The New Paris Podcast: The Stories that Shaped France in 2020


 

This is the final episode of this train wreck year. But to recap in a way that goes beyond the specifically wrenching horror of Covid, I’m joined by my friends and regular guests Lauren Collins and Aida Alami. We’re going to chat about some of the OTHER big stories that shaped France in 2020.

MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE:
Lauren Collins: twitter.com/laurenzcollins
Aida Alami: twitter.com/AidaAlami
Benjamin Griveaux scandal: www.nytimes.com/2020/02/14/world/…veaux-macron.html
Agnès Buzyn drama: www.rfi.fr/en/france/20200605-…r-paris-coronavirus
Gabriel Matzneff investigation: www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/world/…hilia-france.html
Christophe Girard scandal: www.nytimes.com/2020/08/16/world/…paris-france.html
Lies about masks: www.france24.com/en/20200405-coro…es-new-questions
BLM and antiracism protests: www.france24.com/en/20200613-prot…police-brutality
Lauren's Assa Traoré profile: www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from…-lives-in-france
Knife attack: www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/…91_story.html
Sonic boom over Paris: www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54357839
Death of teacher Samuel Paty: www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020…zing-muslims/
France vs the world on laicité/Islamaphobia
Gerarld Darmanin and his anti-"ethnic aisle" stance: www.politico.eu/article/gerald-da…sparks-criticism/
France and separatism/loi sécurité globale: www.politico.eu/article/france-la…aratism-security/
Macron vs the English-language media: www.theguardian.com/world/2020/nov/…-new-york-times
Ben Smith piece on Macron: www.nytimes.com/2020/11/15/busine…erican-islam.html
Vaccine delays in France: www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/maladie/c…ns_4238653.html
Emily in Paris (ugh): www.france24.com/en/20201015-emil…en-rose-lives-on

Podcast: Conversation (in English) with Abdellah Taia

 

Zahira is 40 years old, Moroccan, a prostitute, traumatized by her father's suicide decades prior, and in love with a man who no longer loves her. Zannouba, Zahira's friend and protege, formerly known as Aziz, prepares for gender confirmation surgery and reflects on the reoccuring trauma of loss, including the loss of her pre-transition male persona. Mojtaba is a gay Iranian revolutionary who, having fled to Paris, seeks refuge with Zahira for the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, Allal, Zahira's first love back in Morocco, travels to Paris to find Zahira.

Through swirling, perpendicular narratives, A Country for Dying follows the inner lives of emigrants as they contend with the space between their dreams and their realities, a schism of a postcolonial world where, as Abdellah Taïa writes, "So many people find themselves in the same situation. It is our destiny: To pay with our bodies for other people's future."

 The novel is shortlisted for PEN America Literary Awards 2021, Category: Pen Translation Prize . 

LINK TO THE EPISODE

In Morocco, Press Freedom Advocates Say Sex Charges are Used to Silence Journalists

 


A little over a year ago, 45 people in an inflatable boat died at sea trying to cross to Spain from a beach north of the city of Casablanca along Morocco’s Atlantic shore. More than half of the bodies were not recovered. But for a week following the wreckage, families sat and waited on the beaches, weeping and hoping that the waves would wash in the lifeless bodies of their loved ones.

Tragedies like these are far too common in Morocco, a country that has long been a departing point for clandestine crossings to Europe. Tighter border security and increased patrolling in the north have forced people into taking greater chances and more dangerous crossings, such as ​to the Canary Islands ​off Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

The general public has long become inured to such unfortunate events, and the media narrative has recently focused mostly on sub-Saharan migration since fewer Moroccans try to illegally cross today compared to a couple of decades ago. The lives lost could have been just one more passing story about the deaths of anonymous travelers in pursuit of better lives elsewhere, but Casablanca-based reporter Salahedine Lemaizi viewed the deaths as newsworthy.

He forced the public to acknowledge their lack of fortune, their desperation, and the reasons that motivate so many to gamble with their lives. In a series of gut-wrenching stories chronicling their lives and deaths published in the local newspaper Les Éco, Lemaizi explained what it was like to live in a small desolate village before making the decision to try to reach Europe, a decision that may lead to death.

He covered the burials, interviewed the families and neighbors, and produced reports that illustrated the efforts of a community to deal with the cruelty of such tragic deaths. His stories showed the absence of the state in large parts of the North African kingdom, where unemployment among youth is high and poverty is rampant. He showed how the community could only rely on its members due to the government’s failure to provide jobs and other aid to rural areas; with such meager resources, farmers often have little choice but to leave at any cost.

“It was hard. It was very hard,” Lemaizi says. “I wanted to chronicle their despair. I wanted to show how a state disappears during crises like this.”

These days, stories like Lemaizi’s seem increasingly impossible. Press freedom advocates have denounced a steady decline in rights over the last few years. Despite the risks, some journalists are still managing to do courageous independent work. Lemaizi remains one of the last journalists in Morocco who produces strong reporting in a climate of fear and repression.

 

 

Read the rest of the report on Harvard's Nieman Reports' website

Morocco Joins List of Arab Nations to Begin Normalizing Relations With Israel


WASHINGTON — Morocco has agreed to a rapprochement with Israel in return for American recognition of the kingdom’s sovereignty over a long-disputed territory, under a deal announced on Thursday that gives President Trump another diplomatic victory in his final weeks in office.

With the agreement, which has been under discussion since 2017, Morocco becomes the fourth Muslim-majority state to pledge warmer official relations with Israel this fall under accords brokered by the Trump administration.

It undercuts an independence movement in the Western Sahara region, which has rejected Morocco’s claims of sovereignty, with United Nations support, and could fuel instability in that yearslong dispute.

The Moroccan government downplayed the announcement from Washington that the move amounted to a full or new normalization with Israel, noting years of ongoing if opaque relations. Moroccan officials also conspicuously committed only to reopening so-called liaison offices with Israel — not embassies or consulates — pledging vaguely to “resume diplomatic relations as soon as possible.”

Mr. Trump announced Morocco’s inclusion in the Abraham accords that his administration has fostered, declaring it on Twitter as “a massive breakthrough” for Middle East peace. Morocco joins Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to set aside generations of hostilities toward Israel over the Palestinian conflict as part of a campaign to stabilize the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website.

 

[Podcast]: ‘Special News Episode: On crop tops and hijabs in France’

 



From Lindsey Tramuta: This episode is the first in what I hope to be a monthly series picking up apart one news story impacting France. And each time, I’ll be joined by my two friends Lauren Collins and Aida Alami. Lauren is a reporter for The New Yorker and the author of When in French: Love in a Second Language and Aida Alami is a journalist for The New York Times and NY Review of Books, among other outlets, and a filmmaker. Both have been guests on this show before. The idea emerged out of our Whatsapp group -- we’re constantly sharing our thoughts on what’s happening in the world, sometimes exclusively in emojis, but I thought that when it comes to Paris and issues influencing life and politics in France, we could go a bit deeper.

So what’s happening right now? After separatism, communautarisme, questioning whether Covid is masculine or feminine (it’s feminine apparently), there’s another obsession taking over the discussion in France: "tenue républicaine" or what is or isn’t clothing fit for the republic. What IS the correct form of dress. And is the state's obsession with the hijab part of a similar problem? We discuss.

Mentioned in this episode:
Background on the issue: www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020…rokhayadiallo

Education minister's comments: www.franceinter.fr/societe/tenue-r…que-sur-twitter

Obsession with the hijab: www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/9/22/f…kes-centre-stage

Macron's speech on separatism: www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/…ec_story.html

Aida's story on Maryam Pougetoux: www.nytimes.com/2018/06/01/world/…islam-france.html

On Sibeth Ndiaye's clothes: www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/style/…acron-france.html

Lauren Collins: twitter.com/laurenzcollins

Aida Alami: twitter.com/AidaAlami

‘It’s a Joy for Me to Bury Them’: A Quest to Honor Migrant Dead



 NADOR, Morocco — For months, Boubacar Wann Diallo could not sleep at night without leaving a light on.

As an occasional volunteer with AlarmPhone, a hotline support group for people crossing between Morocco and Europe, he was haunted by the phone calls he received all too often from desperate women and children screaming as they were swallowed by the sea during storms and shipwrecks.

But even that, terrible as it was, was not what disturbed his sleep the most. What gave him the worst nightmares were the unidentified bodies that washed up on the beaches around Nador, a city on the Mediterranean coast in northern Morocco, which were then piled up unclaimed in the local morgue. He vowed to make it his life’s work to see that they received proper burials.

“It’s a joy for me to bury them,” Mr. Wann Diallo said recently outside the entrance to the morgue, which bears a line from the Quran: “To Allah we belong, and to him is our return.”

“I want to give closure to the families,” he said. “It makes me feel good. It hurts me when people are buried without their relatives. I put myself in their place.

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times’ website: 


https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/28/world/africa/morocco-bodies-migrants.html?referringSource=articleShare

Dozens of Gay Men Are Outed in Morocco as Photos Are Spread Online

PARIS — At least 50 to 100 gay men were outed in Morocco over the last two weeks, rights activists say, after the men were identified on location-based meeting apps while sheltering at home amid a coronavirus lockdown.

In at least three cases, men were kicked out of their houses, L.G.B.T.Q. activists said. In interviews, many others in the country said they had been blackmailed and threatened, and thousands fear that their photos will be spread on social media.

“Here I am just waiting for my death sentence,” said a young man whose photos were leaked online and who spoke anonymously for fear of being attacked. “I’m frustrated and scared.”
In Morocco, a North African kingdom where homosexuality and sex outside marriage are crimes, gay people are painfully accustomed to the feelings of peril and rejection, and many keep their sexual identities under wraps.

Now, their cover has been blown in a way that would be criminal in most Western societies, rights advocates say. Yet they have no legal recourse.

“Forcibly outing people is not just an obvious violation of their right to privacy,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the communications director for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “When wrapped in incitement to hate and calls to violence based on sexual orientation, it’s also a crime.”

“A legal system respectful of universal rights would empower victims to press charges,” he said. “But in Morocco, same-sex behavior is also criminalized, so victims could find themselves trapped in a tragic catch-22 situation.”

What makes this episode particularly painful, gay leaders say, is that it was ignited by someone who had also been singled out.

On April 13, a Moroccan transgender Instagram personality based in Istanbul, Naoufal Moussa or Sofia Talouni, was insulted about her sexual orientation. In a rage, she released a profanity-laced video encouraging women to download the location-based meeting apps, sites like apps like Grindr and Planet Romeo, which are usually used by gay men.

In subsequent videos, she said her aim was to reveal the hypocrisy of Moroccan society by showing her attackers how many gay men were living in their vicinity, perhaps even in their own homes.
Many people followed Ms. Moussa’s lead and created fake accounts on the apps to gather photos of gay men, which they then posted on private and public Facebook pages, setting off the homophobic attacks.

The attacks ignited a firestorm of criticism, both of Ms. Moussa and of Morocco’s discriminatory laws.

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times.

Pandemic Journal: New York Review of Books



 ARIS, FRANCE—A few days ago, we all became soldiers. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a televised speech that we were at war. At war against a virus that spread exponentially, causing an unprecedented public health crisis across the globe and shutting down one country after the other. So that’s how it went. We collectively accepted the order of the day to stay at home, to buy food, avoid contact even with loved ones, and surrender our freedoms in the name of an overriding civic duty to vanquish the monster. 
 
Only, Macron isn’t my president and France isn’t my home. 

Over two weeks ago, before the crisis rapidly escalated, I was in Paris on a short trip. I knew, we all did, that we were days away from a shutdown similar to Italy’s. As my attention was on Europe, I failed to see the signs back at home in Morocco. On Friday March 13, rumors started floating around the Moroccan media that flights to the North African kingdom from Europe were going to get cancelled. I quickly booked a flight back home, but on that same day, Morocco banned flights coming from and going to France. For the next three days, every time I tried to book through a new route (via Lisbon, Dublin even), my flight got cancelled. After the third time, and hundreds of dollars wasted, I had no other choice but to stay in Paris. 

“Let the confinement begin,” I wrote in a WhatsApp group to my Columbia friends from graduate school: a chat group made of journalists confined in several parts of the world like Italy, Jordan, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia, and Colombia. We were all getting hit by the same reality, one after another, actively keeping each other informed on what measures were being taken in our countries, and also, trying to get some mental relief from the onslaught of negative news by sharing funny memes and not-so-funny videos of people fighting over toilet paper. 

A couple of days after starting to settle in an apartment that wasn’t mine, in a city where I no longer lived, I woke up to a message from my brother that said, “look at Dad’s Twitter.” There it was, a selfie taken in a café in the center of Marrakesh: he was out of the house—despite several messages from me and my siblings begging our parents to stay home for the weeks to come. I got angry at my parents again, and I told my mother that if something happened to them, none of their three children would be able to get to Morocco (my brother lives in Cameroon, my sister in Paris).  
Our parents’ nonchalance seemed to capture the general state of fighting the virus in Morocco: keeping people indoors would be a huge challenge in a country where people tend to trust fate more than anything to take care of them.  
As I remotely observed the events unfolding at home, a mixed picture started to emerge. Videos of deserted streets and closed shops, sending the message that people understood the gravity of the situation, were contradicted by videos of police officers violently cracking down on those who didn’t follow the rules and who refused to stay home. Friends who once fervently fought for the rule of law and human rights were suddenly sharing videos of cops calling them “Moroccan heroes.”

In spite of this cognitive whiplash, I am amazed myself at the volunteers who are going around the country telling people to stay home and explaining the danger of the virus. I am thankful that the Moroccan government decided to react quickly, but I worry nevertheless.

The number of cases of people infected is officially still not high, but years of neglect of the health-care system means that the country does not have the means to deal with a crisis of this scale. But that’s not all. While these emergency measures are necessary, this moment also carries the painful risk of empowering authoritarian governments. Moroccans have suffered for years from a lack of access to public services and also lack of freedoms. Though I have no idea when I will be able to return home, I have never felt closer to it. ■

you can read the essay on the New York Review of Books' website.

At a Sculptor’s Marrakesh Estate, a Menagerie of Whimsical Artwork

Jean-François Fourtou has seen Marrakesh undergo rapid change in recent years, as it has become an increasingly popular tourist destination.

His 25-acre estate, Dar El Sadaka, which was once isolated from the city, is now surrounded by development, including hotels and other private homes.
Still, the peacefulness has been preserved at a property where Mr. Fourtou, a French artist known for his sculptures of animals — predominantly lambs, giraffes, snails and orangutans — has spent two decades channeling his creative impulses.

What was once a large parcel of land dotted with ruins has been transformed into lush gardens of olive and palm trees, a guesthouse with nine suites and bedrooms, an open-air gallery, a meditation retreat and an art studio, as well as Mr. Fourtou’s own home. His whimsical sculptures and architectural works of art are dotted throughout.

Mr. Fourtou occasionally allows tours, which must be booked in advance, and he has opened his property during art events such as the Marrakesh Biennale. To finance the maintenance of the estate, the guesthouse is available for rental for $3,800 a day for up to 20 guests. The minimum stay is three nights.

But Mr. Fourtou isn’t interested in competing with popular Marrakesh attractions like the Majorelle Garden, which draws 700,000 visitors a year. He believes that letting in large groups of tourists would alter the estate’s magic.

Dar El Sadaka means the house of friendship in Arabic or the one who searches in Sanskrit. The whole estate is a metaphor for Mr. Fourtou’s childhood.

The sculptures of animals, disconnected from their natural environments, are meant to illustrate how out of place the artist felt growing up in Paris. “They represent how I pictured myself within society,” he said on a tour one late summer afternoon.

Past the gates, on the left, a two-story house is built upside down, standing on its roof with the sign “Chez Grand-Père” hanging over the front door. It was inspired by Mr. Fourtou’s memory of the house of his late maternal grandfather in southwestern France.

“I imagine that he sent it to me from above, 30 years after he died,” Mr. Fourtou said, recalling how his grandfather drew him postcards and told him stories that stimulated his imagination and encouraged him to express his creativity at an early age.

Each corner of the estate holds a different surprise. A wide staircase leads to the so-called Giant’s House. Inside, there is a large table, a bed, a closet and clothes. As happens inside the upside-down house, one’s senses are thrown off balance.

“The idea is that those who get to see my work are destabilized and experience incongruent situations,” said Mr. Fourtou. “It is a chance to feel forgotten childhood feelings. I do not really offer a stay, but rather an experience.”

For overnight guests, meals are usually made using organic produce, honey and olive oil cultivated on the property. Most of the rooms are spacious and have beautiful views of the garden. The guesthouse was renovated a few years ago by the interior designer Philippe Forestier, and details like the scents, the lighting and the linens have been carefully thought out.

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website. 


Tribune: Le Monde « Un journaliste est emprisonné juste pour un tweet dénonçant l’injustice de la justice »


Un collectif dénonce, dans une tribune au « Monde », les atteintes à la liberté d’expression au Maroc après l’arrestation du journaliste Omar Radi pour avoir publié un tweet critiquant une décision de justice condamnant des contestataires du Rif.

--

Tribune. Omar Radi, un journaliste marocain de 33 ans, dort en prison depuis le 26 décembre pour un tweet publié neuf mois auparavant. Nous, journalistes, intellectuels, penseurs, artistes et citoyens soucieux de défendre la liberté de la presse et d’opinion, tenons à lui exprimer notre soutien face à ce qu’il a toujours dénoncé : la condamnation et l’incarcération arbitraire d’activistes et de journalistes pour leur prise de position en faveur de la justice sociale et pour le respect des droits humains.

Les faits remontent au mois d’avril. A cette période, un juge de la Cour d’appel de Casablanca avait confirmé des peines allant jusqu’à vingt ans d’emprisonnement à l’encontre de 42 membres du Hirak, un mouvement de contestation sociale qui a agité le nord du Maroc en 2016 et 2017. Omar Radi avait alors pourfendu la cruauté de cette décision. Convoqué une première fois, le 18 avril, par la Brigade nationale de la police judiciaire (BNPJ), il avait défendu son droit à l’expression libre et sa liberté d’opinion, garantis par la Constitution marocaine et les conventions internationales ratifiées par le royaume, notamment le pacte international relatif aux droits civils et politiques. Mais à l’occasion de sa seconde convocation, le 26 décembre, Omar a été déféré devant le procureur d’Aïn Sebaa et le juge a alors ordonné sa poursuite sur la base de l’article 263 du code pénal pour outrage à magistrat, refusant par ailleurs sa demande de liberté provisoire alors même qu’elle était justifiée par son état de santé. Un journaliste est emprisonné juste pour un tweet dénonçant l’injustice de la justice.

 Cette affaire, qui survient seulement quatre mois après l’arrestation de la journaliste Hajar Raïssouni, met en lumière des manquements graves à la liberté de la presse et d’opinion au Maroc. Une nouvelle fois, c’est un journaliste qui couvre les sujets liés à l’injustice sociale, à la corruption et aux droits humains qui est visé. Ses enquêtes rigoureuses, saluées notamment par le Prix du journalisme d’investigation IMS-AMJI, lui ont déjà valu par le passé l’hostilité des autorités marocaines. En 2017, par exemple, il avait été arrêté puis relâché par les autorités marocaines durant la préparation d’Hirak Rif : la mort plutôt que l’humiliation, un documentaire sur les mouvements sociaux au sein de la ville d’Al Hoceïma.

Six journalistes condamnés à de la prison ferme

Au-delà de la poursuite d’Omar Radi, nous voulons souligner que l’exercice de la liberté d’expression au Maroc connaît de graves restrictions. Après une année 2018 qui a vu six journalistes injustement condamnés à de la prison ferme pour leur couverture du Hirak 1, l’étouffement des voix les plus libres du pays se poursuit. Plusieurs procès récents pour délit d’opinion sont ainsi engagés ou ont déjà été jugés, essentiellement au pénal. Et ces lourdes pressions exercées par les autorités concernent également les libertés sur Internet. Le jour où Omar a été placé en détention, un youtubeur connu sous le nom de Moul Kaskita a été condamné à quatre ans de prison pour « offense au roi ». Quelques jours auparavant, un lycéen s’est vu infliger trois ans de prison pour avoir posté sur Facebook une publication reprenant la chanson du rappeur Gnawi, lui-même condamné à de la prison ferme pour « atteinte à un corps constitué. »

Les mesures coercitives contre la liberté de la presse et le droit d’informer se sont multipliées ces derniers mois. Les poursuites engagées contre des journalistes, des blogueurs ou de simples internautes, ainsi que le délai de latence qui s’est écoulé entre la première convocation d’Omar Radi et la réactivation de la plainte, nous permettent de supposer que son arrestation se situe dans le sillage d’une large campagne visant à restreindre les libertés d’expression et d’opinion des citoyens marocains.

Quand on songe qu’Omar Radi est désormais emprisonné pour avoir dénoncé l’absence de dignité des fonctionnaires de justice qui emprisonnent les manifestants du Hirak en se justifiant de ne faire qu’exécuter les ordres, la justice marocaine confirme pour le moins par l’emprisonnement du journaliste l’indignité dont celui-ci l’accuse. Selon l’article 19 de la Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme, la liberté d’opinion et d’expression ne doit connaître ni obstacles ni frontières.
C’est pourquoi l’arrestation d’Omar Radi n’est pas seulement l’affaire des Marocains. Elle doit susciter l’indignation de toute personne attachée aux droits humains les plus fondamentaux, partout dans le monde.

Adonis, poète ; Aida Alami, journaliste ; Khaled Al Khamissi, romancier égyptien ; Reda Allali, artiste ; Kader Attia, artiste ; Claude Askolovitch, journaliste ; Omar Balafrej, parlementaire marocain, Fédération de la gauche démocratique ; Etienne Balibar, philosophe ; Fouad Bellamine, artiste ; Faouzi Bensaidi, cinéaste ; Houda Benyamina, cinéaste ; Olivier Besancenot, membre du NPA ; Sophie Bessis, historienne ; Mahi Binebine, peintre et écrivain ; Ian Brossat, adjoint à la Mairie de Paris ; Barbara Cassin, philosophe ; Patrick Chamoiseau, écrivain ; Noam Chomsky, philosophe ; Jérôme Clément, écrivain ; Alexis Corbière, député de la France Insoumise ; Mireille Delmas Marty, juriste et professeur au Collège de France ; Rokhaya Diallo, journaliste et réalisatrice ; Nassira El Moaddem, journaliste ; Aziz El Yaakoubi, journaliste ; Éric Fassin, sociologue ; Abbas Fahdel, cinéaste ; Raphael Glucksmann, écrivain et député européen « place publique » ; Gael Faye, chanteur et écrivain; Yasmine Hamdane, auteure compositeur interprète ; Pierre Haski, journaliste et président de Reporters sans frontières France ; Hicham Houdaifa, journaliste ; Imhotep, rappeur ; Aboubakr Jamai, enseignant et journaliste ; Amazigh Kateb, auteur-compositeur interprète ; Leila Kilani, cinéaste ; Driss Ksikes, écrivain ; Robert Littell, écrivain ; Édouard Louis, écrivain ; Bachar Mar Khalifé, auteur, compositeur, interprète ; Laïla Marrakchi, cinéaste ; Hind Meddeb, réalisatrice ; Guillaume Meurice, journaliste ; Youssef Mezzi, membre d’attac ; Mobydick aka Lmoutchou, rappeur ; Marie-Josée Mondzain, philosophe ; Olivier Mongin, écrivain ; Rosa Moussaoui, journaliste ; Ayla Mrabet, journaliste ; Jean-Luc Nancy, philosophe ; Selim Nassib, écrivain ; Oum, auteure, compositeur, interprète ; Edwy Plenel, journaliste ; Hajar Raissouni, journaliste ; Karim Rissouli, journaliste ; Ghita Skali, artiste ; Leila Shahid, ancienne ambassadrice de Palestine ; Françoise Vergès, politologue ; Abdellah Taïa, écrivain ; Rachid Zerrouki, instituteur.
Liste complète des signataires sur cette page.





Saturday Profile: A Victim Not Only of Unjust Laws, but of ‘Unjust Authorities’

RABAT, Morocco — When Hajar Raissouni, an investigative journalist with one of Morocco’s only independent news outlets, went to her doctor’s office last August seeking treatment for a vaginal hemorrhage, she was not planning on becoming the center of a national discussion on press freedom, abortion rights and what critics say is the nation’s antiquated penal code. 

But on Aug. 31, minutes after she received the treatment, Ms. Raissouni and her fiancé, Rifaat al-Amin, were arrested — just two weeks before their wedding date. At first, she thought they were being robbed. But she quickly realized that the six men in plainclothes holding video cameras were police officers, and that she was being arrested because of her critical reporting on the Moroccan authorities.

The couple would eventually be charged with sex outside of marriage and having an abortion, both crimes in the North African kingdom, though the abortion laws are rarely enforced. Ms. Raissouni, who strongly denies having had an abortion, says she was forced by the Moroccan authorities to undergo a pelvic examination that aggravated the hemorrhage, provoking renewed bleeding.
Her physician, Dr. Jamal Belkeziz, a second doctor and an office assistant also were arrested, charged with violating abortion laws.
Their trial in September caused a sensation in Morocco, drawing crowds of supporters and protesters and unleashing a torrent of criticism from press freedom and abortion rights advocates, among others. The court’s decision to convict all five and sentence Ms. Raissouni and Mr. al-Amin, who is now her husband, to a year in prison provoked another uproar that was quieted only after the issuance of a royal pardon for all of the defendants on Oct. 16.

Naturally reserved, Ms. Raissouni is still dealing with the consequences of having her private life discussed for weeks in the national and international news media. But the case thrust her reluctantly into the headlines and onto a list of the top 10 cases of injustice against journalists, and she is determined to use her newfound celebrity to push for a political system with independent institutions and a free press.

“I was not just the victim of unjust laws but the victim of unjust authorities,” she said recently in an interview conducted in her apartment in Rabat. “My case wasn’t really about a nonexistent abortion, but it was the result of the arbitrary politics of the state.”
As terrible as this experience may have been, it seems fair to say that Ms. Raissouni seemed almost bound to fall afoul of the Moroccan authorities at some point.
She was born into a prominent family of landowners, warriors, intellectuals and political dissidents in northern Morocco, and was urged from an early age to hold those in power accountable in a country where injustice largely prevails.

Read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website.

[Podcast] The New Paris: State violence in France


'Trauma is inherited and we can’t heal unless we learn'

Ifrah Mansour was five years old when civil war broke out in Somalia, in 1991. Her family had just returned to Mogadishu from Saudi Arabia, where she was born.

An estimated 350,000 people died by 1992 of disease, starvation and the conflict that followed the overthrow of Siad Barre's military regime. Hundreds of thousands ended up fleeing the country, including Mansour's family, who sought shelter in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp until they emigrated to the US in 1998, eventually settling in Minneapolis.

Today, 33-year old Mansour, a playwright, performer and visual artist, is one of the Twin Cities’ most vibrant creatives. The softly spoken petite woman is best known for her play, How to Have Fun in a Civil War, which she has performed across the US since 2015. The play is an expression of how childhood can still flourish in the midst of brutal hardship and disruption - turning painful family history into artistic creation.

The seven-year-old main character, played by Mansour, recalls the moments of light relief that existed alongside the fear and uncertainty. In one scene she pretends to eat dirt and stuff her nose with cigarette butts, the way she did when she was a child.

She brings other characters to life through impersonations, reenacting the way her mother would intricately braid her hair, or how she slept all day as an escape from reality.
Much of her work - on stage, in galleries, exhibitions, and using video - attempts to capture the complexity of the refugee experience. One of her most recent productions, My Aqal, involves setting up a replica of a traditional Somali nomadic hut made of thatch, which is used as a space to host performances and pop-up events on the themes of displacement.

As part of the roaming show, which she has so far taken to New York, Minnesota and Michigan, Mansour also runs workshops teaching people how to build an aqal with their own hands, with the aim of forging connections with the current global refugee crisis.

MEE caught up with Mansour before one of her performances in Minneapolis to talk about her aspirations for both her work and for refugees around the world.

You can read the interview here.

Morocco’s King Pardons Journalist Sentenced on Abortion Charge

Morocco’s king pardoned Hajar Raissouni, a journalist for an independent newspaper who was sentenced to a year in prison for an abortion that she denied having, the country’s ministry of justice said on Wednesday.

The ministry characterized the pardon as an act of “compassion and mercy,” saying that King Mohammed VI wanted to “preserve the future of the two fiancés who planned to found a family in accordance with religious precepts and the law.”

But human rights advocates said that Ms. Raissouni’s conviction was unjust and politically motivated, and that it exemplified the state’s persecution of independent journalists. The king also pardoned her fiancé, two doctors and an office assistant.

The case sparked weeks of outrage in the North African kingdom, with many speaking out in defense of press freedoms and others asking for reforms to the penal code. Ms. Raissouni and her fiancé, Rifaat al-Amin, had been sentenced to one year in prison.

“We’re relieved that Hajar and her co-defendents are free, but they should have never been arrested in the first place,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, communications director for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “A silver lining for this deplorable incident is that a debate was opened about archaic laws in Morocco, and now there’s a growing demand to repeal criminalization of nonmarital sex from legal books.”

Ms. Raissouni, 28, works for an independent daily newspaper, Akhbar Al Yaoum, that is critical of the state. She and Mr. al-Amin were arrested on Aug. 31 — just two weeks before their wedding — as they were leaving a gynecologist’s office in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. 

They were charged with having sex outside of marriage and an abortion, both crimes in Morocco. Ms. Raissouni said she sought treatment after she had suffered a blood clot, and her co-defendants also denied that an abortion ever took place.

A physician, Dr. Jamal Belkeziz, was sentenced to two years in prison. A second doctor and an office assistant were also found guilty of taking part in the procedure, but the judge gave them suspended sentences. 

“The recent release of Hajar Raissouni, her fiancé and the doctor brings about new hope for the Moroccan political and activist scene. It shows that activism and campaigning give results,” said Fayrouz Yousfi, a doctoral student and political activist behind an online campaign to free Ms. Raissouni. “Unfortunately, royal pardons cannot be the answer for all arrests that are politically motivated. Justice should be done for all activists, human rights activists and journalists who are put behind bars.”

In 2016, prison sentences were abolished for infractions to Morocco’s laws governing the press. However, press freedom watchdogs have reported that the state has been increasingly prosecuting journalists for matters unrelated to their reporting. Reporters Without Borders ranks Morocco 135th in its annual press freedom index. 

According to Maati Monjib, a historian, a prominent critical voice in Morocco and a friend of the Raissouni family, the pardon was a result of an intense national and international effort to release the prisoners.

“I am very happy that Hajar has just been released,” Mr. Monjib said, adding that activists were about to increase their pressure campaign. “Several associations and personalities were meeting to create a committee for the release of Hajar.”



Moroccan Journalist Sentenced to Prison for Abortion and Premarital Sex

RABAT, Morocco — A Moroccan judge on Monday found a journalist and her fiancé guilty of having premarital sex and obtaining an abortion, and imposed prison sentences on them and a doctor convicted of performing the abortion, in a case that critics have denounced as a thinly veiled bid to suppress critical coverage of the government.

The journalist, Hajar Raissouni, 28, who works for the independent daily newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, and her fiancé, Rifaat al-Amin, were arrested on Aug. 31 as they were leaving a gynecologist’s office in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

The defendants denied that an abortion had taken place and said that Ms. Raissouni had sought treatment after suffering a blood clot.

“This judgment comes as a shock,” said Cherki Lahrech, a journalist who was present for the verdict. “The defense proved her innocence. I don’t understand what happened. It all poses many questions.”

The judge sentenced Ms. Raissouni and Mr. al-Amin to one year in prison, and Dr. Jamal Belkeziz to two years. A second doctor and an office assistant were also found guilty of taking part in the procedure, but the judge gave them suspended sentences.

Ms. Raissouni, wearing a black traditional robe known as a djellaba and a head scarf, showed no outward reaction to the verdict, which drew cries and gasps from others in the courtroom. Several of her friends huddled nearby afterward, crying and consoling each other, then waved goodbye as she was put into a police vehicle and driven away from the courthouse.

Finish reading the story on the New York Times' website

 

Climate change in the Middle East: These young activists are making a difference


Greta Thunberg's protest started small.

In September 2018, hoping to push her government to take urgent action against climate change, the then-15-year-old sat outside parliament in Stockholm for three weeks and next to her was a sign that read: "School Strike for the Climate".

Since then, she has continued with her protest, which she called "FridaysForFuture", bringing along hundreds of thousands of school students and others around the world with her.

This week, as more than 5,000 protests across the world are expected ahead of the United Nations' Climate Action Summit next week, we profile young climate change activists and environmentalists making a difference in the Middle East and North Africa.

Cick here to read about a Tunisian fighting plastic pollution. A young Turk, opposed to mining. And Iranians, jailed for trying to save cheetahs. The battle against the climate crisis starts here.

Moroccan Journalist on Trial for an Abortion She Says She Never Had

RABAT, Morocco — This weekend was supposed to have been a celebration of love.
The invitations had been sent, the flowers and cake ordered. Family and friends were getting ready to witness the wedding of a young Moroccan political reporter and a Sudanese university professor she met at a human-rights conference.

Instead, Hajar Raissouni and Rifaat al-Amin were arrested on Aug. 31 as they were leaving a gynecologist’s office in the Moroccan capital Rabat. They were charged with having sex outside of marriage and an abortion, both crimes in the North African kingdom.

The arrests outraged many in Morocco who saw it as another example of the government persecuting critical journalists and activists by charging them with moral crimes.
The doctor, along with an anesthesiologist and an office assistant, has been charged with performing an abortion. But he insists that he did not. Quite the contrary, he said he had saved Ms. Raissouni’s life after she suffered a blood clot.

The Moroccan government casts itself as a champion of women’s rights. But by prosecuting a couple and medical workers for a procedure that is done hundreds of times every day in the country, critics argue that the government undercuts its own claims and exposes its determination to silence dissent.
Ms. Raissouni works for Akhbar al-Yaoum, a daily newspaper that is one of the few independent news sources in Morocco. Though it employs fewer than a dozen reporters and has been in existence for only a decade, the paper and its journalists have found themselves in court many times.

In 2018, its founder and publisher was sentenced to 12 years in prison on sexual assault charges in a prosecution that the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded was unfair.
Ms. Raissouni has focused on human rights and political reporting in her work, said an uncle, Soulaimane Raissouni, who is also the editor of Akhbar al-Yaoum.

“I don’t have hope, and neither does she,” said her uncle and editor. “One of her lawyers told her to prepare herself to spend at least one year in prison.”

Last year, Ms. Raissouni covered protests in the northern Rif region of Morocco that resulted in the jailing of hundreds of activists. Another uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, is a vocal critic of the government.
The press freedom group Reporters Without Borders says the Moroccan government has long tried to intimidate activists and journalists. The courts often put them on trail for matters seemingly unrelated to journalism or political activities, according to the group.

Abdeslam Imani, the prosecutor, said the authorities had not targeted Ms. Raissouni. They had been simply watching the doctor’s clinic to see if unlawful abortions were taking place, he said.
“The arrest of the journalist Hajar Raissouni has no connection whatsoever to her profession,” Mr. Imani said. “It happened by chance when she was in a medical office that was under surveillance.”

You can read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website


A Black Minneapolis Artist Brings Hidden Communities to Light


MINNEAPOLIS—Three years ago on a hot summer day, Philando Castile was shot and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb near Minneapolis. Bobby Rogers had recently graduated from art school and was turning from drawing to photography. As the two cities erupted in protests, Rogers documented the turmoil and anger with his camera.

“After Philando was killed by Officer Yanez, I understood that my individual perspective, not anyone else’s, is how I should tell the story of my people, with my people, for my people, and to my people,” Rogers says.

For his ongoing photographic portraits of Minneapolis gang members, Rogers, 27, and now resident photographer at Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, reached back into his own past. He grew up in the Powderhorn neighborhood of South Minneapolis, an area where crime, violence, and drug trafficking were widespread two decades ago. Rogers was surrounded by gang members, but through it all, they and the rest of the community shielded him from trouble, predicting that a bright future awaited him.

His parents didn’t get a chance for a good life. They suffered from alcohol and drug addiction, and Rogers’s childhood was marked by constant moves back and forth between foster homes and back into his parents' care. He says his parents were from the generation that was under intense scrutiny during the war on drugs before becoming victims of drugs themselves. “My older brother would tell me stories of how my parents were like Bonnie and Clyde in their heyday,” he says. “Respected and feared. My dad was the quiet contemplative hustler and my mom was the enforcer.”

Despite his mother’s struggles, she was instrumental in his success, Rogers says, instructing him and his siblings to chant: “I am a leader! I am a soldier!” “She was preparing us for this world, the world she grew up in but was never able to talk about,” he said.

Rogers kept away from illegal activities and worked at his art. His first major foray at art was trying to improve his drawing skills by redrawing Pokemon cards when he was about six years old. Rogers graduated to studying illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2014, he started actively documenting anti-police brutality protests with a camera and discovered his medium.

“I’d have thousands of images by the end of the day, chronicling from the perspective of those who trusted me to occupy the space,” Rogers said of his initial entry into photography. “Eventually, as the movement transformed, so did my aesthetic and approach.” And in the same fashion as other artists of his generation, he didn’t seek the help of galleries to launch him, but instead used Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter to get his work known, highlighting subtle narratives of resilience and pride.

You can read the rest of the story here.

Workers in Spain’s Strawberry Fields Speak Out on Abuse

ALMONTE, Spain — A little over a year ago, a young mother left her children in the care of her husband in Morocco and went to work on a strawberry farm near the city of Almonte, on Spain’s southwestern coast.

Pregnant with her third child and needing money, she was led to believe she could make a few thousand euros for several months’ work — about a year’s earnings in Morocco. Instead, she is now stranded in Spain, awaiting trial after joining nine other women from the same farm, Doñaña 1998 d’Almonte, who have filed lawsuits stemming from events there, including accusations of sexual harassment and assault, rape, human trafficking and several labor violations.

Like other women interviewed for this article, the young mother asked that she be identified only by her initials, L.H., for fear of how spouses, family members and others would react when the article is republished in Arabic, as happens with most Times articles on Morocco. The husbands of some of the women, including L.H., have already filed for divorce.

The women said they often had little choice but to endure abuse, and experts agree.

“They are put in a situation where they are deprived of resources, and their sexuality becomes one way for them to survive,” said Emmanuelle Hellio, a sociologist who has chronicled conditions on the farms. “Sexism and racism fabricate situations in which they cannot complain and power relations make things particularly difficult to denounce.”


L.H. said her boss started sexually harassing her soon after her arrival. He pressured her to have sex, promising her a better life and working conditions.

When she resisted “he started forcing me to work harder,” she said, trying to soothe her baby girl, who was born in Spain. “The other girls would help me when it would get too hard for me on the field.”

Now, she lives with the other women in a location she asked to keep confidential, awaiting trial.
“I feel depressed and I am scared to look for work,” she says.

Strawberries are called red gold in Spain, the largest exporter of the fruit in Europe, where they are the basis of a $650 million industry. Andalusia, where the women worked, produces 80 percent of Spain’s strawberries.

Under a bilateral agreement signed in 2001, thousands of Moroccan women labor from April to June under sprawling plastic greenhouses to cultivate and harvest the fruit. The agreement specifies that the seasonal workers must come from the countryside, where poverty and unemployment are rampant, and must be mothers, so they want to return home, which most do.

It was seen as a win-win deal: an earning opportunity for the poor Moroccans, which gave Spanish farmers much-needed low-cost labor.

For years, academic researchers and activists have complained about the working conditions at the isolated farms, but the authorities in Spain and Morocco have taken little or no action, officials with local labor unions said.

But over a year ago, the 10 women decided to speak up, knowing they risked losing everything, including the respect and support of their conservative families. They are now paying that price, and would have been crushed long ago if not for the support of unions, activists and online fund-raising.


You can read the rest of the story here.


Somali and American: Portrait of a Minnesota Community

Refugees often say that war feels like a wave of violence washing over them, leaving behind death and destruction. The feeling was no different for Katra Ali Hethar, who fled war-torn Somalia in 1991 with her nine small children.

Being responsible for so many lives was a logistical nightmare. But even in moments of emergency, when given the opportunity to hop on a truck or car, she refused to leave a single one behind. She decided that they would either all survive or all perish together, choosing to take turns carrying them on her back. Eventually they made it across the Shebelle River, to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya.

Two years later, the entire family, including her husband, who had a minor stroke that required immediate medical attention and left Somalia separately, found refuge in America. After living briefly in New York, then some years in Atlanta, the family settled in central Minnesota in 2006. In the nearly three decades since, the mother who survived war and that perilous journey has supported all her children, including three more born since her arrival, into adulthood. The United States offered them a home and security.

Like most migration stories, hers is full of both sadness and hope. Adjusting to life in a new country had its share of struggles. Moving first to St. Cloud, and later to Waite Park, a small town that is virtually a suburb of its larger neighbor, has been another kind of journey for a woman who never worked outside the house but dedicated her life to her children and to her community.
On one of the first warm evenings of this year’s belated spring, I found myself in Ali Hethar’s apartment for a very special event. She had invited a group of people she met at a senior center in St. Cloud, a town where about 80 percent of the population is white and non-Muslim, to share a meal to break the fast during Ramadan and get to know people from different communities better. Most of the guests at her Iftar were her typical neighbors—older white Americans.

The women and men took their shoes off and sat on the floor on a pleasantly soft blue carpet, wearing name tags and exchanging small talk. They conversed with their Somali hosts as, on a muted TV, the Milwaukee Bucks faced the Toronto Raptors in the NBA playoffs. At sunset, they ate dates, drank water, and then enjoyed a Somali meal of meat sambusas, baked goat and rice, with malawax (sweet pancakes) for dessert.

Born in Djibouti, a small East African country on Somalia’s northern border, Ali Hethar is not sure how old she is. Her passport says she was born in 1946, but she believes she was born much later, in 1958—on the last day of Ramadan, in fact. She has never learned English, but as I watched, she greeted, hugged, and smiled at her guests, communicating verbally with translation from of one of her daughters.

There was more to this social gathering than met the eye, for all its easy-going atmosphere. Minnesota, a blue-leaning state, is by many standards exceptionally welcoming of immigrants; it has the country’s second-largest population of Vietnamese Hmong people and is home to more Somalis than any other state in the country. But central Minnesota, where St. Cloud is, about an hour west of Minneapolis, is not such an easy place for outsiders to settle in. It has a strong Catholic tradition and a good many single-issue voters—that issue being abortion. Over 60 percent of voters there went for Trump in 2016.

That year also, though, a young Somali-American named Ilhan Omar beat a longtime Democratic incumbent for a seat in the State House; two years later, she was elected to the US Congress to represent Minnesota’s fifth district (which is centered on Minneapolis). Her election was a testament to how politically engaged the Somali community is. While Omar has gained a high profile on the national stage—both as one of 2018’s intake of Democrats on the strongly progressive wing of the party, and for controversy of over certain of her more combative statements—two other Somali-Americans sit in the Minnesota legislature, with more on the city councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Distinct and notable about St. Cloud’s Somali-American community is that its leaders, elders, and activists have a battle-hardened quality that makes them very effective representatives. So many of them are, in fact, survivors of civil war and brutal dictatorship, that they have become adept at organizing and mobilizing—both in strengthening their own community and in reaching out to other people beyond it.

Established by European settlers in the nineteenth century, it was once referred to as “White Cloud.” But today, this town of 68,000 inhabitants has seen a growing number of Somali refugees arrive in the last two decades to work in meat factories or to attend the local campus of the state university. The presence of these new Muslim residents has created tensions ranging from verbal attacks to school bullying. A walkout by Somali-American high school students in 2015 made national headlines. As did a mall stabbing that year by a Somali immigrant who targeted non-Muslims, an attack that then-candidate Donald Trump exploited in the weeks running up to the presidential election. Within weeks of his election, the Trump administration issued its first Muslim travel ban, which included citizens of Somalia.

Click here to read the rest of the story.

Laila Lalami: ‘Whoever tells the story controls the world’

aila Lalami is never in a hurry to finish writing a book. A disciplined author, she spends months, sometimes years, developing carefully crafted narratives and finding joy in the company of the characters occupying her imagination.

She has won many awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But instead of enjoying the prestige, she just works harder in the solitude of her Southern California office, writing fiction and non-fiction alike.

Much of the latter sheds light on her adopted country’s struggles with Islamophobia and racism – including attitudes toward another Muslim woman in America, the congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
Some days ago, Lalami was in Omar's home state, Minnesota, talking to a literary-minded audience in Minneapolis at the Wordplay book festival.

Inside the Guthrie Theater, on the banks of the Mississippi River, she talked about the work that went into producing her latest novel, The Other Americans, a captivating murder mystery centred around a family of Moroccan immigrants.

Sharing the stage in Minneapolis with recent Pulitzer Prize nominee Tommy Orange, the Moroccan-American novelist read from her novel.

“When we moved to America 35 years ago, many things took me by surprise, like gun shops next to barbershops, freeways that tangled like yarn, people who knocked on your door to talk about Jesus, 20 different kinds of milk at the grocery store, signs that say don’t even think about parking here.”
In America, Lalami is one of the best-known and most-acclaimed North African authors of her generation. Her essays regularly appear in major publications and she is the author of Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (2005) and Secret Son (2009).

In 2014, she drew much praise for The Moor’s Account, a fictional memoir of a Moroccan slave and the first black explorer of America. The book won several awards and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2015.

A journey home

Incidentally, just as she finished the book and took a much needed break in the western state of Wyoming, her father fell ill in Morocco. She experienced what many immigrants go through, having to find a seat on a plane and scrambling to arrive before it was too late.
Her father recovered, but she went back to California with a fear she couldn’t shake – the fear of losing a parent, the fear of being too far away and helpless. So she used the experience, embedding all her complex and uncomfortable feelings into her fourth novel, The Other Americans.

Read the rest of the story here.