Something is rotten in the kingdom of Morocco proclaims Issandr El Amrani in a Guardian piece about the closure of Moroccan magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire. Though El Amrani notes that the Le Journal case is only one indicator, something is rotten, indeed. The magazine’s offices were liquidated after a commercial appeals court declared that Le Journal‘s former and current publishing companies were bankrupt.
Lest this seem like a simple case of poor leadership or low readership, one must first understand why Le Journal is suffering financially. In 2006, Le Journal was ordered to pay MAD 3 million ($370,000) in damages following a defamation case brought forth by Claude Moniquet of European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. Le Journal had criticized a report by the organization on the Western Sahara for closely toeing the Moroccan government’s official line.
Jamaï had come under fire before; earlier that year, following the publication of the Danish cartoons that negatively depicted the Prophet, Le Journal had issued a special report, re-publishing one of the cartoons, inked out as not to add fuel to the fire. Still, protesters gathered at the magazine’s Casablanca headquarters. Le Journal was also shut down by authorities twice between 2000 and 2005.
Following the 2006 defamation case, Jamaï left Morocco and headed to the United States, where he became a Nieman Fellow at Harvard for a time, completed a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School, served as a visiting scholar at the University of San Diego, and wrote for Newsweek’s venerable PostGlobal. In 2009, he returned to Morocco to rejoin Le Journal. Less than a year later, Le Journal faces closure for its lack of funding, brought about by numerous palace attempts to stifle its voices.
Le Journal, and another Moroccan weekly, TelQuel, are essentially why I learned to read French. Few English-language sources on Morocco are available, and those that do exist tend to follow the government’s official line. The two daring (and often competing) French weeklies do not, which is why they’ve suffered under Morocco’s repressive media environment. Le Journal often took the high road over gossipy TelQuel, however, taking the government to task on its many promises, questioning the government’s stance on the Sahara, and uncovering human rights abuses.
Like Issandr El Amrani points out, the closure of Le Journal does not alone indicate Morocco’s slide backwards. The arrests of bloggers Bashir Hazzem, Mohammed Erraji, and Boubaker Al-Yadib, of Facebooker Fouad Mourtada, of countless journalists, should speak for themselves. Yet, Morocco continues to maintain an appearance of moving forward, especially to the United States, which proudly touts Morocco’s Mudawana and subsequent other new rights to women as evidence.
This is an issue that cannot, must not be ignored. Morocco, in case I don’t say it enough, is a beautiful place. I spent more than two wonderful years there, and would still happily go back, despite its faults. But in order for Morocco, for any country, to continue down the road of progress, free expression is non-negotiable.
Shameless plug: For a collection of essays on press freedom in Morocco, look no further than Talk Morocco’s December issue.