[Podcast] Roots and Traces of Contemporary Cultural Life in Tangier

In this discussion at Youmein 2021: Roots and Traces, anthropologist George Bajalia and journalist Aida Alami explore the roots and traces of contemporary cultural life in Tangier, especially as they relate to northern Morocco’s border regions. 


Islamists See Big Losses in Moroccan Parliamentary Elections


Morocco’s moderate Islamist party suffered major losses in parliamentary elections on Wednesday, a stinging setback in one of the last countries where Islamists had risen to power after the Arab Spring protests.

Moroccans cast ballots in legislative, municipal and regional races, the first such votes in the country since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite turnout figures showing nearly half of Moroccans didn’t cast a ballot, the results were clear: The Justice and Development Party, the moderate Islamists known as the PJD, who have held power since 2011, faced steep losses up and down the ballot — enough to lose control of Parliament.

With most of the votes counted, the winners included the National Rally of Independents (with 97 seats, according to the Interior Ministry) and the conservative Istiqlal party, both seen as closely aligned with the monarchy. The PJD had 12, according to early results.

Any changing of the guard, however, is unlikely to herald major policy shifts in a country where the royal palace has long been in command. While Morocco is officially a constitutional monarchy, its Parliament lacks the power to overrule the will of Mohammed VI, said Saloua Zerhouni, a political science professor in the capital, Rabat.

“The monarchy will continue to control political parties, undermine the powers of government and the Parliament, and position itself as the sole effective political institution,” Ms. Zerhouni said.

But the result did show one thing: the diminishing space that Islamists now find for themselves in the Middle East and North Africa.

continue reading on the New York Times' website. 

The Struggle to Save a House of Music, and Its Legacy


TANGIER, Morocco — For more than a half-century, a Moorish-style house in the old city of Tangier considered one of Morocco’s cultural gems drew musicians and other artists from around the world seeking to learn about the Sufi music and rituals of the descendants of slaves in the country.

But the one-of-a-kind center for traditional Gnawa music was abandoned early this year because it was in danger of collapse, and long delays to restore it as part of a government rehabilitation plan for this city on Morocco’s northern coast put its future in peril.

The battle to save Dar Gnawa, or the Gnawa House, has shed light on just how precious and precarious traditional talents are in the North African kingdom.

Abdellah El Gourd, 75 and a world-renowned master of Gnawa music, has lived in the historic house since he was 5. Over the past decades, he hosted and collaborated with an array of acclaimed jazz musicians from around the globe.

“Dar Gnawa is not only an institution that celebrates the music of former slaves in North Africa, but it is also a focal point for the rise of jazz on the African continent,” said Hisham Aidi, a professor of international relations at Columbia University who grew up in the old city of Tangier and has been part of efforts to save the space.

“As teenagers, we would stop by Dar Gnawa after school, and you never knew who you would find there. It could be saxophonist Archie Shepp, poet Ted Joans or a European musician playing with El Gourd’s troupe,” he added. “We had no idea who these artists were, but we were captivated by the performances.”

Gnawa music is a tradition that originated with enslaved West Africans who were taken north to Morocco. It is among the rituals they held onto, praising saints and spirits with rhythmic song, dance and trance possession.

The instruments involved are few and simple: a three-string fretless lute known as the gimbri or sintir, which is strummed, accompanied by large metal castanets called qraqeb, whose clacking create trance-inducing rhythms. The music is sometimes played during all-night healing ceremonies where exorcisms are performed on the sick to expel the djinn, or evil spirits, believed to cause illness.

The laid-back town of Essaouira on Morocco’s Atlantic coast hosts an annual Gnawa festival, which has been attended in past years by notable international musicians such as Ziggy Marley. In 2019, UNESCO added Gnawa to its Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.

In 1980, the Gnawa House became the first officially recognized center devoted to celebrating and preserving the genre. But long before that, it served as a meeting place for artists starting in the 1960s.

Unlike other Moroccan cities, Tangier did not have many cultural centers for young artists, so Mr. El Gourd took it upon himself to create a space that he hoped would ensure his art form would not disappear. Over the years, the house became one of the few places in the country to practice and learn Gnawa music.


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


Au Maroc, «journalistes la tête haute, ni achetés ni vendus»


Pendant deux mois, trois célèbres journalistes marocains, Omar Radi, Soulaimane Raissouni et Imad Stitou, ont été jugés dans des conditions iniques. Des procès qui signent la condamnation du journalisme indépendant au Maroc. Reportage entre les salles 7 et 8 du tribunal de Casablanca.

Casablanca (Maroc).– C’est avec le même mélange d’horreur et de sentiment d’impuissance que le public a assisté, ces dernières semaines au Maroc, aux procès des journalistes Omar Radi et Soulaimane Raissouni. Au fil des audiences, les deux amis, incarcérés à l’isolement dans la même aile de la prison d’Oukacha, ont vu leurs destins s’entremêler, et la tragédie qu’ils incarnent symbolise désormais les derniers souffles de la liberté d’expression au royaume du Maroc.

Jugés tous les deux par la cour d’appel de Casablanca, ils ont partagé la même équipe d’avocats bénévoles, des spécialistes de la défense des droits humains. Leurs audiences au tribunal ont même fini par se dérouler les mêmes jours. Celles de Soulaimane Raissouni dans la salle 7, celles d’Omar Radi dans la salle 8.

Ce ne sont pas là leurs seuls points communs.

Deux journalistes devenus des symboles

Ils ont tous les deux passé environ un an en détention provisoire – Soulaimane Raissouni a été arrêté en mai 2020, Omar Radi deux mois plus tard, en juillet, après, à chaque fois, une campagne de diffamation profondément troublante. Ils ont tous les deux été accusés de crimes sexuels (Omar Radi les cumulant avec une accusation d’espionnage).

Leurs procès ont été jugés inéquitables par les organisations internationales de défense des droits humains. Et ils sont désormais tous les deux officiellement condamnés.

À l’ère d’après #MeToo, donner la parole aux plaignant·e·s dans les affaires de violences sexuelles aurait pu être un moment décisif au Maroc, un pays où les juges infligent des peines minimales aux auteurs de délits ou de crimes sexuels et ne poursuivent que très rarement les hommes puissants accusés de tels faits. En d’autres circonstances que celles visant Omar Radi et Soulaimane Raissouni, les féministes et les organisations internationales auraient applaudi des deux mains la volonté de la justice marocaine d’entendre et de poursuivre de telles affaires.

Lire la suite sur le site de Mediapart.


Journalist’s Monthslong Hunger Strike Points to Perils of Reporting in Morocco

For years, Soulaimane Raissouni, a Moroccan newspaper editor, didn’t shy away from reporting on some of the most sensitive issues in the North African kingdom, including antigovernment protests that erupted in 2011 and 2016. But his criticism of how the authorities have handled the pandemic appeared to go too far.

A little over a year ago, he was arrested at his home in Casablanca after accusations of a sexual assault — allegations that he says are false and trumped up to intimidate him. Imprisoned ever since, he launched a hunger strike almost three months ago in protest.

On June 10, he appeared in court, emaciated and unable to walk without assistance. “Please take me back to prison to die,” he told the judge.

Mr. Raissouni is one of at least 10 Moroccan journalists who have been jailed in recent years, most of them accused of sex crimes and other acts deemed illegal in Morocco, including certain forms of abortion. Rights groups say the cases are being pursued by authorities whose true aim is to silence the country’s small cadre of independent journalists with false and politically motivated accusations.

All of the journalists detained had published articles about corruption or abuse of power within the kingdom, many of them targeting businesses or security officials with ties to King Mohammed VI.

Morocco, a constitutional monarchy in which the elected Parliament has little sway over the royal palace, has close ties to the United States and is a reliable ally in counterterrorism cooperation. But rights groups have long criticized the kingdom over its limits on freedom of expression and violations of human rights.

“The monarchy has asphyxiated the independent media when they became too critical,” said Abdeslam Maghraoui, a professor of political science at Duke University.

The Moroccan government said that Mr. Raissouni had been granted “all the guarantees of a fair trial” and that neither his prosecution nor those of other journalists were related to their work. It added that Mr. Raissouni had eaten at times in recent weeks and that “his state of health remains normal, despite a loss of weight.”

The government also said that his accusations of abuse were false, adding that representatives of rights groups had visited him in jail.

Mr. Raissouni, 49, came of age during the years after King Mohammed VI ascended to the throne and promised greater openness. He was the editor of the newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, which shut down in March because of the imprisonment of its journalists and longstanding financial problems.

He and other well-known Moroccan journalists had made their names by investigating the previous king’s excesses. But as they turned their attention toward the new monarch, the tenor of the palace changed.

Democracy protests reached Morocco in 2011, and journalists increasingly became the target of security officials. Then, in 2016, the death of a fishmonger in the northern city of al-Hoceima — echoing a vegetable seller’s suicide in Tunisia that ignited the Arab Spring uprisings in late 2010 — set off Morocco’s largest protests in years. The authorities arrested hundreds of demonstrators and sentenced the movement’s leaders to years in jail.

Mr. Raissouni covered both movements despite deepening harassment of journalists covering the protests. And by the start of the pandemic, he was taking aim at what he deemed the government’s shoddy response to the coronavirus.

“More people are getting arrested than are getting tested for the virus,” he wrote in a column a couple of days before his arrest in May 2020, criticizing the powerful chief of Morocco’s security apparatus.

The police arrested Mr. Raissouni after a man claimed in a Facebook post to be the victim of an attempted sexual assault. The post did not name Mr. Raissouni but when the police summoned its author, he confirmed that he was accusing the journalist, according to documents.


you can read the rest of the story here



'Hot Maroc': Yassin Adnan's satirical debut novel plots the death of Moroccan politics

In early 2011, thousands of Moroccans joined the stream of regional uprisings demanding social and political freedoms in their country.

Triggered by events in its North African neighbours, Tunisia and Egypt, the February 20 Movement was born, named after the date of the first planned nationwide protest, which would soon spark further mass demonstrations.

Though the constitutional reforms put forward in response by King Mohammed VI failed to deliver on their promises, the fervour running through the country at the time - as in the rest of the region - was high. Tech-savvy Moroccan activists turned to the internet to voice their opinions and mobilise in unprecedented ways.

In addition to calls for social and political reform, threats and intimidation also rippled through the cybersphere. A propaganda campaign online and in the government-run press sought to slander the February 20 youth, calling them apostates, homosexuals, or supporters of the Polisario Front independence movement.

It was this antagonistic climate that inspired Moroccan cultural journalist, poet and literary critic Yassin Adnan to begin penning his debut novel.

Following unpleasant encounters with online trolls after he launched a cultural television programme in 2011, Adnan began to write a short story at a writer’s residency in France’s southern Cote d’Azur.

And so the character of Hot Maroc’s protagonist Rahhal Laaouina was born.

Although Adnan had planned to complete the short story during the three-week residency, he quickly found himself caught up in Laaouina’s story, which dragged him down a labyrinth of narrative that lasted far longer than he'd envisioned.

That story eventually evolved into Hot Maroc, a time-travelling, contemporary, satirical tale of political and social changes in contemporary Morocco.

Originally written in Arabic, the novel was published in 2016, five years after Adnan’s initial musings. The following year, the book was long-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

Last year, it was translated into French and the English version is forthcoming from Syracuse University Press in July, translated by Alexander E. Elinson.

Regime change

The plot centres around Laaouina, an insignificant man whom we meet as a student at the Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech. Ignored on the whole by his peers, he shrinks back and begins to observe them instead, comparing them to animals and setting up the novel’s uniquely bestial theme.

Laaouina meets a woman and after they marry, his new wife helps him secure work at an internet cafe. He eventually finds himself working as a paid online troll, creating multiple personas to anonymously defame others.

Midway through the novel, Laaouina discovers a news site called Hot Maroc, which covers opinion, news, culture and crime. He ends up using it to attack those he considers his enemies: pretty much anyone who has been more successful than him.

“I was wondering: who are these anonymous people with borrowed names that plague the online social media atmosphere? And why do they intend to spoil people's dreams and attack anything that moves?” Marrakech-based Adnan tells Middle East Eye.

“The phenomenon had become widespread in Morocco. So I decided to work on it.”

Hot Maroc opens at a poetry reading, with flashbacks to Laaouina at middle school, and early on takes us to demonstrations by the National Union of Students of Morocco - a leftist student organisation - that the protagonist joined in the 1990s (the protests themselves span over three decades, during which time they were met with excessive retaliation from the authorities, infiltrating and repressing the wave of dissent in the 1970s and 80s especially).

An apolitical Laaouina becomes involved in the protests as a student in the 90s, merely out of curiosity and a desire to serve his own interests, only joining the activists because they were protesting to reinstate expelled students - including himself.

Read the rest of the review here





CNN: They've been beaten, trolled, threatened with sexual violence but refuse to be silenced


A new report published in April by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and the United Nations' agency UNESCO reveals: "Online attacks on women journalists appear to be increasing significantly, as this study demonstrates, particularly in the context of the 'shadow pandemic' of violence against women during COVID-19. The pandemic has changed journalists' working conditions, making them yet more dependent on digital communications services and social media channels."

Hear their stories here.


Bridging Time, Distance and Distrust, With Music


RABAT, Morocco — Neta Elkayam did not really understand the depth of her dual identity until, in her late 20s, she and a friend took a trip from their home country, Israel, to that of their parents, Morocco.

“It was like drugs,” Ms. Elkayam said. “We both felt like we were walking on air. This is how our place needs to feel. I felt home. I felt filled with happiness. I felt like a complete stranger at the same time. A lot of people on the streets looked like me or like people I knew from my childhood.”

Now 41, Ms. Elkayam, a singer and visual artist, has since earned a following with recordings of the music of Morocco’s Jews, most of whom left that country decades ago. Ms. Elkayam has joined the ranks of artists from scattered people around the world whose longing for a lost homeland has helped preserve once-thriving cultures.

Her connection to her Moroccan heritage led to her latest and most emotional project, with roots in a sprawling transit camp on the outskirts of Marseille, France, that once housed displaced Jews. Many of them were from North Africa, trying to make their way to Israel. Few artifacts remain of life in the camp, called Grand Arenas, which operated from 1945 to 1966, but among them are recordings of Jewish women from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco singing.

Ms. Elkayam said she wept the first time she heard the aching, mesmerizing voices of those long-ago Amazighs — often called Berbers, a term some consider derogatory.

The Amazighs are an ethnic group largely from North and West Africa who are nowadays mostly Muslim, though there was a significant Jewish Berber minority in Morocco in the past. In present-day Morocco, there is occasional animosity between Arabs and Amazigh, who often say that they feel their culture is neglected by the Arab-majority state.

In the recordings, the Jewish women from Morocco sang of displacement and the meaning of home as they headed into a new life in a faraway country, leaving behind all that was familiar.

“This is history that you don’t find in books, and you don’t learn at school,” she said in a video interview from her music studio in Jerusalem. “I was crying while listening to the voices of these women. I felt that I needed to make something with it and make it super relevant.”

She and her husband, Amit Hai Cohen, a musician, are recording an album, incorporating those old recordings and updating them with electronic beats and elements of jazz.

In a way, it is a work she was born into.


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

Spurred by Tragedy to a Life of Female Empowerment


THIAROYE-SUR-MER, Senegal — Sometimes when she’s alone and looking at the sea, Yayi Bayam Diouf imagines the silhouette of her son passing over the waters offshore.

Not usually the sentimental type, she softens when asked about the personal tragedy that would spur her to challenge her town’s traditional patriarchy and become a path breaker for female empowerment.

“C’est la vie,” Ms. Diouf, 62, says softly, of the tragedy — “that’s life.”

It happened in the spring of 2006, when her son, Alioune, a 26-year-old fisherman, went on a yearly trip to the normally rich fishing grounds off Mauritania with others from their town of Thiaroye-sur-Mer, an impoverished suburb of the Senegalese capital, Dakar. But the catch was lean, and they were reluctant to return home with little to show for their efforts.

Instead, he and about 80 others crowded onto his fishing boat and headed to the Canary Islands on a route called “Barsa wala Barsakh,” or “Barcelona or die” in the local language, Wolof. They vanished along the way, and their bodies were never found.

“I wish I had at least seen his body,” Ms. Diouf said. “Sometimes I wonder if he really died. One day, I was out in the sea fishing and I really thought I saw him pass by. It hurts a lot. It’s very hard to talk about him.”

That set her on a course that has led to a plethora of awards for community activism — a photo in her house shows her receiving a medal from Senegal’s president, Macky Sall. She has encouraged dozens of women to set up not just fishing operations, but also hair and clothing shops, as well as businesses making soap and makeup, all supported with microfinancing from government and nonprofit sources. In 2015, she used a grant from U.N. Women Senegal to build a farm to grow mussels, providing work for about 100 women.

But all that came later. Ms. Diouf says that after Alioune’s death she felt drawn to the sea and began thinking of leaving her office job to fish. Yet she faced resistance in the form of a patriarchal culture that expected women to stay in the home and men to work outside.

When she approached a group of community leaders one night after evening prayers seeking permission to fish, she was told that “the water doesn’t need women.” Moreover, they said, one of the traditions among the Lebu ethnic group common in the area was that women couldn’t touch the fish if they were menstruating.

“I told them, ‘That’s fine — I already went through menopause,’” said Ms. Diouf, who is herself Lebu. “I am now feeling so self-confident, and I want to transmit that to other women.”

“I had to win them over” she said. “It takes strength of character and commitment to do this.”


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


The Arab Spring at Ten


The Arab Spring at Ten

A decade ago, countries across North Africa and the Middle East erupted in protests against their autocratic rulers. Five witnesses to those events tell what happened next. 

Ten years ago, crowds took to the streets in countries across North Africa and the Middle East, changing the course of history forever. They wanted to take power away from autocrats and give it back to the people. These nameless women and men were taking part in a mass wave of protest. They were unafraid to stand up to oppression. It was an awakening that was sudden, surprising, and at the same time in sync with a new digital era in which people were able to connect and organize in unprecedented ways.

It all started in late 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, immolated himself in public in protest against a life without dignity. His sacrifice, speaking of a desperation shared by many, sparked a revolution—first in Tunisia, and then, over the coming months, in neighboring countries and across the region.

The protesters aspired and succeeded in ways that had been unimaginable only months before the uprisings. Most of these countries had won independence from Western colonizers after World War II, only to find themselves ruled by corrupt tyrants. The hopes and wishes of ordinary women and men were never taken into consideration, and these societies were governed for decades by fear. But all that changed at a rapid pace in the spring of 2011. 

People were elated, as finally they were in control for the first time in their lives. It was easy to predict that the road ahead would be tortuous, but in those early days nothing seemed impossible in the fight against tyranny and oppression. In the span of a few weeks, street protests ousted dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and in other places, governments scrambled to promise reforms.

Some of that change has endured, with hopes realized. But in many cases, the euphoria turned to disappointment, and protest gave way to violence, retrenchment, and new repressive regimes. Now, with the world reeling from a pandemic that has brought the global economy to its knees, and as counterrevolutions to the Arab Spring are thriving, the transformational milestones of 2011 have come to seem distant, almost unreal.

With the exception of Tunisia, perhaps, the peoples of the region are arguably worse off than they were before the Spring. Syria and Libya, in particular, seem locked in an endless cycle of armed conflict between warring factions, increasingly acting as proxies for foreign powers, that has devastated these countries, creating a humanitarian disaster and making them both a source of and conduit for a refugee crisis of historic proportions.

That, in turn, has fanned a bonfire of human rights violations across the region. The continuing crackdowns in Egypt and elsewhere on those who led the 2011 uprisings, as well as political instability across the region, have eroded the rule of law and empowered secret police and government torturers.

The gruesome assassination of Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government in Turkey in 2018 was, in many ways, the symbolic culmination of the impunity tyrants across the region now feel in facing down the enthusiasm and optimism of the 2011 movement. Days after Khashoggi’s death, The Washington Post published his last column, in which he wrote:


You can read the rest on the New York Review of Books' site


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.

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 . 


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: 


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.