidine ben 'Ali and US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch about regional and bilateral relations in the Maghreb.

According to the leaked cable from March 2008, Ben 'Ali blamed Algeria for obstructing the resolution of the conflict in the Western Sahara. The Tunisian president also claimed that Algeria has to come to the full realization that there will never be an independent Sahrawi state in the Western Sahara. The conflict, according to Ben 'Ali, is complex and will not be resolved through the UN Security Council. Moreover, the cable also states that Ben 'Ali tried to summon a Maghrebi summit on the Western Sahara, which both Libya and Morocco agreed to, but was met with Algeria's rejection.

The following is the full quote from the leaked cable:
On the Western Sahara, Ben Ali said the Algerians are responsible for the ongoing impasse. Welch agreed, saying the issue was blocking progress in the region. He said the Algerians need to accept that there is not going to be an independent state in the Western Sahara. Ben Ali said the problem is complex, and will take years to resolve. He added it cannot be settled through the UN Security Council. He noted Tunisia had tried to convene a Maghreb meeting on it in Tunis. While Morocco and Libya had agreed to attend, Algeria refused, saying there was nothing to discuss.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Arab Democracy?

A recent article in the Economist on the state of the political progress in the Arab world singles out a few Maghrebi states with much consternation. Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya continue on their path of "cyclical" political reforms, introducing sheepish reforms as a safety valve to deflect mounting social unrest. As the Article states, many explanations are advanced for the democratic deficit in the region. But whether they are religious, structural or cultural, millions of Arabs still live under the yoke of autocratic regimes devoid of free, fair, competitive elections (recent farcical Egyptian elections are a case in point), rule of law, and basic individual and group liberties.

The question that concerns this blogger is how long can the current dictatorial regimes maintain this facade of political reforms? Many have long written obituaries of Arab regimes, republican and monarchical. However, Arab leaders have proven resilient and adept at crafting ingenuous political ways to sustain their rule. Arab Sheikhdoms still gamble on oil rent in exchange of political contestation, while republican regimes have carefully restructured the political sphere in their countries. Libya just recently celebrated the 41st year anniversary of the "Brother Leader's" revolutionary coup. The Economist recently featured an article on the looming succession struggle between Qaddafi's sons Seif al-Islam and al-Mu'tassim Billah.

The panoply of manipulation ranges from electoral engineering, management of the opposition to mere old style coercion. All Arab regimes feature a variation of these strategies. Elections are mere instances to renew the regime's solid control of the political system. Opposition is often barred from contesting electoral races, often prosecuted and jailed on trumped-up charges. More alarming is the shrinking space for political dissent and freedom of the press and expression. In the past few months, several newspapers, journalists and blogs bore the brunt of the state's might and censorship.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Massive Popular March in Casablanca

Some 3 million people took to the streets of Casablanca in support of the Moroccan claims to the Western Sahara. The peaceful marches come at the heel of weeks of media warfare after the events at Gdeim Izzeik. The popular demonstrations garnered wide support from all the major parties and figures in Morocco against the unfair portrayal of Morocco in the aftermath of the riots in Gdeim Izzeik. The marchers spoke particularly to the perceived Spanish media biased coverage of the upheavals in Gdeim Izzeik. The protesters also brandished signs calling on Spain to rein in the anti-Moroccan rhetoric advanced by some of its parties such as the Popular Party. Recently the Popular Party has been vociferous in its criticism of Moroccan handling of the criminal activities at Gdeim Izzeik. Similarly, the Spanish media showed a biased coverage of the events and has contributed to the unfavorable view of Morocco.

The Government in Morocco is partially to blame for this state of affairs for their chronic reactionary posture towards the events. They should have been on the offensive and exposed the true nature of the protests in Gdeim Izzeik, which were largely led by disaffected camp dwellers calling for greater socio-economic equality, and not in protest of Moroccan control of the Western Sahara as purported by most of the western media.

The Western Sahara conflict continues to draw much controversy as a national and regional issue. For Morocco, any future solution has to be done with the parameters of the Moroccan plan of autonomy under Morocco's sovereignty. The plan already has the support of both the US and France. For POLISARIO and its benefactor Algeria, the conflict can only be solved through a complete secession of the territory away from Morocco. Faced with such irreconcilable stances, the UN's Christopher Ross is trying what is perceived a last ditch attempt to revive the negotiations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Riots in La'ayoune

Morocco and the Polisario are meeting in Manhasset, NY for another round of negotiations aimed a resurrecting the 35-year stalemate in the Western Sahara. In its latest issue, the Economist features a piece on the trajectory of the often-maligned process of negotiations. The article accurately points out to the regional stakes involved in the conflict and the dilatory practices that have delayed an ever lasting resolution of the stalemate.

My thoughts are that the plan on the table: autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty is the best the kingdom can offer given the overwhelming internal support for the "Moroccanity" of the territories. The recent rounds of talks come in the midst of renewed tensions and demonstrations around the Sahraoui city of Laayoune.

Riots took place in the Gadim Izik camp have resulted in 5 fatalities among the forces of order, and scores of injuries amongst the rioters. According to local news, the new cycle of tensions is primarily caused by the attempt of the Moroccan police and auxiliary forces to break the siege laid by a group of protesters calling for equal economic rights and housing in the Gadim Izik. Moroccan media blames the Polisario and Algeria in fomenting the riots.

It is clear that these latest riots and the ensuing allegations will only further complicate the tasks of negotiators at Manhasset. The question is after 35 years of conflict, is there still any real will to move the issue past the status quo of obstructionism?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Morocco and Tunisia in the Economist

Two recent articles in the Economist bring the Maghreb center stage. The articles tackle the much talked about issues of Christian missionaries' expulsion from Morocco, and the ever increasing tightening of political and civil liberties in Tunisia.

Over the past few months, Morocco has engaged in a systematic cmapaign against Christian missionaries, which have settled in the country over the last decade or so. The Economist article mentions the case of "Village of Hope," which has supported several poor and abandoned children in the region south of Fes. The missionaries and aid workers that ran the home deny any proselytising, but the Moroccan government maintains the expulsion was due to their mission work that "took advantage of the poverty of some families and targeted their young children."

It is difficult to asses any clear lines between relgious conversion and aid work, and one can certainly support religious groups' right to advance any reglious belief. However, foreign relgious groups have to respect local beliefs, customs and traditions. In an already tense international enviornment rife with religious debates and conflict, any attempt to export religiosity will trigger tremendous reaction from both society and state.

The case of Tunisia is more troubling. The country has been under the radar for the past years and even hailed as a model for stability and economic progress. But exactly at what cost is Zine al-'Abdine Ben Ali maintaining this facade? And why is the EU continuing negotiations with Tunisia on its application for "advanced-partner status"?

In recent months and after his October victory in the presidential elections, Ben Ali has moved to suppress any glimmer of dissent in Tunisia. Journalists, activists, bloggers and dissidents alike have been jailed and harassed by the security forces. The Economist mentions the case of journalist Fahem Boukadous, who was sentenced to four years in jail for his coverage of workers protests in the mining town of Gafsa in 2008.Despite his ailing health, Boukadous remains in Tunisian jail, while the EU has been eerily quiet about Tunisia's continuing descent into autocratic dictatorship.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Maghreb Center Journal

The first issue of the Maghreb Center Journal is available online and it is entirely focused on Algeria as a major regional actor in the Maghreb. I recommend the article by Yahya Zoubir on Algeria's relations with the U.S. and Jacob Mundy's Algeria and the Western Sahara Dispute. I will offer my own comments in future post.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Naciri Scandal in Morocco.

Just when I think Morocco is moving sheepishly towards some semblance of legality and rule of law, the current minister of communications, Khaled Naciri and his son's thuggery shake my belief. Friday night, the son of said minister was involved in an altercation with another motorist in front of the parliament building in Rabat. The argument escalated into Naciri jr.'s assault and stabbing of the other motorist, a local doctor residing in Rabat.

The police was vigilant this time and quickly moved to arrest the son of the minister. However, the latter was quick to call his father, who showed up personally at the scene to extract his son and take him home. According to eye witnesses, the minister was quick to threaten the recalcitrant policeman holding his son in custody, stating: "are you going to let the boy go, or should I do my work?" Consequently, the policeman releases Naciri jr. amidst vociferous condemnation by the few present bystanders (on youtube).

This is the latest in a long series of similar events that showcases how Morocco's officials treat the corpus of the laws in the kingdom. Instead of being a role model for all Moroccans by respecting law enforcement, Mr. Naciri's message is loud and clear: there are two sets of laws in the country, one for those that wield any form of state authority, who abuses their power with impunity. Another set of laws is duly implemented when downtrodden Moroccans are concerned.

Any country's move towards a modicum for good governance has to empower the supremacy of the laws. In fact, the rule of law is key to improving the quality of governance of any political system. In democratic states, such abhorrent and blatant disregard for the rule of law would result in investigation of the minister's actions and eventual resignation. We should not settle for less in Morocco. Mr. Naciri (and his son) should be held accountable for their actions that Friday night.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Draconian Censorship Campaign in Tunisia

Tunisia is targeting freedom of expression yet again. The authorities have carried out one of the most extensive campaigns of censorship in the world. So far, 59 sites and 64 blogs have been blocked. The list includes the online photo-sharing site flickr, blip.tv and metacafe.com. Social networking and media sharing website, Wat.tv fell also prey to these draconian censorship measures. I should note that these sites join their counterparts Dailymotion and YouTube, which have been banned since 2007. I wonder what the state in Tunisia is trying to hide that we don't already know about the excesses in corruption, abuse of power, lack of individual and group freedoms and rampant authoritarianism?

A group of bloggers and activists have addressed an open letter to the president of Tunisia, Zine al-'Abidine Ben 'Ali calling for a reversal of what they call "arbitrary" measures and decision to block content on the Internet. The text of the letter is quoted below in both French and Arabic:

Monsieur le Président de la République,

Par la présente, nous avons l'honneur d'attirer votre attention sur un sujet qui préoccupe un grand nombre de tunisiens.

Depuis son indépendance l'État tunisien a toujours été porteur de progrès par ses politiques en faveur de l'éducation et la formation, par l'incitation ou encore par l'exemplarité. Le domaine de l'Internet n'a pas dérogé à la règle et depuis 1996, l'État tunisien, sous votre Présidence, a développé une politique volontariste de diffusion de l'outil Internet. La création d'une administration de d'Internet et la mise en place de mesures nécessaires ont porté leurs fruits.

En effet, les internautes tunisiens ont été des pionniers dans l'utilisation de cet outil dans différents domaines. Aujourd'hui, ils sont des centaines de milliers à en faire un usage quotidien. Or, les tunisiens sont confrontés de plus en plus à des mesures restrictives, manifestement illégales, de la part des administrations responsables du réseau national. Ces mesures privent les tunisiens d'un espace indispensable à leur épanouissement social, culturel, professionnel, paralysant ainsi l'évolution de notre pays.

Alors que l'année 2010 a été, à votre initiative, déclarée année internationale de la jeunesse, par l'Assemblée Générale des Nations Unies, une partie de la jeunesse tunisienne est aujourd'hui frustrée de ne pas pouvoir accéder à leurs sites Internet favoris. Certains internautes tunisiens qui ont fait le choix de participer au débat public, ont vu leurs espaces personnels d'expression censurés en Tunisie.

Après la multiplication inquiétante de ces décisions arbitraires, et au-delà du tort considérable qu'elle inflige à l'image de notre pays et à sa marche vers le progrès, nous souhaiterions que vous réagissiez face à cette situation; de sorte à ce qu'il n'y ait plus de sites bloqués d'une manière illégale ne reposant sur aucune décision de justice et en totale contradiction avec l'article 8 de la Constitution de notre pays et l'article 19 de la Déclaration Universelle des Droits de l'Homme.

Monsieur le Président de la République, vous avez déjà par le passé décidé la réouverture du site communautaire Facebook après son blocage. Nous vous appelons aujourd'hui à intervenir pour rendre accessible à nouveau les sites illégalement censurés.

Nous vous appelons également à exiger des responsables de l'administration d'Internet de cesser ces pratiques illégales qui paraissent aux yeux des tunisiens, aussi aléatoires qu'incompréhensibles.

Nous vous prions d'agréer, Monsieur le Président de la République, l'assurance de notre parfaite considération.

رسالة مفتوحة إلى سيادة رئيس الجمهورية

سيادة رئيس الجمهورية

يشرفنا، فخامة الرئيس، أن نلفت نظركم من خلال هذه الرسالة إلى مسألة تخص عددا كبيرا من التونسيين

منذ الإستقلال، اختارت الدولة التونسية التطوير من خلال سياسات تعطي الأفضلية لمجالي التربية و التكوين و ذلك عبر التشجيع أو بأن تكون مثالا على ذلك. و لم يشذ مجال الإنترنت عن هذه القاعدة منذ سنة 1996، فقامت الحكومة التونسية ـ تحت قيادتكم ـ بتشجيع إستعمال الأنترنت في كل المجالات و قد أعطت هذه السياسة أكلها عن طريق تأسيس الوكالة التونسية للأنترنت.

و لقد أصبح مستعملو الانترنت التونسيون سباقين في استعمال هذه الأداة في مجالات عديدة و مختلفة. و يبحر منهم على الأنترنت مئات الآلاف يوميا، لكنهم، و للأسف، يواجهون قرارات ـ غير قانونية على ما يبدو ـ تحد من حريتهم و ذلك من قبل الجهات المسؤولة عن تنظيم هذا المجال على المستوى الوطني. و تؤدي هذه القرارات إلى حرمان التونسيين من فضاء يمكن من الإنفتاح الإجتماعي و الثقافي و المهني متسببة بالتالي في إعاقة عجلة التطور في بلادنا

و في الوقت الذي أعلنت فيه "الأمم المتحدة" سنة 2010 سنة عالمية للشباب على إثر إقتراح سيادتكم، يشعر جزء من الشباب التونسي بالاحباط بسبب حرمانه من الدخول الى مواقعه الالكترونية المفضلة. و البعض ممن أراد المشاركة في نقاش الشأن العام، تعرضت مواقعهم الشخصية إلي الحجب.

بعد التزايد المقلق للقرارات العشوائية في حجب المواقع الالكترونية، بالاضافة الى أنها تشوه صورة بلادنا في العالم و تعرقل مسيرتها للتقدم، نتمنى أن تتدخلوا لاتخاذ الإجراءات اللازمة بحيث لا يحجب أي موقع بصفة غير قانوية دون إستناد إلى قرار قضائي و هو ما يتعارض مع الفصل الثامن من دستورنا و الفصل التاسع عشر من الإعلان العالمي لحقوق الإنسان.

سيادة الرئيس، لقد تدخلتم من قبل لإعادة فتح الموقع الإجتماعي "فايسبوك" بعد حجبه، و نرجو من سيادتكم مجددا التدخل ثانية لرفع الحجب غير القانوني عن العديد من المواقع

نرجو أيضا من سيادتكم، أن تطالبوا المسؤولين عن إدارة الأنترنات بالكف عن هذه القرارات اللتي تبقى في جل الأحيان غير مفهومة و إعتباطية لدى نسبة كبيرة من التونسيين

وتقبلوا فخامة الرئيس احترامنا وتقديرنا مع خالص التحية

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Haidar's Latest Comments.

Aminatou Haidar is at it again. The Sahraoui activist is critical of Morocco for allegedly annihilating the Sahraoui people, using napalm and phosphorus mortar bombs on Sahraouis. Haidar, currently in Spain, in a conference to support the Sahraoui people has called on the international community, in particular the United Nations to establish some mechanism to monitor human rights violations in the Sahara. Aminatou Haidar made headlines late last year for her staged hunger strike in Spain, after she was expelled from Morocco for rejecting to recognize her Moroccan citizenship on the landing card. Haidar has since been allowed back in Morocco. Her latest comments come at a time of impasse between the parties involved in the Western Sahara talks.

I have said enough on the conflict in previous posts. I would just like to add here that it is odd that Haidar continues to advance a Polisario/Algerian line, while still technically living in Morocco. This is definitely a story to follow to see whether she would face any repercussions for her inflammatory statements. The new policy of the state has been to tolerate no dissent or questioning of the territorial integrity of Morocco. In last year's Green March speech, Mohammed VI forcefully declared that the time of ambivalence has gone, and that Moroccans are either for or against territorial unity of the country.

I certainly hope that Aminatou Haidar does not suffer for her comments, for the same reasons that I think every Moroccan should enjoy their full freedom of expression. By the same token, her comments are vitriolic and one sided. One should also call for an investigation of human rights violations perpetrated by the Polisario in the Tindouf camps, where freedom of movement and travel are severely restricted. Human rights organizations have documented the dire conditions where the refugees live. Human Rights Watch, for instance, in its 2008 report, attributed the plight of the Sahraouis in the camps to the Polisario and its benefactor Algeria, and not just to Morocco.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Back After A Long Absence!

I am back after a long absence due to work and international travel. Not much has changed in the stagnant MENA region in the month or so that I have been away from my blog. I read many sad stories of continued statist abuse in the Maghreb, and one particularly disheartening news story about the Tunisian youth Abdessalam Tremeche, who set himself on fire to protest the Monastir's city council's refusal to grant him a permit for a street shop. It is disgusting when the state takes all vestiges of hope away from its youth, and compel its own citizens to embrace death in reaction to a bleak socio-economic future.

Moroccan-Algerian relations continue to be contentious on the heels of Morocco's latest accusation of Algeria's "destruction of Arab Maghreb Union." A Recent visit by UN special Envoy Christopher Ross showcased the degree of difficulty in finding common ground for negotiations away from mutual finger pointing. Morocco still rejects the referendum, while Algeria/POLISARIO maintain the Sahrawi's claim to independence through a UN-sponsored referendum. Thus, what Ross has on his hands is an impasse that would require a committed and focused effort on the part of the international community to break through.

More meaningful blogging to follow!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blogging in Morocco...And Bureaucratization of Religion

Just back from Morocco, where I had the pleasure to meet various young and upcoming bloggers from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Conversations were inspiring and informative. Exploring the blogosphere in the Maghreb, Morocco and Algeria seem to be relatively freer than Tunisia subject to a stifling environment. Whereas in Morocco, one knows the red lines and taboo subjects outside the limits of freedom of expression, Tunisia's guidelines are arbitrary. Recently, fellow blogger Lina Ben Mhenni's blog (Tunisian Girl بنية تونسية) and facebook page were censored by "Ammar," name 'affectionately' given by Tunisian bloggers and activists to state Internet censorship in Tunisia. The authorities' actions are an attempt to silence Lina's writing on the plight of political prisoners and the dwindling space for freedom of expression in Tunisia.

While in Morocco, I attended the Friday prayer, where I thought the Imam was a public announcer speaking for the virtues of driving safety. I kept waiting for Islamic predication, instead what I heard were the enumerable casualties of Morocco's roads. I, by any means, minimize the issue, but the whole purpose of the Friday sermon in my opinion is not to serve as a mouth piece for any state ministry. This episode is indicative of the larger process of the bureaucratization of religion, which is common place in the Muslim world. Some (see Noah Feldman's "the Fall and Rise of the Islamic State) have traced this process back to the Ottoman's codification of Shari'a law, and the effective relegation of the 'Ulama to mere state functionaries, serving as pawns in the apparatus of the regime. Feldman, for instance, argues that it is this subjugation of the religious class to the state, which is at the center of the decline of the Islamic state. The 'Ulama served as an independent check and a legitimizing force of state authority, forcing a sort of horizontal accountability over the state.

Back to Morocco, religion has been integral to regime hegemony. The monarch is considered the protector of the faith, a fact codified in the Moroccan constitution and monitored by the state through the ministry of religious affairs, which supervises the mosques, religious institutions, and appoint imams. The monarchical interpretation of Islam dominates Morocco’s political discourse and religious legitimacy is the basis of the power of the monarch. This claim is buttressed by the monarch’s claim of ancestral descent from the prophet’s family, which makes him “God’s shadow on earth.” This quasi-holy stature is consecrated in the bay’a (allegiance), which Moroccan monarchs command from their subjects every year and is done following an old Islamic tradition of political succession. The centrality of the monarchy in the religious realm has led to the monarch's dominance of religious discourse, proving crucial in the monarch's confrontation with Islamists.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Le Journal Hebdomadaire n'est plus!

Another one bites the dust in Morocco's increasingly restricted press landscape. Moroccan weekly in French Le Journal was dealt a final blow Wednesday, when the court ordered its closure due to charges of unpaid taxes in the amount of $1 million. The editor of Le Journal, Abu Baker Jama'i reportedly wrote the following to fellow blogger the Arabist:
Le Journal Hebdo has been shut down. Yesterday, 5, yes, 5, bailiffs showed up armed with a court decision to take over Le Journal Hebdomadaire and the company behind it, Trimedia. The only link is the title: "Le Journal Hebdomadaire" but the title is owned by the publisher himself not the company. Although we are waiting to get a clearer legal picture, we can already officially announce the death of Le Journal Hebdomadiare.
The closure marks an end to the magazine's tumultuous 12 years of conflict with the authoritarian apparatus of the state in Morocco. Le Journal's assets were seized in 2002 after the court ruled in favor of former Minister of Foreign Affairs and ex-Ambassador to the U.S., on whom the magazine published an article contending his purchase of a house in Washington DC. The ruling is the final death nail in the coffin of the much maligned and bold magazine.

Since its first issue appeared in November 1997, Le Journal and its editor Abu Baker Jama'i left no sensitive political or social issue unperturbed. From its highly controversial reportage on the Western Sahara conflict to the sluggish pace of political reforms, the weekly magazine quickly established itself as a watchdog calling for greater government accountability, and more meaningful political and democratic changes. Le Journal engaged in several bouts with the state in its attempt to exercise freedom of expression and the press. and it was banned several times notably after its publication of a letter by former Union Nationale des Forces Populaires (UNFP) leader alleging the complicity of the Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires (USFP) (then party in power of PM Youssoufi) in the failed putsch against late King Hassan II in 1972.

The closure of Le Journal is yet another indication of the dwindling threshold for journalistic expression and dissent in Morocco. In addition to excessive fines and seizure of assets, the strategy of the state to stifle freedom of the press was perfected through a repressive press code and an advertising boycott against the magazine that drove Le Journal and Jama'i to bankruptcy. As political and economic reforms continue to be anemic, the state appears to be less tolerant vis-a-vis any form of dissent, and perhaps the state has also finally settled its account with the 12-year thorn of Le Journal in its side.

Friday, January 29, 2010

New Page on Facebook against Fassi Fihri's abuse of Power!

UPDATE: Still on the Facebook page ban. Moroccans are so resourceful. After the state has blocked access to the old Facebook page denouncing Fassi Fihri's nepotistic excesses, a new page on the same topic has been created.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Anti-Nepotism Facebook Page closed in Morocco

Last week, I posted a comment about the new facebook page (this is the updated link to the new facebook page--the old one was deactivated) denouncing the abuse of power and nepotism perpetrated by Fassi Fihri family in Morocco. It turns out that Facebook has closed that page for Moroccan users based in Morocco. This is a regrettable act and I continue to marvel at the complicity of these global corporations' propensity to aid and abet authoritarian forms of governments around the world. The facebook page named "together against the exploitation of political power by Fassi Fihri Family" (now accessible here) has planned a valentine's day protest in front of the Moroccan parliament.

Facebook and the state in Morocco seemingly complicit in this blatant abuse of freedom of expression should know that this only adds to the popularity of the page. What is the harm in naming some of those that threaten to derail Morocco's path towards true political and social reforms? towards greater transparency and accountability? Fassi Fihri clan has been under increasing scrutiny from the Moroccan media, but they seem oblivious that their family's assault on the public service is not subject to resistance because of Moroccans' "envy and jealousy" as Minster of Health, Yasmina Badou (wife of Ali Fassi Fihri, Nephew of the PM) advanced on Moroccan TV 2M.

Badou invoked colonial times and the French use of the Berber Dahir (Decree) to divide Moroccan society along ethnic lines in the 1930s, in a failed analogy to victimize the Fassi Fihris as a target of discrimination. This supposed discrimination and jealousy, in the words of Badou "set the country backwards." No Madam Minister, it is nepotism and abuse of power that are driving the country every day down the path of political corruption. Moroccans are not racists, nor are they discriminating against your family. Rather, the facebook page and the media's concern are mere attempts to expose abuses by those that put personal and family interests above those of the public good.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Facebook Group against PM Nepotism in Morocco

A new facebook page entitled "Together against the abuse of political power by the al-Fassi Fihri Clan" has called for a Valentine's day protest in front of the Moroccan parliament against prime minister 'Abbas Fassi Fihri's nepotistic excesses.

'Abbass Fassi Fihri has steadily populated public service positions with his own kin. The list of high level officials from the Fassi Fihri clan is egregiously expanding, to the point where the opposition in the upper chamber in the Moroccan parliament is calling for an investigation into recent government hires made by the PM. Nepotism and clientelism have always been part of the socio-political fabric of Morocco. similarly the stronghold that Fassi (from the city of Fes) families have had over the apparatus of the state is historically undeniable. However, the current PM has taken it to a whole new level appointing his family members and friends at random to positions they are seemingly unqualified to hold.

Let us consider some of the high level political officials and public servants affiliated and benefitting from their ties with clan Fassi Fihri:

*Abdelmajid Fassi al-Fihri, son of the PM, allegedly slated to take over the presidency of the Moroccan news channel al-Ikhbaria.
*Nizar Baraka, son-in-law of the PM, Minister of Economic and General Affairs
*Mounir Chraibi, nephew of the PM, former governor of Marrakech and ex-head of the CNSS.
*Ali Fassi al-Fihri, nephew of the PM (from his step-brother Mohammed Fassi Fihri), Director of the ONEP and head of the Royal Football Federation.
*Yassima Badou, wife of Ali Fassi Fihri, current Minister of Health
*Taieb Fassi Fihri, Brother of Ali Fassi Fihri, current Minister of Foreign Affairs

It seems the PM is using state institutions to construct a fiefdom for his family and friends, while thousands of qualified educated Moroccans are loitering in squalor and unemployment. Nepotism and political corruption have long offset Morocco's potential for socio-economic and political development, its ability to provide for its citizens, and to guarantee a life of dignity and hope. it behooves Morocco's political elite to hold itself to higher standards of transparency and accountability, in order to build a meritorious and impartial public service. The opposition's demand for an investigation of Fassi Fihri's abuses will fall on deaf ears, but the facebook group and other outlets can at least serve to name and shame the practice.

Ministerial Changes in Tunisia

It seems that ministerial re-shuffles are in vogue in the Maghreb these days. After Morocco's partial cabinet changes, Tunisia's Zine al 'Abidine ben 'Ali reshuffled his deck of ministers as he appointed new ministers at the helm of finance, defense and foreign affairs. Ben 'Ali made a total of 11 changes in an attempt to display what som analysts see as a renewed commitment to economic reforms. This is the first major institutional step the five-term president has taken since his October 2009 landslide electoral victory in the presidential elections, winning over 89% of the votes.

I should note that both Interior Minister Rafik Bel Haj Kacem and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi will continue in their current functions, in an indication that the ministerial shuffle is largely a cosmetic shift, and does not really aim at introducing vast effective policy changes or core institutional reforms. How about a shuffling of the constitution, limiting the scope of presidential powers and granting both individual and group rights?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Cabinet Shuffle and Regionalization Plans in Morocco

King Mohammed VI made a partial ministerial change Monday. The cabinet changes inculde two ministries of sovereignty: the powerful Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. Mohammed VI appointed president of Morocco's Supreme Court Tayeb Cherkaoui to replace former Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa, while Mohamed Naciri replaced Abdelouahed Radi at the helm of the Ministry of Justice. The soverign also appinted two new minsters: Yasser az-Zanaki and Mohammed Sa'ad al'Alami to head the ministeries of Tourism and Handicrafts, and Relations with Parliament and Modernization of Public Sectors respectively.

The appointment of Tayeb Cherqaoui is particularly intriguing given his juridical and legal background. Hopefully, this is an indication from the king that the Ministry of the Interior will no longer rely on questionable extra-legal means in its day to day affairs. The appointment of Tayeb Cherqaoui, former president of the Supreme Court, could be a new and unprecedented page in the annals of the Ministry, as there is a high expectation that the new minister will steer the ministry towards respecting principles of the rule of law.

This cabinet shuffle comes in the aftermath of , and is linked to, the key royal speech on the regionalization plan in Morocco, which the monarch delivered Sunday. In the speech, the monarch announced the founding of a new Advisory Commission on Regionalization, headed by Morocco's ambassador to Spain and ex-minister of Justice and former president of the Advisory Council for Human Rights (CCDH), Omar 'Azziman. The commission is also composed of 21 members, including three women from different academic and professional backgrounds. The commission is entrusted with the task of developing "a general plan for a sophisticated, national regionalization model, covering all of the Kingdom's regions, to be submitted to me at the end of June 2010," King Mohammed VI said in the speech.

Regionalization policy has been long championed by late Hassan II, but no significant inroads have been made in the decade since his death. The creation of the advisory commission and their mandate to develop and present a concrete plan to the king is certainly a major push towards finally implementing a comprehensive process for regional governance.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Human Rights Violations in Tunisia

Human Rights Watch recently criticized the October arrests and recent convictions of two journalists in Tunisia. Pursuant to what many have condemned as unfair trials, Tunisian authorities convicted journalists Taoufik Ben Brik of assaulting a female motorist and sentenced to six months in jail. Ben Brik, who launched a hunger strike early in December, has maintained his innocence and accused the police of a set-up to silence his criticism of the government. Zohair Makhlouf (see picture) was sentenced to three months in jail and a $4600 fine for what the authorities charged as "harming a third party by way of a public telecommunications network." Makhlouf is accused of publishing photos without third party consent. Makhlouf is the editor of el-Mawkif, an opposition daily for the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), and has in the past exposed the Tunisian state's violation of human rights.

Trials for both Ben Brik and Makhlouf were derided as mock trials, in which the two never had adequate access to legal counsel and were summarily sentenced in short trials. Ben Brik's trial, for instance, only lasted three hours. Human Rights watch lists several other cases of journalists and human rights activists who were denied their defendant rights, and have been subjects to a systematic "vengeful campaign [by president Ben 'Ali] to punish the few journalists and human rights activists who dared to question his record during the election," according to Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director of Human Rights Watch.