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

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.