A series of cases have touched resistance leaders and activists who participated or supported the 20 February Movement, from al-Adl wal-Ihsane (AWI) Islamists to members of secular institutions. Sex, financial, or drug scandals: for each activist, a "crime" was deployed to play on a taboo of their ideology in order to discredit and undermine the Moroccan version of the "Arab Spring."
On 17 March, a dozen plainclothes police officers arrested Hicham Mansouri, a journalist and activist with the Moroccan Association of Investigative Journalism (known by its French acronym as AMJI). The door to his apartment was violently smashed. He was beaten on his face and head, stripped and dragged outside with a small towel barely covering his private body parts. A few days later, in a rare occurrence, the Rabat police precinct issued a press release accusing him of managing a brothel, among other accusations.
A few days earlier, Mustapha Arriq, the head of the most powerful Islamist organizations in Morocco, al-Adl wal Ihsane (AWI), was arrested in Casablanca for “extramarital relations.” These are the latest developments in a long series of harassment cases targeting not only the Islamists of AWI, but also leaders and activists that participated and supported the 20 February Movement.
With the outbreak of the "Arab Spring," the role of new media and the electronic press has led to the relative strengthening of social control over the state. Certain economic and/or political groups (sometimes independent of the state, but favorable to the political regime in place) increasingly resort to using nefarious methods to stifle the opposition by undermining its credibility and its popularity within society.
In fact, in Morocco there are so-called “news sites” with significant financial means—but whose sources are unknown—that specialize in attacks against associations, resistance leaders, or political groups that are considered dissidents.
Several propaganda tactics are employed to harm the reputation and honor of political opponents as they act politically or in civic areas such as human rights. This article is limited to discussing three of them: extramarital sex, drug trafficking, and foreign funds.
Islamists: Forbidden Sex
The first victims of “forbidden sex” are Islamists that are critical of the system. In fact, this school of thought finds its main supporters in conservative social sectors that habitually place great importance on religious morality. There is, therefore, no better way to tarnish one’s image in society and demonstrate one’s hypocrisy by publicly spreading photos or videos that depict known members of an opposition organization in positions that are shocking or considered publicly indecent. For example, the attacks that have struck al-Adl wal-lhsane (AWI) have multiplied during the last few years. In fact, Nadia Yassine, the most popular woman at the heart of the organization, was a victim of this propaganda during the "Arab Spring." A video circulated widely on the internet: she is seen walking alongside a man in Athens, where comments and camera angles suggest that he is her lover.
Generally, the produced photograph or video is first published on one of these “news sites” mentioned above, or on YouTube. Then, given the interest that this elicits in the general public, it is reported on mainstream online press, or at least articles are written about this in the more professional press. The case quickly spreads before the victim can even react. It becomes a topic of discussion on social media and in the cafés of Casablanca, Rabat, and even in the most remote villages. By that time, the deed is already done, and the victim`s denial proves futile. This can break the career of a political opponent. As a result, the pasionaria of Al-Adl wal Ihsane has withdrawn from the political scene since this aggression against her and her family.
One of the most recent cases took place in August 2014 in Khémisset, sixty kilometers east of Rabat, against a member of the same association and her alleged illegitimate companion. She was a local personality known for her religious and political engagements. The case was very serious because not only does the published video show the victims half naked, but it also shows their faces and presents them as though they have engaged in adultery. As such, these occult groups have reached a new level in the methods they are using to fight against the raison d`étre of opposition groups. With this video, the objective is to threaten dissidents with an “official” claim as a struggle against immorality against political opponents, as in certain countries such as Russia and Zimbabwe.
“Intoxication and Drug Trafficking” for Young Activists
Trafficking, especially drug trafficking is a propaganda tactic used against youth that participated in the 20 February Movement that, in 2011, unleashed the biggest street demonstrations supporting democracy. In December 2012, Driss Boutarda, street vendor, popular actor, and a leader of the Theater of the Oppressed, Al-Masrah al-Mahgour, and Mounir Raddaoui mocked government officials in a public, improvised sketch in Rabat. Forty-eight hours later, Boutarda was arrested for intoxication, as well as drug trafficking. He was swiftly prosecuted and then sentenced to one year in prison. Before his arrest, he told the press that he was offered work with steady pay in exchange for ceasing involvement in illegal activities. The main human rights organization in Morocco, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (known by its French acronym AMDH) is defending him as a political prisoner.
Raddaoui had a small cell-phone business in Kenitra. He was accused of smuggling. His stock was unlawfully confiscated, along with his car. According to him, his immediate losses added up to some 100,000 dollars. There was also the well-known case of rapper Mouad Belghouate—commonly known as El-Haqed. When he was arrested in front of the Casablanca soccer stadium in May 2014 for counterfeiting tickets, he was sentenced to four months in prison for public intoxication and insulting the police. El-Haqed, twenty-seven, had already seen a prison cell several times for harshly criticizing government officials in his music.
"Serving Foreign Agendas"
If sex is virtually restricted to Islamists and conservative activists, and drugs to young activists who participated in the "Arab Spring," money then seems to be the driving force against left-leaning organizations. Because the left is known for its resolve, at least in terms of their discourse, values of equality, social justice, and financial transparency, this propaganda tactic suits it perfectly.
Thus, the media mentioned at the beginning of this article focus their attacks on human rights associations that are the most critical of the regime. They are accused of receiving money from abroad in order to serve the agendas of Western powers or countries hostile toward Morocco. From mid-July 2014, this accusation became official. The Minister of Interior declared that civil society associations are receiving money from abroad to serve “foreign agendas” and that their activities are an obstacle to an effective fight against terrorism. Consequently, dozens of activities organized by said associations are prohibited. The authorities do not recognize local sectors that renew their offices. This wave of bans even impacted foreign foundations. In fact, on 24 January, the Minister of Interior banned an international conference from being organized by the prestigious German foundation Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung. At the same time, his colleague, the Minister of Communications, positively responded to the foundation`s invitation to chair the opening session. The same media sources decry foreign money and its alleged misappropriation by foreign organizations that dare to work with Moroccan dissidents.
When one looks at the victims of this repressive campaign, one can see that they all played a fundamental role in the logistical and political support of the 20 February Movement. Is this done to smear dissidents, religious or secular, and disruptive civil society groups before they are dissolved through administrative measures? The Rabat police precinct`s threat to withdraw the Moroccan Association of Human Right`s status as a non-profit seems to be heading in this direction: in Rabat, this is the first organization to have made its facilities available to youth who were participating in the movement. The first international press conference took place at the headquarters in the capital, three days before the "Moroccan Spring" officially began. Since the end of summer 2014, nearly eighty-five of the Moroccan Association of Human Right`s activities were banned throughout the country. The leaders of the group are also vilified on a daily basis in the press. Has the time come to permanently close the parentheses of the "Arab Spring" in Morocco?
[This article was originally published in French on OrientXXI and translated by Nadia Kanji]