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Moroccan Authorities Arrest Rapper El Haqed (Mouad Belrhouate) . . . Again

[Image of Mouad Belrhouate (El Haqed) after he was first released from jail in 2012. Image from Wikimedia Commons.] [Image of Mouad Belrhouate (El Haqed) after he was first released from jail in 2012. Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

[The following is a post Moroccan activist Zineb Belmkaddem published on her blog following a conversation she had with Mouad Belrhouate (El Haqed's) brother, Hamza Belrhouate. As of 20 May 2014, Mouad Belrhouate remains in police custody, and his hearing was adjourned until tomorrow 21 May 2014. This is the third time Mouad has been held in prison within the past three years.]

By repetitively arresting and beating an artist who does not sugar-coat Morocco’s dark side, and uses rap as a healthy outlet, the makhzen (Moroccan regime) sends yet another reminder of Morocco’s oppressive ways.

“This is the pinnacle of hogra (in Darija, meaning being subjected to a mix of oppression and humiliation)! They make me hate my life!" 

Those were the words of Hamza Belrhouate, alias El Haqed’s (Mouad Belrhouate) brother, as we bitterly discussed Mouad’s most recent arrest on the phone earlier today. I was able to get a hold of Hamza by calling Mouad’s phone number. One of Mouad’s friends had fled with his phone just in time. Hamza was not so lucky. 

It all happened yesterday around 2:15pm at the gate of a Casablanca soccer stadium, when a regular group of friends were making their way to see a soccer game and cheer for the local team that had made it to the finals. Mouad appeared cheerful and alert in pictures and videos taken beforehand, which his friends later shared following his arrest. He was a regular citizen looking forward to what turned out to be a great game for his team; a game the authorities managed to ruin for him before it had even started. 

As soon as he got to the gates with his brother and his friends, police approached them and immediately targeted Mouad. One officer made it clear that he needed to settle something with him. Police then accused him of buying tickets from the black market, and proceeded to beat him and his brother into submission when he objected and denied their allegations. They cuffed him shortly after and took both brothers, while allowing their other friends with the same regular tickets to run. 

“It looked as though it was premeditated, they acted as if they had already planned to brutally assault us both at first, arrest us, take our belongings, beat us some more, then keep Mouad in custody.” Hamza continued to describe the situation as an appalling and humiliating experience: “They hurt him badly in his hands, I saw the marks…they dragged us into one of those blue police vans and beat us even more. The aftertaste is always horrible. They insulted us and attacked us for five hours during the interrogation. It was so humiliating. They took my smartphone, then took us to the fifteenth (name of one of the police stations in Casablanca). They then kept my things, let me go, and kept Mouad locked up.”

As he uttered those words, I remembered one Facebook status Mouad had posted just one day before. It was mocking the fact that King Mohamed VI was going to perform Friday’s prayer, and on his way there, a traditional music group was playing. In Islam, this would be highly disrespectful given the spiritual solemnity of the Friday prayer, and an even bigger mistake the “Commander of the Faithful” made, who claims part of the legitimacy of his rule from his religious status. 

Mouad, very critical of the system, participated and performed rap songs during the 20 February pro democracy protests in Casablanca and shared them on Youtube. He was subsequently sued by a royalist in 2011, then charged and convicted of assault, arrested for an anti-police song in 2012. and dragged in and out of courtrooms for months. Even after his release, the event he planned for the release of his new album was blocked. It was clear that authorities were harassing him for being vocal about his political opinions.

Similarly, Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla was “pushing the boundaries of journalism” by doing his job, and ignoring the intimidation and threats authorities made. His work resulted in the makhzen locking him up on preposterous charges linked to terrorism (denounced by the Editorial Board of the Washington Post in October of 2013, and again today). Mouad also challenges the absurdity of the makhzen in more ways than one—and rightfully so, because the regime keeps backpedaling from every promise of reform made following the Arab Uprisings. Mouad Belrhouate’s arrest yesterday is yet another proof of this regression.

Hope for a more democratic Morocco is fading, as the makhzen went back to relying on its old ways, reassured by the “success” of its systematic crackdown that is responsible for disorganizing groups of protestors through repression and propaganda. Slowly dismantling the 20 February protest movement over the past years, the regime seems to have learned nothing and has chosen to walk backwards into its dysfunctional comfort zone.

The makhzen is acting on the dangerous assumption that Morocco’s large 2011 protests stemmed merely from a copy-paste model of other events in the region—an assumption that may prove costly. Indeed, its attempts at creating a buffer to stifle dissent—namely through the Party of Justice and Development (PJD)—a conservative party previously shunned from politics by the palace, then embraced as a change-maker following protests), is plummeting.

The party’s seamless integration into the system after the 2011 early legislative elections, and its failure to favor defending the voice of constituents over bending to orders received from “above” has resulted, for instance, in austerity measures that dig directly into citizen’s pockets instead of opting for deep reforms that go after those who benefit from the palace’s protection.

Like all political parties that compromised the makhzen before, it became clear that the PJD was neither eager nor successful in attempting to argue with the shadow government (the king’s appointed and trusted team of advisors), but was rather simply acting as the deep makhzen’s shield, allowing it to regroup after the 2011 wave of protests that shook the system. 

Three years later, the ministry of interior still acts as the palace's tentacles in the country, controlling and steering politics. In addition to repressing the voices of Moroccans calling for reforms, the ministry continues to oversee elections, a process that allows it to tweak and adjust the political scene according to the palace's preferences. The king and his entourage's businesses are still thriving monopolies while advisors run foreign relations. Not much has changed. 

The government's dismal failure resulted in people growing increasingly weary of the makhzen's band-aid solutions and its contradictory ways. Claiming to promote stability while simultaneously sabotaging all efforts toward democracy is the regime and its submissive politicians' self-defeating prophecy.

The young rapper's brutal arrest at a stadium, preventing him from seeing his favorite team win 4-0, is but one of the countless occurrences of abuse in Morocco. 

Since 20 February 2011, I have learned a few things about how the makhzen proceeds when one chooses to oppose blatant cases of power abuse, corruption, and human rights abuses. One of the things I came to realize is that the makhzen will not rest until activists, artivists, and netivists are either used, silenced, or broken, particularly when notoriously outspoken.

Mouad is strong. Young people listen and relate to what he shares, and the makhzen keeps trying to avoid putting people in jail for very long stretches. The catch and release tactic is used to benefit from the occasional “Activist Freed” headline. But for activists who randomly and unfairly keep experiencing this nightmare, it is a tragedy. The regime’s strategy consists of attempting to ruin lives and break people with opinions one random arrest at a time….one absurd sentence at a time.

“He was transferred to the Wilaya. He will appear tomorrow before a judge…” said Hamza, before we both remained silent for a few seconds, angry and sad.

Let the absurdity of his trial begin. Again. 

[This article was originally published on Zineb Belmkaddem's blog.]

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