Poor Alternatives

Anne Applebaum, liberal-ish Washington Post and Slate correspondent, former-USSR expert, and wife of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently published the most ridiculous op-ed of all time, entitled “Morocco, an Alternative to Iran.”  On Slate, it was published as “Morocco Makes Peace With Its Past” (perhaps even more proposterous), and I perhaps wouldn’t have noticed it had it not linked to a piece of mine on Global Voices which, quite neutrally, reported on the recent election of Marrakesh’s first female mayor.

Applebaum’s piece is problematic for a number of reasons aside from the obvious (which is to say that, while shooting protesters and clamping down on free speech are fundamentally wrong, the elections themselves are still contested).  From the opening paragraph, in which she invokes the all-too-common cliché of non-headscarf wearing Muslims “[not looking] out of place in New York or Paris” to her claims of Morocco entering a new era of democracy, Applebaum demonstrates her total ignorance of the Maghreb and the Arab world on the whole.

Take this sentence, for example:

“…unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the last decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders—the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman—and a set of family laws that strives to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.”

Anyone with an iota of knowledge on Moroccan politics can see the flaws in this paragraph; from the recent elections, in which the newly created Modernity and Authenticity Party, or P.A.M. (dubbed the “King’s Party”), closely linked to the royal palace, managed to sweep 22,158 seats to the three journalists arrested and fined for insulting the tyrannical leader of Libya, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Morocco is not a prime example of democracy, nor a model for Iranian reform.

In fact, Morocco’s own human rights record is deeply flawed.  Despite substantial changes from the “Years of Lead,” Morocco continues to oppress Saharawi citizens (be their true nationality Moroccan or Saharawi, it should be relatively undisputed that they are not treated well by the state), suppress Amazigh activists by outlawing their language in schools and requiring their children be given Arab names even abroad, and persecute converts to other religions.  Furthermore, Morocco almost certainly harbors CIA rendition sites, as has been testified by former Guantanamo inmates, and almost always turns the other cheek to Israeli and United States imperialism.

Applebaum also brazenly suggests that perhaps, had the Iranian revolution not occurred, perhaps Iran could have followed a similar path to Morocco, saying, “One thinks wistfully of the shah of Iran and of what might have been.”  It’s as if she forgets, or is completely unaware, of the human rights violations and general atmosphere of oppression under Pahlavi.

Lastly, Applebaum’s assertion that “the Arab world lacks the political will to change” reeks of Obamania.  Doubtless there are a number of Arab countries in which rigged elections, oppression of citizenry, and lack of freedoms are rampant, but the meme that democracy and capitalism are the only way (not to mention the United States’ hypocritical views toward democratic elections in the Middle East) is getting old.  Change, if it is to happen, needs to come from within, and will not occur thanks to Western journalists, nor Twitter users changingtheir icons green, nor United States imperialism.

3 replies on “Poor Alternatives”


I totally agree with you: Morocco is not a true democracy yet or Morocco is not as democratic as we
want to be. But you are one of those who just criticise without presenting any alternatives. I think one of the basic aims of writing or blogging is providing readers with “the suitable medicine”. I wish you got the point.


Dear J.,

I appreciate your comment. I am not typically one who criticises without alternatives; in this case, I was responding to a specific piece written by someone else. This was intended as a reaction.


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