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

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.