Children Anonymous

find us a solution

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a recent report titled “Lonely Servitude: Child Domestic Labor in Morocco,” published in November 15th, 2012, wrote that the data it compiled between April and August of 2012 suggests the number of child domestic workers has decreased since 2005. It is difficult to take such a suggestion seriously when HRW recognizes within its report that no “accurate statistics regarding the number of children working as domestic workers in Morocco” currently exist.

HRW’s research consisted of two field visits during which 20 former child domestic workers were interviewed in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakesh, and Imintanoute. Its researchers also met with numerous officials from various ministries and representatives from local NGOs. I value HRW’s efforts, wholeheartedly support its mission and understand the difficulties faced by its researchers, the obstructions erected before them by the Moroccan government, but it is preposterous to publish a paper on such paltry amount of credible data. For the sake of comparison, a recent study on domestic workers in the U.S. conducted by Nik Theodore, an associate professor of urban policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Linda Burnham, research director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, interviewed 2,086 workers in 14 cities.

The last comprehensive survey on child domestic labor in Morocco was conducted by the Norwegian based Fafo Institute for Applied Social Science in 2001; it estimated the number of child domestic laborers to be between 66,000 and 86,000 nationally. Despite the lack of solid data from reputed independent organizations, the Moroccan government claims to have made significant progress, through judicial and administrative remedies and educational programs, in curtailing all forms of child labor. As evidentiary source, it presents highly dubious surveys from the Moroccan High Commission for Planning showing that as of 2011, the number of children between the ages of 8 and 15 engaged in labor is 123,000, down from 517,000 in 1999.

We expect the government’s proclivity for exaggeration and prevarication to obfuscate its perennially inadequate performance. Benkirane’s administration has been bobbing and weaving since the day they took over. His ministers have come to realize they are not abrogators, but rather the window dressing of a constitution that is, even in the view of the King’s first cousin, frozen. Previous administrations failed because they lacked the political will to eradicate the country’s deep social malaises. The financial aid program sponsored by the Ministry of Education by means of which qualified poor rural families receive $7 – $16 per child attending school is fraught with embezzlement allegations and corruption. The Child Protection Units and Child Labor Units designed to enforce labor laws prohibiting the employment of children under 15 are poorly trained and equipped and utterly inadequate. One would think that the welfare of children would be a top priority for Moroccan government officials and the King; a draft law the government announced in 2006 has yet to be presented to the parliament. Not only are the laws hardly enforced, but they are extremely lenient; the murderer of a twelve year old maid was sentenced to less than ten years earlier this year; the rapist of a handicapped minor received a five year jail sentence. A 20 February movement advocate demonstrating against corruption gets three years.

123,000 is a tragic number and should be a trigger to a nation-wide outrage, a cause to start a government sanctioned citizen-led abolitionist movement by national consensus.  The fact is that the Moroccan society embraces the wrongheaded belief that it is the government’s responsibility to fix all its woes. Child labor is only one of many grim emblems of a society suffused with ethical obtuseness.  When Amina Elfilali, 16 years of age, committed suicide because she was forced to marry the man who raped her, many advocacy groups organized demonstrations to call for the abrogation of Article 475 which allows a rapist to avoid jail by marrying his victim. The majority of Moroccans, however, snug in smarmy sanctimonious religiosity, promote Article 475 as a bastion of righteousness and thought Amina’s parents were absolutely correct in forcing their daughter’s hand into that matrimonial union. They argue that such a marriage would preserve her honor. “Who would want of a deflowered, never before married woman?” they ask. Moroccan single mothers are degraded and terrified; the lucky ones are embraced by minimally funded NGOs; others are forced into low-paying jobs, or even prostitution. It is a fact that the Moroccan society today is just as misogynistic as that of yore; the repudiation of unmarried women who have lost their virginity is still of startling vehemence.

There are other ominous signs that the moral fabric of the Moroccan society has disintegrated. Thousands of uneducated, malnourished, drug addicted street children roam the streets of Moroccan cities like scavenging packs of hyenas; they sleep outside cafés, in public parks and bus stations; they are often victims to sexual predators and drug dealers who intimidate them into silence; their most realistic aspiration is survival, but even that seems to be a lofty goal. They have fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they are unable to escape without the help of professionals. But first and foremost, they need a healthy environment that the Moroccan society, by its chilly indifference, refuses to provide. The Moroccan society is content to see them slip deeper into the dumps to a life of criminality, displacement, and hopelessness. From what rotten spring does this apathy flow? Only a delusional society could seriously entertain the notion that it could advance to a higher standard whilst exploiting thousands of its children as laborers and abandoning thousands more to starvation, disease, and debauchery.

Children are not the only victims of the Moroccan society’s apathy. Everybody in a position of weakness is. Four Moroccan friends of mine were recently driving in Bourgogne, Casablanca when they were T-boned by another vehicle. The force of the impact drove their car into a light pole. They were wearing their seat-belts, but the force of the impact caused them to briefly lose consciousness. A crowd quickly gathered as they often do in Morocco. They were still dazed and bloody when they were pulled out of the car and laid on the sidewalk. When they regained their situational awareness, they realized that their watches, jewelry, and wallets were gone. One of them had his shoes stolen. Their laptops, cameras, jackets and other valuables were also lifted from the car. Bystanders told them to be grateful to be alive; the rest could be replaced. In a horrific coach accident in Tizi-n-Tichka last September, the families of many of the 42 people that died that day reported their valuables stolen. Such a resigned mindset that makes it acceptable to strip possibly mortally injured accident victims denotes a level of greed and depravity and a lack of love and compassion that can never be a breeding ground of prosperity and peace.

Action against apathy and on behalf of those who cannot fend for themselves, before it becomes a collective effort, is primarily the responsibility of the individual. Do random acts of kindness every day; buy a child a sandwich, clothes, a book; teach him how to read and write; fill his head with big dreams; report on those who employ underage children and volunteer with local NGOs. Until every adult citizen pulls away from the magnetic pull of “the bystander effect,” we will remain a wretched nation.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Child Abuse, Child Labor, Children, HUMAN RIGHTS, Human Rights Watch | Tagged | Leave a comment

Jesus Wouldn’t See That Movie and Mohammed Wouldn’t Go On That Demonstration

A birdie in the name of Mohammed!

Moderate Christians, especially those living in Western nations, are always shocked when they are reminded that Muslims, so unlike them, do not turn the other cheek when their religious symbols are attacked. Mocking Islam is tantamount to hugging a killer bees hive; the reaction is almost always homicidally violent. Muslims have become so predictable that, in our overly interconnected world where information, intellectually enlightening or idiotic and eroding, can equally spread in an instant, it has become a trend among anti-Islam activists to draw the ire of Muslims and lure them into violence by denigrating their religious symbols. They use it as bait to draw media attention to their platform and enlist new supporters. Muslims, especially Arabs, have become a giant billboard for the likes of Terry Jones and those involved in the production of the besmirching amateur movie to promote their apocalyptic bigotry whilst “revealing” the feral nature of Islam. With a prim scowl, they point an accusatory finger at the raging mobs burning buildings of consulates and embassies and say: “look! Didn’t we tell you these Muslims are inherently murderers, naturally terrorists?” Such violent responses allow racist politicians like Michel Bachmann, Louie Gohmert, Lynn Westmoreland, Trent Franks, and Thomas Rooney to mobilize voters and radicalize Americans against Muslims, even those whose American lineage is a few generations deep. To build a constituency for the November congressional election, Gabriela Mercer, a Republican candidate, herself a Mexican immigrant, is quoted saying:

“If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them, they look Mexican or they look like a lot of people in South America: dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes. And they mix, they mix in. And those people, their only goal in life is to cause harm to the United States. So why do we want them here, either legally or illegally? When they come across the border — besides the trash that they leave behind, the drug smuggling, the killings, the beheadings — you are seeing stuff: it’s a war out there.”

I saw the 14-minute trailer of “Innocence of Muslims” on youtube. Like millions of people around the world, I wouldn’t have known of it were it not for the demonstrations. The advocates of the movie couldn’t have hoped for a better promotion. No critical insight is needed to see the movie, that allegedly cost five million dollars, is a diarrheal burst of preposterous blasphemy and ribaldry wrapped in buffoonery and delivered in abominably bad acting. There is no point in its depiction of the prophet Mohammed beyond sheer provocation, giving Muslims a metaphorical wedgie.

The question many Westerners are struggling with is whether such divisive speech can be protected; whether it would be counter to our American principles to censor opinions masquerading as boorish irreverence. It is understandable that many Americans would be loath to restrict speech and curtail opinion. After all, you don’t see Christians, Hindus, or Buddhists violently demonstrating every time Jesus, Krishna, or Buddha is ridiculed. A Wall Street Journalist commenting on the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon” wrote: “Making fun of Mormons in front of a Broadway crowd is like shooting trout in a demitasse cup.” No copies of the WSJ were burnt in Salt Lake City the next day. No movie theaters or British embassies were attacked when Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” came out. Nobody took umbrage at “Bruce Almighty,” where god, played by Morgan Freeman, gives his powers to Bruce Nolan, played by Jim Carrey. Criticism of such work was limited to op-eds and opinion articles.

As soon as an uncomplimentary opinion of the prophet Mohammed comes to light, worldwide riots erupt, fatwas are issued, flags and effigies burnt, businesses and official buildings ransacked, people killed. In Sudan, a middle-aged British teacher was jailed for allowing one of her pupils to name his teddy bear “Mohammed.” In September of 2006, The Deutsche Oper Berlin canceled performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo, re di Creta ossia Ilia e Idamante” because the depiction of Muhammad’s severed head in one of the scenes represented an “incalculable risk” and would endanger its employees and audience. Yale University Press refused to include the controversial Jyllands Posten cartoons in Professor Jyette Clausen’s book about the controversy, “The Cartoons That Shook the World.”  When Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park’s creators, tried to parody the Danish cartoons by scripting an animated appearance of Mohammed in one of their episodes, Comedy Central management blacked out the cameo. In subsequent episodes of South Park, Parker and Stone, true to their comedic nature, depicted the prophet Mohammed wearing a mascot’s costume and talking from inside a U-Haul trailer. It hasn’t always been like this; two months before 9/11, “the Muslim prophet with the power of flame” stood next to Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Joseph Smith, and Lao-tse, the South Park episode titled “Super Best Friends,” to help Stan, one of the show’s main characters, demystify the magician David Blaine.

South Park’s “Super Best Friends.”

Why should the world knuckle under to threats of violence when the subject of Islam is broached? Why should there be an exception in deference to Islamic sensitivities?

Well, there isn’t! It turns out that the Danish newspaper that published the affronting cartoons of Mohammed rejected earlier that month cartoons of Christ explaining to the artist who submitted them that they would provoke an outcry. No American film director today would produce a work similar to D. W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation.” And even if it were, no theater would show it lest the African American community would violently protest. Disney would not release its 1946 musical “Song of the South” for home viewing fearing it would offend minorities. In today’s America. we camouflage censorship with political correctness and no longer allow derogatory epithet like the word “nigger” opting instead for the ““N” word.” Suggesting the Holocaust never happened is a crime in Germany and Israel. The idea that all speech is protected denotes a simplistic understanding of the law. In Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, the court wrote:

“ There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or “fighting words” those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.”

The Muslim people’s outrage is most certainly justified, but the violence is absolutely not. If Muslim nations aspire to democracy, aspects of Islam should be openly questioned and objectively criticized without the fear of being accused of heresy, or apostasy, or subjected to grievous harm or death. This is not only a matter of judicial reform; it requires an honest self-examination at the level of the individual citizen and a willingness to accept the skepticism even of those holding antagonistic opinions.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Anti-US demonstrations, Democracy, Egypt, Freedom of speech, Innocence of Muslims, Islam, Libya, Terrorism, United States | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Coming Out Of The Political Closet

Many see Abdelilah Benkirane’s moments of candor and transparency as a breath of fresh air in Morocco’s political governance today. In a clear departure from the false demagoguery proffered by previous prime ministers, he provides a glimpse of a pervasive and growing reality Moroccans have long been denied, but have always suspected. The appointed heads of previous governments were either ideologically purified children of privilege and political scions, or obsequious civil servants and party leaders who, despite the prestige of their offices, were nothing more than unctuous clerks lacking the gumption and conviction of true leaders. They didn’t have to worry about governing well and honestly so long as they are executing the dictate of the King and his imperious votaries, a nexus of corruption and patronage.

Mr. Benkirane understands this very well. He may be an idealist who believes in a changing Morocco, but he is also a pragmatist who sees the system as a top down patriarchy of stunning efficiency. There is a clear indication of that when he implied by his infamous “aafa Allah aan ma salaf – let the bygones be bygones” that former high ranking officials will not be held accountable for their incompetent and possibly criminal leadership. Any intensified scrutiny into the etiology of the nation’s ills will lead to the King and his inner circle that, for decades, have privatized profits, but nationalized losses. No foreign or domestic policy, economic strategy, military initiative, or religious interpretation has ever been strategically conceived and implemented without the approbation of the King.

Sometimes, Mr. Benkirane, despite his political acumen, lets his truculence get the better of him and he trespasses on the patience of the King. He forgets his right and left limits and extends his line of fire to those who act under the aegis of the palace. Last month, when he accused Fouad Ali El himma and Mounir Majidi of filibustering his administration’s efforts to reform, he was forced to publicly apologize. He could have acknowledged his indiscretion privately, but there is a lesson to be learned in this public political coitus. Mr. Benkirane, a standard-bearer known for his political obduracy, needed his dignity wrung out. Schooling him on “makhzenian” sadomasochistic politics became necessary; the Moroccans needed to see with painful clarity who has true agency and realize there is no one on the scene yet with the spine to stand up to the elite. As long as he is pandering to the King and his cabal, Mr. Benkirane can attack anybody else and gin up any self-serving polemic.

I am one to believe that Mr. Benkirane’s probity is a tool to settle scores and abdicate his responsibility to fulfill campaign promises. Last Monday, in a statement before the parliament and to the media, he announced it will take time for his budget minister to devise a workable economic model for recovery and stability. He confessed the country is headed towards economic austerity; the deficit figures reported by Salaheddine Mezouar, the previous Minister of Finance did not add up. The situation is so dire that Morocco had to call on the International Monetary Fund earlier this month to request a precautionary credit line of $6.2 billion. That’s in addition to over $2 billion borrowed from the World Bank and the African Development Bank in the past two years to optimize farming irrigation systems, improve electricity production and public transportation, prop up educational reform and rural roads programs, develop the financial sector, reform public administration, support infrastructure projects, and finance the Ouarzazate solar power project.

Many of these projects have already failed, or are so flagrantly mismanaged by an unaccountable and grossly opaque and graft-ridden bureaucracy that their dismal flop is inevitable. Policies to improve living conditions in rural areas and combat illiteracy, to eradicate poverty and slums, to reduce unemployment, and to reform the health, judicial, and education sectors have all yielded derisory results. Three weeks ago, Mohamed El Ouafa, Minister of Education, officially admitted that the emergency program (2009 – 2012) designed to overhaul public education has failed. The program was introduced with a fanfaronade by Ahmed Akhchichine, El Ouafa’s predecessor, . Its budget exceeded $370 million. Is there a motion to hold Mr. Akhchichine accountable? Absolutely not! You see, Mr. Akhchichine is a protégé of Fouad Ali El Himma.

A study by Morocco’s recently reactivated Competition Council indicated that over 63% of business transactions are facilitated by bribes and 54% of businesses surveyed are driven by patronage. These are dejecting numbers. Mr. Benkirane was quick to point out that eradicating corruption, as he had promised during his campaign, will prove difficult. It is certainly a long-term project and success is not guaranteed.

For every promise made during his electoral campaign, Mr. Benkirane and his ministers have disclosed information to explain why it would be difficult to fulfill. In the coming months, Morocco’s deficit is projected to grow as it is posed to carry out the biggest grain import in thirty years; social woes are worsening; civil rights are declining, according to international human right organizations, as demonstrators are being violently suppressed and detained incommunicado. Mr. Benkirane’s government lacks the strategy that will protect the country from the vicissitudes of the global economy and advance it towards democracy. He is falling back on a familiar script when he said: “When I say that I am only the head of government, that is not to play down my importance. But it is the king who is our guarantor of stability and the key person with responsibility for constitutional implementation.” So, what took you so long to come out of this political closet and join the rest of the harem?

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Ahmed Akhchichine, Arab Spring, Fouad Ali El Himma, HUMAN RIGHTS, Mohamed El Ouafa, Moroccan Constitution 2011, Moroccan Initiative, MOROCCAN JUSTICE, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011, Mounir Majidi, Partie de Justice and Development, Salaheddine Mezouar | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Morocco’s Great Illusion

For the past three months, I have been struggling with the notion that Joseph de Maistre’s famous “every country has the government it deserves,” found in his “Lettres et Opuscules Inédits vol. 1, letter 53,” is indeed an accurate delineation of Morocco. Could it be conceivable that we, Moroccans, are not aware of the judiciary’s pliancy? Do we lack proof of the politicians’ venality? Does it come as a shock to us that the nation’s polity is task organized like a mafia where the King and his confederates, Mounir Majidi et al, are intolerant of criticism and intemperate in their disregard for basic standards of freedom? Do we need Ahmed Benchemsi and other journalists and intellectuals to inform us that this cartel monopolizes the country’s economic resources, controls its financial institutions, directs its security and military assets against civilians they perceive as threats to their personal interests, and eviscerates the minute grassroots opposition that occasionally flows into the streets to demand a participatory government?

We know all that!

As we watch the unfolding of a democracy we surely know to be illusionary, we bemoan how we lack representative political institutions. Those sleepy clowns we elect to the parliament we know to be beholden to the whims of an oligarchy of über-Moroccans no better, in fact worse, than any foreign colonizer. People jeer at how fractured Abdelilah Benkirane’s government is, how crude his ministers, whose directives are snubbed by subordinate officials, are. Mr. Benkirane finds himself making the same mistake Abderrahman al-Youssoufi committed during his tenure as a Prime Minister in the transitional government of 1998 – 2002: ingratiating himself with the King at the expense of his credibility in the street by excessively running to the palace to beseech the King’s imprimatur to force the application of any comprehensive reform on his own rank and file. Everybody is aware our spurious political opposition is a slapstick act. No one in Morocco is shocked to know that the economy is weak, corruption widespread, the education system bankrupt, healthcare inefficient, elections fraudulent.

We know all that!

We allow ourselves to be entertained by the old guard’s obstructionist strategies to the overly conservative reforms of the Islamist government. Cafés have been abuzz with how Faycal Laraichi and Samira Sitail are the steadfast withstanders of Islamisation, the last bulwark against the sweeping advance of an intolerant, misogynist Islamic discourse into Morocco ‘secular and permissive mindset. Mosques are filled with chatter about how Islam is under attack and the PJD is the shield protecting country and faith from a denigrating Western culture set on undermining our identity, stymieing our progress, indoctrinating our minds.

But there is a more salient reason why Morocco is a sinkhole for democracy. We gripe about the government more openly now, but we act little. We are an ambivalent and empathic lot, bloated by greed and spectacular cynicism. Everybody’s looking for a way to fool the system and con the other. Nurses who surreptitiously eat the food brought by families of patients under their care are not exceptions, nor are pregnant women who are forced to deliver their babies at the gates of a regional hospital deserted by its on-duty doctors. Ambulance drivers ask patients for “gas money” while government clerks demand their “cup of coffee,” euphemisms for bribery, in exchange for their services. The teachers, the doctors, the nurses, the civil servants, the lawyers, the judges, the policemen, the military, the politicians, and anybody in a position that bestows upon him an iota of power is for sale. When the Tunisian and Libyan governments collapsed, the Direction générale de la surveillance du territoire (DGST), Morocco’s counterintelligence service, was advised that the security services of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Mummar Gaddafi had recruited Moroccan journalists, intellectuals, parliamentarians, and government officials, as sources tasked to collect and report on their own country; in exchange for their services, they received salaries and gifts.

Integrity and philanthropy are raindrops in the desert. We condemn the repression of journalists, artists, and bloggers, but we suppose they deserve it after all; we preach tolerance and yet chastise those Moroccans who opt for different religions and cultures. We at once lament child servitude and accept it as a cultural fait accompli; we growl about the suicide of a teenage woman forced to marry her rapist, but rationalize the marriage as protection to her honor; we complain about trash in our streets, but we too litter.

The people want change so long it is designed and implemented by the King. He is regarded by most as a beacon of light among sleaze. Any such change cannot subvert his moral authority to govern. Forget about democratic institutions governed by laws and procedures; Moroccans would rather rely on one man’s wisdom and sense of justice. The King of course relies for his governance on a perfidious ecosystem of which the Moroccan society as a whole is a part.  No wonder then the Moroccan society is hardly reactive and has such high tolerance for political and economic shenanigans – in pari delicto. Its members are riddled with self-destructive pathologies. What’s worse? We are in denial. We have yet to face up to reality. We live in a paracosm in which frenzied adulation to the King and his entourage are rooted in the deepest recesses of our psyche. So long we remain this way, there will be no change for a thousand years to come.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Child Labor, Democracy, HUMAN RIGHTS, JUSTICE, Moroccan Initiative, MOROCCAN JUSTICE, MOROCCO, Mummar Qaddafi | Tagged , | 5 Comments

African Lion 12

The United States Marine Corps has deployed its “Few and Proud” to Morocco to take part in African Lion 2012, a joint and combined annual iteration sponsored by the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff (CJCS), scheduled by US Africa Command (AFRICOM), executed by Marine Force Africa (MARFORAF), and hosted by Morocco’s Royal Armed Forces (RAF). The Marine contingent is comprised of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (special ops capable) (MEU(SOC)) and the 14th Marines, a reserve unit from Fort Worth, Texas. The exercise will serve to promote military cooperation, reinforce interoperability, and consolidate the two nations’ counter-terrorism strategy and merge their vision of regional stability.

African Lion 12 is taking place in Cap Draa and neighboring regions. According to Its Operation Order (OPORD) and Concept of Operation (CONOP), it will consist of a Command and Control (C2) exercise, Field Training Exercise (FTX), Aviation Training Exercise (ATX) provided by an Air Force component, and Public Affairs training. Peace Keeping Operations Training (PKO) will be provided by a Military Police detachment. Utah Army National Guard civil affairs team with its medical, dental, and veterinary capabilities will engage in Humanitarian Civic Assistance (HCA) in Morocco’s remote villages while the US Navy Medical Corps will participate in Medical Exchange and Disaster Response. An Intelligence Capacity Building Seminar focused on counter-terrorism (CT) and force protection (FP) is also scheduled.

My analysis of RAF Trends that have emerged in recent years clearly indicate that the Moroccan military leadership has shifted its strategy to focus on developing core naval and air competencies and attaining regional sea and air superiority; its acquisition climbed 400% in the past five years. With regard to African Lion, RAF leadership would like the training to enable it to achieve rapid and decisive air mobility, to enhance the deployment and sustainment of forces and the ability to launch precise and selective force against targets while minimizing risk. It is most likely that in the next few years, General Abdelaziz Bennani, Inspector General of the RAF and Commander of the southern zone, will seek to expand the scope of African Lion by emphasizing to AFRICOM Commander General Ham the RAF’s need to interface with an integrated and synchronized DoD combined forces capabilities and requesting the inclusion of more advanced air mobility/assault training and equipment. Considering the fact that African Lion is a yearly iteration, US Navy Seabees have most likely been engaged in Exercise Related Construction in the Tan Tan region to support US Forces ongoing and future operations.

The end state of African Lion 12 is to strengthen security cooperation and improve military engagement and deterrence. It will allow RAF and the US Marines to share tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), and establish a focused strategic operational support template and a more responsive tactical information exchange process that will deliver timely, relevant, and accurate intelligence on terrorist trends that might affect regional stability.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in African Lion, AFRICOM, Gen Carter F. Ham, General Abdelaziz Bennani, MOROCCO, US Marine Corps | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Tweet To Mohammed

Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year old journalist and blogger from Saudi Arabia, is currently in jail in Jeddah awaiting trial on apostasy charges. On February 5, the day Moslems celebrated Mohammed’s birthday, Hamza sent the following tweet addressing the prophet:

“On the day of your birthday, I won’t bow before you (…) I loved certain things about you, but I abhorred others, and there is so much I don’t understand about you.”

It was too much for Saudi Arabians’ monochrome mentality. It caused an outrage among Twitter users and netizins who alerted the authorities. A facebook page was created and has now over twenty thousand members clamoring for Hamza’s execution. Why facebook is allowing such a masquerade is unclear at this time.

The following day, he sent another tweet recognizing his “sin” and apologizing, but it was too late. The religious authorities, known to have an animus against shaving kits and free thinking which they believe is the work of Satan, decided to try him for publicly repudiating Islam. This of course makes Islam sound like a mafia; once you’re in, it’s for life. In accordance with the unreasonable and angry sharia law, Hamza will most likely face a stiff sentence to “restore his soul,” if not the gallows.

Hamza Kashgari

After having received hundreds of death threats, Hamza boarded a flight on February 9 to New Zealand via Malaysia. Unfortunately, upon arriving to Kuala Lampur, he was arrested at the behest of Saudi authorities and deported two days later back to Jeddah. International human rights associations accused Interpol of disseminating a warrant for his arrest and deportation knowing that Hamza would face an unfair trial and a possible execution. Interpol categorically denied involvement.

Without the support of the international community, Hamza has little chance of walking out of this ordeal alive. In a country crisscrossed by red lines, a minefield of known and unspoken taboos where he is considered a radical fringe, the young journalist has very few sympathizers. Those who support Hamza’s right to free expression are part of a small group of Saudi secular literati known as the “enlightened Moslems.” Their point is not to change the conservative majority, but rather to allow a free thinking minority the right to self-actualization.

Saudi conservative intellectuals seized the opportunity to attack the “enlightened Moslems.” Dr. Suhayla Zinalabidin Hamad, a prominent academician and a member of the Saudi Human Rights Association nonetheless, bemoaned the alarming pervasiveness of secularism in the Saudi society and accused the proponents of freedom of speech of encouraging the desecration of Islam ‘sacrosanct symbols. She called for an inquisition of those writers who, she claims, use creative license as an excuse to irreverence.

Ironically, it hasn’t been two years since Prince Saud al-Faisal said to an American journalist that Saudi Arabia is “breaking away from the shackles of the past,” since Jedah hosted Art Pure, an avant-garde exhibition similar to the ones organized in New York City, Paris, or Rome, without a raid from the marauding mutawas.

The Hadith relates the story of Abdoullah Ibn Oubay, a follower of the prophet who was known to be a hypocrite. It was reported to Mohammed that Ibn Oubay insulted him and was urged to kill him to deter others from similar disrespect. Mohammed refused. And so, this is not about why I and so many others are critical of Islam’s unsparing posture vis-à-vis those who question its precepts, but rather why Islam today has grown less tolerant than during the time of its prophet.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Hamza Kashgari, Islam, Saudi Arabia | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

The Moroccan “Paper Terrorist”

Amine El Khalifi as the Moroccan community in D.C. knows him. (copyright glittarazzi website)

When the news that a Moroccan was arrested in Washington, D.C. on charges of terrorism, a friend of mine called. ”I thought it was you,” she joked. But the case of Amine El khalifi is no joke. It profoundly rattled the Moroccan community in the D.C. area. Many feel an unwarranted haze of suspicion floating over their heads now. They look over their shoulders. They fear the community will be singled out in intrusive federal probes, stereotyped by local businesses, and harassed by local law enforcement. There is a concern the Moroccan community will be demonized and viewed as a source of “stealth Jihadist.” In coffee shops where Moroccans congregate, some expressed anger at El Khalifi; “he brought shame and embarrassment upon the Moroccan community not just in the D.C. area, but across the United States,” they vehemently retort. He deserves his fate some say.

Amine’s brother and cousin, also living in the U.S., are stellar individuals; his father is a hard working, law abiding and respected teacher in Casablanca. He, on the other hand, was rumored to have brought the rambunctiousness of the old m’dina with him. Since he landed here, at the age of seventeen, his life seemed to follow a script written by Antonio “Tony” Montana, the fictional character known as Scareface. His dream was to make beaucoup money and fast by any means necessary. I have seen him a couple of times lingering in a coffee shop in Arlington, VA, twirling the keys to his BMW, looking for action. He was known in the community as a player, a drug dealer and user, infamous for his vainness and dalliances with young women in Layla lounge and other such clubs where he peddled narcotics. Hardly the profile of a suicide bomber wanna-be. Prior to his arrest, he was never convicted of any crimes; his drug trafficking and use remain unsubstantiated allegations.

Overnight, he replaced the twirling BMW keys with prayer beads, grew whiskers, and raised the banner of Islam. He seemingly found Allah and became a devout Moslem. Never mind he couldn’t recite more than a few short Coranic verses, nor could he speak smartly about moderate Islamic doctrines and interpretations, let alone radical Islamic fundamentalism. Those who know him attest he was never in the thrall of radical Islam. They considered his piousness with a bit of sarcasm.

Amine was more of a threat as an alleged drug dealer and junkie than as a Moslem terrorist. He practiced on how to use the gun the FBI gave him, a MAC-10, in a hotel room. He could have gotten more training value from Elevator Action: Death Parade video shooting game in a public arcade. He had never handled a gun until the FBI urged him on. He was so incompetent, he failed to notice the MAC-10 he was given was missing a firing pin. He couldn’t tell the difference between C-4 and glazing putty. Many believe he was incapable of blowing himself up, or shooting anybody. He should have been arrested on drug charges a long time ago; it would have been cheaper if he were detained for being in the U.S. illegally and deported back to Morocco.

The FBI’s development of Amine into an operational “paper terrorist” serves many objectives. It demonizes a Moslem community and enkindle the fear of terrorism; Amine El Khalifi and other similar cases, in which the FBI and local police authorities operate in a grey area, using dubious methods some consider akin to entrapment, constitute ammunition to conservative politicians with an anti-immigration agenda. It justifies the extra-judicial collection on U.S. persons – surveillance on the Moroccan community in New York for instance – because the latest amendment to E.O. 12333 considers terrorism an exception. It gives Lisa Monaco, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s national security division, the opportunity to comment: “Today’s case underscores the continuing threat we face from home-grown violent extremists. Thanks to a coordinated law enforcement effort, El Khalifi’s alleged plot was thwarted before anyone was harmed.” A study by the University of California at Berkeley shows that only three of the hundreds of terror plots investigated by the United States may have had an existence independent of the FBI. Karen Greenberg, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, analyzes FBI tactics in these alleged terror plots; she states that “The target, the motive, the ideology and the plot were all led by the FBI.” The FBI currently has $8.1 billion in discretionary funding. The federal government has a vested interest in maintaining, if not improving on the laws and policies enacted since 9/11 and empowering it to execute preemptive operations without oversight and outside the constitutional framework.

What saddens me is that no one talks about the Moroccans, some citizens and others residents, who lost their lives in support of the War on Terrorism. No one thanks those who are today serving in Afghanistan and who served in Iraq in defense of the U.S. constitution and the ideals it stands for.

I know quite a few Moroccans who, to escape the accusatory looks of friends and neighbors, changed their names to Latin or Anglo-Saxon ones. I was asked once what I thought of it. I am totally opposed to it for the simple reason that I believe we need to grow more cohesive as a community, strive for coexistence instead of a mindless social camouflage. We need to embraces our Moroccan identity and, as American citizens and residents, treasure and defend the principles and institutions of our adoptive home.

My only advice to those who are still considering changing their names is to stir clear of “Timothy McVeigh.” It has an unflattering history.

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Amine El Khalifi, FBI, Terrorism | Tagged , , , | 16 Comments

The New Court Jester

Before he uttered a word, Mr. Abdelilah Benkirane, the new Moroccan Prime Minister, was made to understand he will be challenged. As he stood before the lectern to address Morocco’s bicameral Parliament, parliamentarian women stood up holding printed slogans expressing their indignation at the trifling representation of women in his new government and chanting their intention to be no milquetoast opposition. Outside the parliament, another group of women demonstrated; their voices squawked through loudspeakers to deplore the regression of the status of women. Mr. Benkirane was hardly nonplussed as if he expected such an outburst. 

In his speech, he outlined his government’s multi-tiered program to address the set of challenges that have overwhelmed his predecessor and dejected the public. He predicted a 5.5% growth over the next four years and a 1.6% reduction in the unemployment rate to 8%; he promised to stabilize the inflation at an appropriate 2% and to slash the budget deficit to 3% of gross domestic product. He vowed a better execution of the “Cities without Slums” program by expediting the construction of 840,000 housing unit. Eradicating corruption and poverty are his national priorities. Honoring Morocco’s agreements with the European Union and other partners, and fostering new international relations are the framework of his foreign policy. Protecting Morocco’s monarchic institutions, its borders, and national security are the bedrock of his government ‘strategy. The new constitution will be its guiding light.

To many, Mr. Benkirane ’speech was motivating, even inspirational. A pugnacious political opposition, mostly disgruntled former ministers and officials turned representatives and councilors, described the speech in a frothing rebuke as nothing more than a wish list and rote slogans. They deplored the lack of details on how the recently formed government will execute. They inveighed against the lack of urgency and criticized Mr. Benkirane’s long view. It is clear that the opposition is vehemently unwilling to take the high road and make a good-faith effort toward political impartiality. It has already started building a wall of obstruction and concocting schemes to subvert any initiative the government proposes in order to delegitimize the PJD’s ascension to the Executive.   

Mr. Benkirane’s agenda is riven with conflicts and contradictions. If we are to base our analysis on facts, Mr. Benkirane’s critical tasks seem highly inexecutable. To maintain the inflation at 2%, the government will have to raise interest rates and discontinue government subsidies; it will require enacting austere fiscal policies that will throw Morocco into an economic depression neither the public, nor the government – unless it aims for a bloody revolution – is ready for. To revitalize the economy by drawing international investment, fostering entrepreneurship, and lowering the unemployment rate will require, among other steps, decreasing interest rates. How Mr. Benkirane will reconcile opposing economic strategies is unknown at this time. He seems to fudge on key issues; he sometimes talks about reducing inequality; in others, he promises expanding opportunities. In light of Europe’s economic recession, a 5.5% growth over the next four years is improbable.

Mr. Benkirane’s popularity could be chalked up to his audacious denunciations, during his rallies, of unprincipled politicians and his unrelenting confrontations with Abbass el-Fassi’s government over the inconstancy of its members. But so far, there are no reassuring signs he is the bellwether Moroccans believed he would be once at the helm of the government. Since winning the election and his subsequent appointment by the King as Prime Minister, he has seeing his image change in the collective psyche of Moroccans. His floundered attempts at forming a government portrayed him as a weak-kneed concessionist. By handing over ministerial portfolios to individuals who have participated in previous administrations, some such as Mohand Laenser since the early eighties, people, especially the young and disenfranchised segment of society, consider him now a member of the Makhzen establishment he has once railed against. Allowing Mr. Aziz Akhanouch to resign from the Independents’ National Rally party to join the new government and carry on his duties as Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries is a clear constitutional transgression.

And it is not the only one.

Creating ministerial positions without assigning portfolios to accommodate the power-grabbing aspirations of organized political interests the public deems undesirable is another one. The negligible representation of women in the new government is yet another example of how dismissive Mr. Benkirane could be of the new constitution when it oppugns his Islamist leaning or his political duplicity. The unemployed have grown convinced they have been hoodwinked into believing that Mr. Benkirane is a reform-minded outsider who will put the kibosh on their woes. However, they quickly realized how the patriarchal level-headedness he demonstrated before the election has morphed into a churlish assertion of regulatory power only a few weeks after he assumed power. Last week, four unemployed youths who hold higher degrees self-immolated in Rabat when they became exceedingly harassed by the police during a sit-in. Demonstrations organized by activists in major Moroccan cities have been violently confronted by security forces resulting in the detention and hospitalization of hundreds of participants. Human rights and individual freedoms are slowly and steadily deteriorating.

These are strong indicators that Mr. Benkirane has transitioned from a belligerent opposition leader to a consummate “makhzny.” They reinforce the view many Moroccan analysts share that the electoral success of the PJD was orchestrated and only serves to placate the mounting populist aversion to the status quo.  

As their hopes blink out into oblivion, the Moroccan people are no longer swayed by the bloviation of politicians and businessmen who act as if they will flog the nation into prosperity when in fact they are depleting its resources. They understand that Mr. Benkirane is nothing more than the new court jester; the blame falls squarely on the King. They have grown intolerant of the unvarnished condescension directed at them from the palace. The recent inauguration by the current heir apparent to the throne of a zoo in Rabat is a clear illustration of how nothing will be changing in Morocco. Moroccans saw an eight year old child around whom high ranking city officials and politicians could not walk upright out of fear; they lavished upon him profound veneration, kissing his hand and never calling his name as if doing so were a blasphemy. Instead, they referred to him as “The Name of my Master.” The inauguration gave insight into the upbringing of Morocco’s future king. Before he understands the underlying principles of governance, the strategies of politics, the glorious history of the people he will inherit and upon whom he will be king, he is taught first and foremost that he is the apotheosis of mankind, that people need to be obsequious servants at his whim. 

Where is the dignity in that? No Moroccan in his right mind pines for the era of Hassan II, nor does he look forward to the era of a Hassan III who believes the people ought to serve him and not the other way around. No wonder demonstrators around the country today are chanting: “You king, you vile enemy of the masses.”

A. T. B. © 2012

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Arab World, Democracy, Freedom of the Press, HUMAN RIGHTS, Individual Freedom, MOROCCO, POVERTY | Tagged | 1 Comment

2011… To Be Continued

2011 will be remembered as the year a young Arab generation leaders, intellectuals, and parents thought to be politically vain, unengaged, timorous, convulsed and toppled three dictators and caused others to reassess their positions, make concessions, and reform their ways. So many died for intangible ideals such as freedom, social justice and equity, democracy. Others wanted nothing more than an honest job, a decent living, a dignified existence. Many hold Mohmmed Bouazizi’s self-immolation as the catalyst of the revolution that spread like wild fire.  Somehow his demise pinched a nerve many believed neuroparalytic.

Bouazizi is hardly exceptional in the Arab world. In fact, his plight is rather mundane. Many young Arabs eke out a living in ways fraught with danger and uncertainty and are constantly harassed by corrupt police. Their meager sources of income have always been targets to unscrupulous legislations. Many young Arabs self-immolated when their options were drastically reduced and their legitimate grievances ignored by their political leaders.

Somehow, Tunisians decided that the government’s lack of compassion with Bouazizi’s plight was a slap across the nation’s collective face.  Its judicial unctuousness could no longer dupe the people. It was too much to bear. Most saw Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s pity visit to an expiring Bouazizi as a devious maneuver to appease the brewing anger of a nation that can no longer silently witness the government’s heedlessness to their needs. It blew the lid on the feral rage Tunisians felt about their precarious economy while Ben Ali and others of his ilk were basking in lavishness.

The Egyptian and Libyan revolutions have been fairly successful because people have come to grips with their own strength as powerful brokers of change in countries where the only change ever allowed was seldom palliative to the people and always initiated by unrepresentative prehensile officials. I say fairly successful because the revolution is ongoing. It has become clear that Arab Heads of States are only the tip of the iceberg. Behind the dictators stand a more powerful oligarchy that has demonstrated it has no compunction thrusting one of their members on the gallows to save the status quo. People in Tunisia understood that Ben Ali, and Mohammed Ghannouchi who tried to head a transitional government afterwards, were nothing more than the executors of policies devised by the Constitutional Democratic Rally. It has become clear now that Egypt’s military has been the true deleterious drive behind Housni Moubarak. It has been suspected that many of the politicians, military commanders, and businessmen who supported and often conspired to strengthen Muammar Qaddafi’s rule are now heads of newly formed political parties vying for power in the emerging government.

Thanks to the ingenious use of social media as a political tools, the Arabs have grown quite skilled at discerning between fundamental political changes and nostrums concocted to mitigate social unrest and deceive people into believing that their will is being fulfilled.

Much has changed in the Arab World in 2011, but clearly the revolution is not over yet. 2012 promises to be a delving year for the Arab world.

(to be continued)

  A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Arab Spring, Mohammed Bouazizi | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Morocco’s Museum Of Things I Can’t Afford

As I sat in Fanajeen, Aasmaa, Akhannouch’s café, contemplating a map of Morocco amputated of its southern provinces in a Morocco Mall brochure while sipping from my 30 dirhams cup of coffee, I couldn’t help thinking Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch, the queen of retail franchising in Morocco and CEO of Aksal Group, must have sensed Moroccans’ bubbling need for a new shopping and entertainment experience. The venue is palatial and its three floors teemed with an overjoyed crowd that raged like white water through its arteries, seeking to be part of the hottest action Casablanca has ever seeing.

The excitement was palpable. There are no symptoms of poverty here. Since December 5th, the day it opened its doors with an extravagantly overpriced “J-Loesque” fanfare, visitors from Rabat, Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, and Tangier, have been flooding Casa-Voyageur and hopping in cabs to Morocco Mall; others drove their BMW’s, Audis, Mercedes, and Range Rovers; and yet, others rode buses, or came on foot. The taxi driver told me it was his sixth trip to Casablanca’s new shopping landmark. The venue expects 14 million visitors and revenues in excess of two billion dirhams a year. Although it lacks a helipad, the premise is impressive. With its 350 high-end and well-known signature fashion brands stores, IMAX cinema, an aquarium, an arcade, an ice skating rink, and a musical fountain mimicking the Bellagio’s, it is guaranteed to be a Mecca for Morocco’s wealthy families and a broadening middle class base with a rapidly increasing purchasing power.

At least, that’s what Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch believes based on an article she wrote for the Oxford Business Group titled “Moving on up.” She further stated that the retail fashion market is compelled to expand to satisfy Moroccans’ demand for quality fashion clothing. To that end, her company co-developed, along with Saudi Arabia’s NESK Investment Group, the Morocco Mall. In the same article, Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch predicts the project will have “important social and economic impacts for the country.” Not only will it promote growth and create jobs, she adds, “it will change Moroccans’ life styles and buying habits.”

Such spurious arguments have become the meme of Morocco’s wealthy business families.

I don’t see how Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s just-add-money franchises that make up Morocco Mall will translate into an agenda for broad prosperity; they neither develop a skilled labor force, nor improve the local and national economies. It is a pure profit venture that exploits the country’s cheap labor and lax employment laws, and facilitates the transfer of millions of dirhams toward Europe. Of course it generates revenues, but those are not positively impacting communities in dire need of adequate schools, hospitals, and other public service institutions because thanks to her husband’s connections Aksal Group enjoys unique tax breaks. Morocco Mall and similar other businesses will become even more profitable to foreign investors when the transitional period for custom tariffs dismantling ends on March 1st, 2012. The five thousand employment positions Morocco Mall created are low-paying service jobs; hardly enough to put a dent in Morocco’s chronic unemployment and soften the brunt of its current economic recession in which the government is forced to subsidize commodities to avert a major security crisis. Morocco’s GNI per capita in PPP dollars is $2,750 yearly; according to a study by the High Commission for Planning (HCP), 60% of Moroccan household have a monthly income of less than MAD 4,227, 40% less than MAD 2,892, and 20% less than MAD 1,930. Household consumption has been lagging, the poverty rate climbing, social mobility stagnating, and wealth inequality widening.

Millions of Moroccans, although scraping by on low-earning income, believe the malarkey coming from certain business circles such as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch’s. They are of course in denial that Morocco Mall is beyond their buying power. Instead of adapting financial restrain, they are willing to stretch their paychecks and sacrifice necessities to earn bragging rights that they’ve shopped at Morocco Mall. For a few hours, they leave a world of woe behind and relish a slice of Europe that, so far, does not require a visa.

The fog of economic profiling is thick around Morocco Mall. A friend of mine who happens to be a lawyer decided, after a walk along the corniche, to take his teenage son to Morocco Mall to check it out. He was promptly stopped at the door by two security employees highly trained in sniffing the whiff of poverty on people and recognizing the wooziness of hunger. They toted handheld radios – the ubiquitous paraphernalia of authority in Morocco. They explained that he and his son couldn’t go in dressed the way they were. My friend and his son were decently dressed in locally made jeans and shirts, except…. except that they were wearing flip-flaps. He was incensed. He complained loudly and refused to leave. He was embarrassed that his son had to see his father subjected to such humiliation. Isn’t Morocco Mall open to all public? A manager finally came out and after a brief debate, decided to let them in. By that time, my friend had lost his urge to goggle at Louis Vuitton bags and Gucci dresses. Such an incident is not isolated. Excluding some Moroccans seems to be a management standard operating procedure; after all, Morocco’s journalists were never invited to the inaugurations.

Deciding between Sidi Abderahman and Morocco Mall

Morocco Mall is surrounded by miserable and decaying patchworks of slums baked by the sun and through which a salty breeze sleathers. Their residents, stifling under the pall of poverty, will give Sidi Abderehman a break and come to Sidi Morocco Mall for no other reason than to drool over things they can never afford; a classic case of the waif ogling at freshly baked napoleons through the window of an expensive bakery. Those who do not reflect – at least visually – a certain economic standard will be barred from entering; impressed upon them will be their lack of worth and the power of a minority in society. The yawning inequities between poor and rich are spotlighted at the entrance. This will only further strain the already tenuous cohesion within society. Instead of a driver of prosperity for all, as Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch would like us to believe, Morocco Mall will most likely highlight income inequalities. An International Monetary Fund report published last April found that gaping income disparity undermines economic growth within communities.

The obvious question is why does Salwa Idrisi Akhannouch have such breathless optimism in the face of economic gloom? When Galerie Ben Omar in Maarif opened, it was the talk of the city. Anybody who’s somebody had to shop at Gallery Ben Omar. It is now a faded ghost of its old self. Twin Center and O Gallery, across from Megarama, also became the premier destination of Morocco’s fashionistas and, for a few years, achieved a degree of success. As it turns out, they were only mid-term investments. Once the initial cost is recouped and a predetermined rate of profit achieved, the business is left to rot. I suspect the same fate awaits Morocco Mall.

I headed to the aquarium. There was a huge line. The cover charge was 25 dirhams. There was a time when Casablanca had a beautiful aquarium. Few remember it. I decided to forgo gazing at fish and headed for the door just as security dragged a well-dressed young man outside. The crowd said he was a college student who, being broke, decided to wear a jacket he fancied and walk away with it.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Akhannouch, ECONOMY, MOROCCO, Morocco Mall | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy

Abdelillah Benkirane, Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdellah, and Mohand Laenser

The unflappable Mr. Abdelillah Benkirane, who billed himself as a spur to political virtue, the ultimate standard-bearer willing to stake his political future on standing up for the people, has succeeded in ushering in a golden age of nonpartisanship when he secured a most unlikely coalition for his executive cabinet. The Independence Party (Istiqlal), the Progress and Socialism Party (Takadum Wal-Ishtirakia), and the People’s Movement (Alharaka Ashaabia), in a rare instance of syncretism and out of an unadulterated sense of patriotic urge to advance the relentless inculcation of democracy in Morocco, have decided to brush aside their fundamental ideological differences with the PJD and join its new government. Once the ministerial portfolios assigned and the new formation is blessed by King Mohammed VI, the new government can finally attend to the pressing matters the public cares passionately about. Abbas El Fassi commented on the new coalition by saying: “WE’RE BACK!” Salahddine Mezouar, the Minister of Economy and Finance and the President of the National Independents Rally, is being alienated, not only by Benkirane, but by his former partners in crime as well. He is so dejected about this he hardly has the energy to steal anybody’s money.

We were on the precipice of despair, people; on the brink of a bloody revolution; stalked by anomie. Thanks to the initiative of His Royal Highness who has always been attuned to the needs of his people and to the political parties whose stalwart effort greatly contributed to the success of last month’s Legislative election, we are skipping the Arab Spring and going straight into the Moroccan Summer. But don’t pull out your Lancaster tanning lotion and don your swimsuits quite yet, especially the ladies, until PJD strategists section the beaches by gender and provide ushers to assist the public. The Moroccans, with their dream to forge a sustainable democracy galvanized by a reformed constitution and a new government that has vowed to disown the deleterious strategies of its predecessors, await with panting anticipation the badly needed implementation of new social, economic, and political fatwas that will restore confidence, energize the employment market and drag them out of the ditch of poverty.

Let’s not concern ourselves with the fact that the parties invited to be part of the government greatly contributed to the corruption, incompetence, and cronyism that have hamstrung the nation’s progress since the independence. Don’t get wrapped around the axle because a few bloggers and journalist got arrested and activists were intimidated by a few shoves and slaps and the occasional knife stab from hired crack heads. Look at the bright side of things. Those crack heads are now gainfully employed. Disregard the fact that during the tenures of Abbas El Fassi, Nabil Benabdellah, and Mohand Laenser, corruption was so widespread many analysts thought it a spin-off of a governing strategy. Don’t let the effulgent and shameless lack of personal rectitude previous ministerial officials from these parties cloud your judgment and stamp your hopes. It is true that the men entrusted to lead us in Benkirane’s government have devised cynical designs to retain the ability to expand their personal and their parties’ influences and maintain the status quo. That was before we began our historic shift. They are now paragons of integrity.

Royal Appointment Ceremony of 28 Ambassadors, Dec. 6th, 2011

Now that we have a new constitution and democratically elected officials, the notion of a Moroccan government as a cesspool of Makhzen ideologues appointed to crucial position of influence regardless of ethics and competence is quickly fading in the rearview mirror of our history. Have no doubt that by emphasizing the eminence of the new constitution in his 17 June 2011 speech, the King widened the scope of democracy so much that he foreordained the success of Morocco’s democratic experience. You might feel compelled to think of that speech retrospectively as a sedating sophistic discourse. Don’t pay too much attention to those polarizing pundits and activist bloggers who draw your attention to the fact that by appointing twenty-eight Ambassadors on 6 December, the King acted in violation of article 49 of the constitution. What could be a better lesson in democracy than the King himself taking the time to show the people the wrong example? After all, the King’s appeal resides in the fact that he is something of a paradox: he counsels democracy, but feels his actions represent the national will. I know you are urged to look at his adding the controversial Fouad Ali El Himma, a political hack whose lack of credibility is terminal, to his advisory staff as a blunt statement that further reinforces the Moroccans’ impression that Mohammed VI is still using the master script of governance written by

Fouad Ali El Himma

Hassan II, only framing it in a way befitting of today’s highly politically sensitive environment. Such assertions are absurd. There is no one in Morocco that could advise the King on how to mix a Manhattan better than Fouad Ali El Himma. Of course, for El Himma, now that the PJD is in charge of the government, there is no safer place to drink one than in the Palace.

I wouldn’t call what’s happening in Morocco democracy, but I would be happy with something like: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” 

A. T. B. © 2011

 

Posted in Abdelilah Benkirane, Democracy, Moroccan Constitution 2011, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011, PJD | Tagged | 6 Comments

PJD: Mission Impossible?

Abdelilah Benkirane, the PJD’s (Justice and Development) leader, is living an enviable political moment. His party’s electoral win hurtled him into the inner circle of the King’s decision making process. He was summoned to the Palace to be officially nominated as Prime Minister and tasked with the formation of a new government today. He will most likely be advised of the King’s agenda in due time and required to ensure that his future government’s plan of action accommodates it. I am fairly certain that the King’s agenda and the PJD’s coalesce under the general premise that the primary focus is the nation’s interest.

The PJD surged in the polls taking 107 of 395 Parliament seats last Friday humbling the parties known to form Morocco’s power structure. Al-Istiqlal came in a distant second with 60 seats. Of the 13 million registered voters, 45.6% participated. The results of Morocco’s first “wave” election show that there is a national consensus that the country’s traditional and sclerotic political parties might be the source of all evil. There is an urgent need for a dramatic transformation of the political culture and the PJD might very well be the harbinger of genuine democracy in Morocco.  

I admit I was too conventional in my analysis of the outcome of the election. I figured it would follow a familiar script in which al-Ahrar, al-Istiqlal, PAM, or al-Itihad al-Ishtiraki would take the lead. The PJD, a moderate Islamist party which has been dismissed as too radical, humiliated, scorned, and ridiculed by an ossified political structure that hoped it would flare and fizzle, has emerged as a change agent of epic proportions. It has cast itself during the electoral campaign as an alternative to the political oligarchy whose wealth and control over national resources are no longer enough to buy it an electoral victory. The majority of Moroccans, including the youths of 20 February Movement, the internet and social media savvy rebels and activists who most certainly do not share the PJD’s views, concede it is the only political party in Morocco today with the fire power and a grand enough ambition to remodel the Moroccan political structure and change its withering ways. The party promised real solutions to the enormous problems Abbas El Fassi’s cratering government exacerbated, if not created. It announced bold and dramatic changes: decreasing poverty by 50%, increasing minimum wage by 50%, and eradicating corruption.

Benkirane was able to masterfully steer his party to tap the people’s simmering angst about a crippling stagflation. He demonstrated a confident command of issues and a knack for sound bites Moroccans related to. His eloquent, yet colloquial rhetoric is often change inspiring exhortations suffused with passion and clarity and carrying just the right amount of florid quotations from the Koran and the Hadith. By emphasizing high ethical standards in the practice of politics, he was able to attract a sizable young electorate that has grown tired of the self-serving back-room deals of the other parties. Public anger at a coterie bent on morally and physically looting the country and the global economic distress brought the PJD back from political irrelevance and front and centered it on the electoral stage.

Needless to say, The PJD will have to live up to the huge expectations of the Moroccan people. Benkirane often bridled at the criticism that the PJD is an Islamist party explaining that it is a political party that uses Islam as a reference. Nonetheless, its perceived religious doctrine evokes serious concern among moderate Moroccans that the party’s hardliners will attempt to cut the country’s ties with the West. There is a sense among people that the PJD will remain locked into its dogmatic orthodoxies; there is a fear its minders will start patrolling the streets shutting down bars and evacuating beaches enforcing scriptures. The PJD’s leadership is well aware that doing so will sabotage its future. It will have to fashion itself into an icon of political moderation and religious tolerance.

Based on their comments to the media, PJD’s leadership understands there is a paramount requirement to rebuild people’s trust in the government before committing to any transformational quixotic agenda. Threatening to change everything at once will magnify distrust and undermine its legitimacy. People need to know that they will be treated with dignity by an independent judicial and the security service is accountable for its actions. Before tackling corruption and other forms of moral deprivation, they need to create jobs, enhance public service, mitigate poverty, and enforce existing laws on gender equality and child labor. And by any standard, that is a tall order to fulfill for a party lacking experience in government management in the rough and tumble Moroccan society. 

A. T. B. © 2011

     

Posted in 2011 Election Morocco, Abdelilah Benkirane, Partie de Justice and Development, PJD | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Moroccan Government to Citizens: You Supply The Vote, We The Results

Surveying the Moroccan media’s coverage of today’s election, I got the impression the political parties are locked in a vicious, but healthy fight for power. I have intently read, listened, and watched as the leadership of the thirty political parties vying for a parliamentary majority reveled in exposing their grand vision of Morocco under their governance in newspapers and magazines and on national radio stations and television channels. They vowed to put the people’s interest before their partisan agenda; to ease the collective anxiety and earn the people’s trust, they bemoaned the irresponsible and undemocratic practices of erstwhile governments. They passionately pleaded with the citizens to denounce electoral graft and demonstrate civism by committing to the newly voted constitution and aiding in the construction of a more democratic culture.

The Moroccan government cranked up a robust campaign to urge people to vote. It commissioned three twin-engine planes to drop leaflets in remote areas to animate voters. The airwaves have been saturated with countless programs and ads sensitizing people to the importance of voting. Actors, singers, intellectuals, and politicians have been mobilized to tell the masses, in almost personal pleas, that it does not matter whom they vote for so long as their voices are heard. The streets are littered with fliers, banners, and posters reminding them to head to the polling stations to cast their ballots. The government’s efforts to educate people on the value of electoral participation as a public entitlement that should never be relinquished is indeed commendable and should be encouraged.

I felt the urge to vote. I did what I usually do in similar situations. I lay down and let it pass.

Somehow, millions of Moroccans are skeptical. They wonder how could a government that has lacked responsiveness to their most basic grievances for the past five years all of a sudden pay lavish deference to them. Since the electoral campaign started, ten ministers, as crass as they come, have left the comfort of their swanky homes and parked their Audi A8’s to tread through impoverished neighborhoods and among the commons. They danced for the people and laughed with them, they shook their hands, told them jokes, made promises and served meals. Most people know exactly how long this paroxysmal kindness will last. Not a day past 25 November. These are the same ministers who for the past five years have shown utter indifference to the plight of Moroccans. Something is rotten in the state of Morocco.

While the media is promoting the practice of democracy, the government’s security elements are arresting those calling for the boycott of the election and instigating criminal attacks on young activists leading demonstrations and organizing sitting-ins. The latest to be attacked is Sarah Soujar, stabbed Tuesday night during a demonstration in Sbeta in front of a swarm of suddenly lethargic police force.

I step out of my house one morning and I come face to face with Karim Ghellab, the Minister of Equipment and Transformation and Provincial Secretary of the Istiqlal Party. He was flanked by the Qaid and other sycophants. The streets were cleaned spotless as if the King himself was coming to visit. Before becoming a minister, Ghellab had campaigned for a parliamentary seat three times and won. He and most other candidates see the people though the prism of election. Once the election is over, Ghellab wouldn’t touch my neighborhood with a ten-foot pole. Why would he? The guy never experienced the life the majority of Moroccans endure; he attended Lyautey and finished his studies in France before returning as an engineer to a privileged professional post as a regional delegate of the Ministry of Transportation and a reserved seat within the Istiqlal Party leadership where his father, Abdelkarim Ghellab, was a prominent figure – one of the signatories of the independence document. Looking at the background of most of the well-heeled candidates, one quickly realizes that what needs to be changed first is the old guard.

Twice or thrice every hour, Moroccan viewers are invited to participate in a trivia game on TV; they are asked a simple question such as: what color is the white polar bear? Viewers are urged to send the correct answer via text message to a number displayed on the TV screen to win between five thousand to fifty thousand Dirhams and a brand new car. Each text message cost the participant ten Dirhams – a little over a dollar. Millions of Moroccans participate generating tremendous revenues to Maroc Telcom, Meditel, and Inwi.

The Moroccan government is using the same strategy. The results, I suspect, are already secured. What matters is a large turnout to give the fabricated results legitimacy.

So far, only 35% voted. We Moroccans are not easily duped. Then again, it wasn’t so long we were swept by Mawazin.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Democracy, Moroccan Constitution 2011, MOROCCO, Morocco Legislative Election 2011 | Tagged | 2 Comments

Qaddafi: Return To Sender

Guess who's next!

And so, it has been proven that the King of Kings of Africa, the Guide of the People was a mere mortal who bled red like the rest of the Libyan people he tortured and executed. For once, his hands were covered in his own blood and not others’. The circumstances of his demise are still unclear. His eighty-vehicle strong convoy was annihilated by strafes of fire from NATO gunships as he was escaping westward from Surt, his hometown and final stronghold. He sustained injuries from that attack, but he was alive when rebel fighters pulled him out of a culvert where he was holed up not far from the site of the attack. Whether he bled to death or was vengefully executed by his captors is unknown at this time.

The blurry videos and pictures of Qaddafi’s capture and death broadcast on al-Jazeera and other Arab networks, sinister war trophies purloined from history by a bitter crowd, depicted a bloodied and livid man verbally degraded and physically abused by his captors. I deplore the unfair death of any man no matter how despicable he might be, but it is understandable how the young rebels, being primarily a civilian armed force driven more by reprisal than professional military discipline, could fail to stop on a dime and lack magnanimousness towards a dictator who brutalized so many. They seethed in a claustrophobic police state without a voice for so long that when they finally came face to face with the dictator that gagged them, they had to sound as loud as machine guns.

No one really cares. Everyone in Libya is ecstatic that the leader of the revolution who spoke the mind he lost is dead. They see it as a fitting end for an egotistic and self-delusional murderer who, when they peacefully voiced their grievances, formed his goons and hired mercenaries into dead squads to kill the men and rape the women.“I am a glory that Libya cannot forgo and the Libyan people cannot forgo, nor the Arab nation, nor the Islamic nation, nor Africa, nor Latin America, nor all the nations that desire freedom and human dignity and resist tyranny! Muammar Qaddafi is history, resistance, liberty, glory, revolution!” he proclaimed in February in his inimitable way. He gave a whole new meaning to the enlightening words Steve Jobs shared with students at the commencement speech to the Stanford class of 2005—“Stay hungry and stay foolish”.

Would it have been ideal to mete out institutional justice to Qaddafi and the nation’s erstwhile tormentors in his employ? Of course. It would demonstrate that the populace has a stronger esteem for the rule of law and would have set the future Libya on a solid path to democracy. In essence, is it not a total absence of equity that the Libyan people reproach to the rule of Qaddafi? But Libyans feel that his death brings an immediate measure of closure to forty-two years of Praetorian governance a lengthy trial could never deliver. The people are so traumatized that they no longer want to see his unbridled oratory theatrics, hear him spew invectiveness on the rebels, agonizingly rant about how Libya is victim of a Zionist, U.S., and NATO conspiracy to steal Libya’s oil and gold, and boastfully claim he is the Brother Leader of the Revolution who brought glory to the Libyans.

After the euphoria of freedom dims, the challenge of building a consensus around a central government will become more immediate. The dangers of widespread fighting among tribes and factions for influential portfolios in the next government are palpable. The Transitional National Council has been criticized as being opaque and unrepresentative of all Libyans; It has failed to assuage the fears of residents whose relationship with armed militias that are supposedly maintaining order has become fractious and confused. Its leaders have already announced they will resign once victory is attained. Now that the primary and unifying mission of the rebels has been accomplished, the conflicting and hidden agendas of Libya’s power brokers, some funded by the U.S. and NATO while others are supported by China, Russia, or Iran, will emerge. The fighters will consolidate along tribal and geographic lines. This problem was already apparent when multiple rebel groups from different cities and with distinct tribal affiliations clashed with each other in Tripoli. Qaddafi might have died, but the violent culture that fed his youth is still the source of intellectual nourishment for most Libyans. As Che Guevara once said: ” cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel.” It will take tremendous political willpower and restrain and civic selflessness from all to navigate the next formative stages of Libya’s future and prevent the chaos Qaddafi had eerily predicted would ensue upon his removal.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Libya, Mummar Qaddafi, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 4 Comments

On Killing U.S. Citizens

A few days ago, Charlie Savage wrote an article for the Times reporting on a sub-rosa 50-page U.S. legal memorandum drafted in 2010 justifying the execution of a U.S. citizen without a trial.David Barron and Martin Lederman, the drafters of the memo and both decisive lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel then, posit that the killing of a U.S. citizen that has never been found guilty by a court of law is compatible with the character of the Constitution if the individual constitutes an eminent lethal threat to innocent Americans and the conditions for his arrest are prohibitive. While no one will dispute that al-Awlaki was the instigator of terrorist attacks against the U.S., I would argue that his arrest in Al Jawf province in Yemen’s northern desert would have been less tasking on a Special Forces unit with air support than fast roping into a fortified multimillion dollar mansion a short distance from a Pakistani military academy in the swanky Abbottabad neighborhood, home to retired senior Pakistani military officers and Internal Security Service agents.

The memo explains that Anwar al-Awlaki, since he’d pledged allegiance and given an operational advantage to a terrorist organization that is actively waging war against the U.S., has abdicated his rights to due process. This argument is supported by numerous interpretations of existing U.S. laws. Immigration and Nationality Act: Act 349, 8 USC 1481 states that a “person who is a national of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts: attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them.”The Constitution authorizes the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion and when public safety may require it. It wouldn’t be a stretch for the Obama administration to assert that al-Awlaki’s activities amount to a rebellion. The Obama administration can also cite the Authorization For Use Of Military force against terrorists, a resolution passed by congress on September 18, 2001 granting the president the power “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”Still, the judicial process was compromised and the decision to kill al-Awlaki was taken behind the closed doors of the executive branch, unchallenged by public scrutiny. And even if the question were raised to a public debate, and the president consulted with congress, the killing of U.S. citizens based on a self-serving memorandum written by an office that squarely falls within the sphere of influence of the Executive branch would be unbecoming outside of a due process that grants the right to discovery, legal counsel, and a review by a jury of peers.

Al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, also a U.S. citizen, were targeted by two drones remotely operated by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. The death of al-Awlaki, whom the U.S. government paints as a potent propagandist and a linchpin of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula, wraps up years of DoD and CIA clandestine and covert anti-terrorism operations. According to federal law enforcement officials, al-Awlaki was directly linked to Nawaf al-Hazmi, Khalid al-Mihdhar, and Hani Hanjour, three 9/11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 2009 Christmas day failed underwear bomber, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist who shot and killed thirteen soldiers in Ft. Hood, Texas, and Faisal Shahzad, the failed Time Square bomber. Strangely enough, al-Awlaki also has connections to the U.S. Department of Defense. Shortly after 9/11, he was spotted at the Pentagon. The DoD strongly denied the information when it surfaced. When the 2009 Ft. Hood shooting happened and the pictures of al-Awlaki and Major Nidal were broadcast side by side on national television networks, a low level Pentagon employee recognized him and called the FBI. When it finally admitted to al-Awlaki’s presence in the Pentagon, DoD officials explained that it was part of an unofficial outreach program designed to connect with “…with leading members of the Muslim community.” And therein lies the casuistry. Of all the moderate “leading members of the Muslim community” in the nation, the Pentagon found no better representation than al-Awlaki. In early 2010, the Obama administration added him to a secret “capture or kill” CIA list.

Khan, on the other hand, was not a high value target for the CIA and his death in the operation targeting Awlaki is considered “collateral” by government officials; he was nothing more than the chief-editor of al-Qaeda’s “Inspire,” an English written magazine that accepts contributions from schizoaffective psychotics with an anti-U.S. penchant. While living in Virginia, he was investigated by the FBI for his radical views, but his activities were protected by the First Amendment; he was never charged with a crime. Both individuals, being fluent English speakers, targeted an American audience in an attempt to promote the growth of a U.S. and British homegrown radical Islamic terrorist threat.

There are clear distinctions between Obama’s measured and result-driven strategy against al-Qaeda and Bush’s disastrously unfocused approach. While George W. Bush dismantled Alec Station, a CIA unit specifically tasked to collect on al-Qaeda operations and eliminate its operatives, Obama used the full extent of his authority to mobilize resources and allocate funds to allow the CIA to effectively target the terrorist group and foil its operations. Since he became president, the CIA has achieved “significant milestones;” it has surgically eliminated al-Qaeda key leadership and facilitators and greatly handicapped its capability to project mayhem. But after the killing of al-Awlaki and Khan, there is no denying that a continuum of executive overreach and total disregard for the rule of law between the two presidents is factual. David Barron and Martin Lederman are Obama’s version of Bush’s John Yoo, the drafter of an 81-page paper known as the “torture memo” legalizing the use of torture on detainees. Ironically, during his presidential campaign, Obama advocated the prosecution of terrorists “within the constraints of our Constitution” as an effective tool against al-Qaeda. In an ABC News interview, he commented that the anti-terrorism strategy the Bush administration adopted had “destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, ‘Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims’.”

It is incontrovertible that al-Awlaki and Khan actively sought ways to inflict grave harm on innocent civilians. The presumption of innocence in their case would be naive. I concede that global terrorism introduced conditions that fundamentally challenge our laws; it is apparent that our legal system is ill-equipped to deal with terrorists whose criminal activities have been reported by corroborated intelligence collection using sources and methods that should be kept secret in order for them to be effective. But it seems that adding U.S. citizens to a “capture, but mostly kill” list and executing them solely on the imprimatur of the Executive has thrown the nation’s institutions off-kilter. It has set a precedent and gives people the impression that at the whim of a few lawyers, operating within the same secretive grey bubble the Bush administration was so harshly criticized for, the summary execution of a U.S. citizen could be carried out. It’s a slippery slope. Some wonder why we should worry about a legal process at all; the government should drag Major Nidal Malik Hasan and his fellow terrorists, Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, and other traitors out and execute them much like we did al-Awlaki and Khan. If the U.S. government is loath to grant due process to U.S. citizens in such a glancing fashion, unwilling to make an effort to provide security without taking shortcuts and compromising the values of its citizenry, then it should applaud despotic regimes that routinely execute their citizens citing threats to their national security.

The Obama administration needs to focus on reforming the judicial system and prepare it to address cases such as al-Awlaki’s in the transparent fashion we’ve grown to be accustomed to. The American people need to readjust their idea of what it means to be a U.S. citizen. It is more than an administrative status bestowed upon some by virtue of birth and granted to others at the conclusion of a lengthy immigration process. To be a U.S. citizen, to me at least, means to embody the spirit of the constitution and the principles upon which this country was founded, to nurture civic virtue and ensure that our actions are driven primarily by the well-being of our communities and the upholding of our institutions, to guarantee fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans, to dissent, but to abide by the law and respect the process. It is after all our laws and democratic processes that make us feel special. President Obama, during his address at the CIA headquarters, expressed it best: “What makes the United States special and what makes you special is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and our ideals even when it’s hard, not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat, not just when it’s expedient to do so.” Amen!

A. T. B. © 2011


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

The FBI’s Minority Report

On Wednesday, the FBI arrested Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen from Ashland, west of Boston, on terrorism charges. The arrest came as a result of an undercover operation conducted by FBI agents posing as al-Qaeida terrorists. They provided Ferdaus with 25 lbs. of C-4 explosives, a remote controlled Sabrejet replica, six assault rifles, and three grenades. They financed his trip to Washington, DC and directed him to case specific target sites. Prior to being entrapped by the FBI, Ferdaus was disgruntled with the U.S. government’s policies towards Moslems; he perceived those policies as being prejudicial and hostile. According to the FBI affidavit, he stated that “Americans are the enemies of Allah.” The fact that he held such an adverse opinion against the U.S. marked him as a threat and made him a target of an FBI operation conducted by agents that greatly facilitated his transition from a passive grumpy idiot with no access to lethal aid and no contact with al-Qaeida to a fully operational terrorist with the assets and skill-set to engage.

It is easy to argue that if all Ferdaus needed to act on his negative emotions were opportunity and means, he deserves his predicament. I beg to differ. The FBI is not looking for a few bad apples; it is looking for good ones to rot. The “Moroccan Initiative” and the “Monteilh” case in southern California are not unique. The FBI, in conjunction with local police, has designed programs targeting Arab and Moslem communities across the country. Unconstitutional infiltration of mosques, cultural centers, universities, and other venues frequented by members of these communities has become a standard modus operandi.

The NYPD spokesperson justified the “Moroccan Initiative” as a crime prevention measure. I think that, since the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001 and the Homeland Security Act a year later, the Bureau has seen the scope of its law enforcement authority expanded and investigative inhibitors, such as due process, greatly abrogated. The Inspector General of the Justice Department reported in 2007 that under the PATRIOT Act, “serious abuse of authority” by the FBI is “widespread.” It has become trendy for the FBI to conduct, what I call, patsy operations to spot and assess individuals within Arab and Moslem communities who not only hold dissenting opinions, but conform to a dependent personality disorder profile. The ideal FBI candidate is a politically opinionated Arab and/or Moslem who has a pathological need for approval and affection and is easily pressured to engage in activities he/she would normally abhor. Through these same operations, federal and local law enforcement agencies recruit sources with placement and access within the communities who, by virtue of their petty criminal activity, are susceptible to collect and inform on their localities. In this austere economy, the FBI has to justify the oversized budget it is allotted to finance its innovative antiterrorism and counterintelligence programs.

When George W. Bush attained the presidency in January, 2001, he had the favorable vote of over fifty percent of Arab Americans. In his first term, his administration, using the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a launching pad to fear mongering campaigns and a chauvinistic ideology, had shown no misgivings about ravaging the Bill of Rights and extirpating the fundamental tenets of freedom and openness that so many immigrants hold as a staples of their adoptive country. Many of the discriminatory policies adopted during those first four years specifically targeted the Arab and Moslem communities which have become, in the eyes of a post 9/11 U.S. government, fertile pools of potential national security threats. When the re-authorization of the Act was discussed in the Senate this year, senators Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Ron Wyndell proposed specific amendments to some of its sections to curtail the government’s intrusive methods. Unfortunately, President Obama, a critic of the Act as a Senator, is one of its staunch proponents today. It was approved as is.

The Justice and Homeland Security departments were not the only government entities encroaching on civil liberties then; Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), a Department of Defense entity created on February 19, 2002 by a directive from Donald Rumsfeld, initiated a data mining and intelligence collection program focused on domestic dissidence, peace groups, and activists. The program was exposed by the media and CIFA itself was dismantled in 2008 and some of its assets and missions were assumed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

While the FBI’s operations are contemptuous toward liberty and do not dovetail with the constitution, they are not, from a judicial standpoint, considered illegal. I can see you scratching your head and getting dizzy, but consider this. The FBI, as a law enforcement tool, carries out the tasks set forth in the PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and other legislative enactments. The PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security acts were passed, albeit hastily, by lawmakers who, out of a misguided sense of nationalism, acceded to the administration’s wishes after 9/11, and signed by former president George W. Bush. The FBI relies on a secret national security court to interpret the statutes in these acts. While these statutes are public, the interpretations of the secret national security court are guarded from public scrutiny. Many observers and lawmakers, among them Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, believe that the secret court, under the shroud of governmental classification, skews its opinions on the law, or gives a broad reading to legal provisions to allow the FBI greater latitude in the conduct of anti-terrorism and national security investigations. The secret national security court authorized the “Moroccan Initiative,” “tripwire,” “the Monteilh” case, and other such operations we common mortals neither have the clearance, nor the “need to know” to be informed about; it allows agents to foray into the lives of innocent civilians and monitor their travel, business transactions, commercial purchases, financial records, and telephone and internet communications without fulfilling due process requirements – grand jury subpoena and warrants. While numerous U.S. District Judges have previously ruled that the FBI’s secret domestic surveillance activity eviscerates First Amendment’s freedom of speech, association, and right to petition, Fourth Amendment’s freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and Fifth and Sixth Amendments’ rights to due process and to discovery of evidence, the U.S. Supreme Court has either refused to publish its opinion on some of the statues, or upheld the constitutionality of others – Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project – because it believes they enable the Judicial Branch to act preemptively and disrupt terrorist activity against the U.S. while it is still in the planning stage.

The legality of the FBI’s operations will stand unless challenged through a motion and a court ruling against them is pronounced. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have multiple class-action lawsuits against the Bureau. But it is extremely difficult to evidence the FBI’s intrusion on privacy. Instead, the lawsuits focus on harassment charges which do not attack the root of the problem: the USA PATRIOT Act and other such authorities the FBI and local law enforcement agencies use as legal justification for their activities. In addition to legal action, the Arab and Moslem American communities need to mobilize political support to petition the Obama administration to rein in the overweening power of federal and local law enforcement agencies and reinstate limitations on the government’s extraordinary surveillance powers and unjustified intelligence collection against a U.S. person.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Democracy, Department of Defense, FBI, George W. Bush, Individual Freedom, Moroccan Initiative, Terrorism, United States, USA PATRIOT Act | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Lonely Death of a Moroccan Child

For an hour, in the sanctum of an apartment in El Jadida, the maid was beaten with the hose of a gas cylinder. Her screams and supplications brought her aggressor, the daughter of her employer who “borrowed” her to help around the house, to a frothing rage; she repeatedly struck her over the head and face with the heel of a shoe until she collapsed on the floor she had so thoroughly scrubbed lifeless. The maid’s name is Khadija. She was eleven years old. She hailed from Tagadirt, a small village southwest of Marrakesh. According to the police report, the killer, a thirty-one year old educated Moroccan woman, was upset Khadija ruined her dress shirt while washing it.

Khadija’s path into child labor is not unique. It is the same path taken by Zainab Shtit, Najwa Bent Bouazza, and many others. Being illiterate, their parents didn’t see the added value in sending them to school; famine and disease are daily realities and survival is a primary focus. They, like many other mostly rural parents who are economically depleted, circumvent the Malthusian constraint by putting their children to work as soon as they are physically capable. For boys, the work is often seasonal menial labor in fields and construction sites or as ambulant cigarette hawkers and shoe shiners; girls are sent off to the city to work as maids and professional panhandlers. When Khadija turned nine years old, she was sent to Marrakesh to work as a maid. Her father would show up once a month to collect her measly salary – less than fifty dollars. She was eventually fired from that job. Thanks to a “samsara,” a headhunter who provides maids to customers, she was soon relocated to Casablanca where she was recruited by the mother of her murderer.

Until she was so viciously murdered, Khadija spent her days scrubbing floors, washing dishes, and kneading laundry. Every day, she was up before everybody else to prepare breakfast for her employer’s family and would labor long into the night. By the time she was done, her fingers would be swollen, her back sore, her eyes stinging, and her mottled skin taut. Her childhood was compressed; she was more familiar with detergent soap than cartoons. she didn’t have a favorite toy, dress, or bedtime story, nor did she enjoy the caring caress of a doting mother, nor the protective hug of a loving father. No school teacher to learn from; no friends to play with. Instead, her parents and the Moroccan society turned their backs on her; she was thrown into the hands of strangers who considered her a beast of burden, dehumanized her. They desensitized their children to her plight and paved the way to a generational lack of empathy. These are the same people who ball their eyes out when the heroin of their favorite Turkish or Mexican soap opera breaks up with her boyfriend. In her tangled perception, her employer is adamant she accepted Khadija out of sheer rectitude. After all, she was providing her with a roof over her head, food to her heart’s content, clean clothes, and protection from whoring and mendicity.

Khadija’s father dropped all charges against her murderer. I am fairly certain he received monetary compensation in exchange for his condonation.  Associations “Bayti,” “Touche pas à mon enfant,” “Manal,” and “INSAF” initiated judicial action on behalf of the victim. It is demoralizing to know he was never charged of any crime. Is child labor not a crime in Morocco? Of course it is. Since 2003, the government introduced new legislation specifically targeting child labor, but it hardly ensures compliance.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) estimate there are over 90000 children under the age of eighteen working as maids in Morocco today. Over 25000 are in Casablanca alone. I suspect the number to be much higher. These sobering statistics highlight the pervasiveness of underage labor in our country. Morocco’s Ministry of Social Development concedes the problem is serious and can no longer be shunted. It has, according to its website, zero tolerance for child labor and has initiated a host of commendable programs to mitigate the issue. However, the Children’s National Action Plan (PANE), INDIMAJ, a program designed to reintegrate homeless children into society, and INQAD, to eradicate child labor, fail to yield tangible results. Efforts to promote children’s rights within the Moroccan society and to raise awareness of the deleterious effects child labor has on the country’s future generations have been dismal and mostly failing. The tragic ambivalence of the Moroccan society about these household slaves causes most crimes against them such as sexual abuse and domestic violence to go unreported. Moroccans, and Moslems in general, seem to hit the panic button when an artist scribbles verses from the Koran on his naked body, but are numb to the victimization of thousands of children. This ambivalence is deeply rooted in a toxic cultural legacy that extends back to the time when owning domestics denoted social prominence. There are a few things more endearing to a married Moroccan woman, when entertaining visitors, than to call out to her maid to bring the “siniya” – literally a “tray,” but in Moroccan household parlance, it refers to an expensive tea set.

In the meanwhile, legions of children are growing up to be failing adults, wallowing in servitude, in an environment that fosters moral decay, physical and mental sickness. They have no access to education and familial stability, tools necessary to enhance their ability to flourish and be productive members of society. I don’t believe in those parables that try convincing us that these children will be prosperous if they put their minds into it once they become adults. Malcolm Gladwell conveyed that sentiment best during an interview with New York magazine: “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be.” Until we collectively, as Moroccans, denounce and proactively enforce our laws and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we are willfully setting our nation for a multi-layered failure that will shackle our progress for generations to come.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Child Abuse, Child Labor, Children, HUMAN RIGHTS, POVERTY, Uncategorized, Women's rights | Tagged | 9 Comments

Post 9/11 Arab American

One week after 9/11, the Bush administration and a large majority of the American people developed the attitude that would later set us on the path to the ebbing of U.S. global authority and shrinking of its self-confidence. It was a week during which the national narrative on the dramatic events of the previous Tuesday had been set and upon which Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rice, and Rumsfeld, using all possible means to heighten the fear of the American  public, drafted a plan to piss on the constitution and suckered the American people into two unwarranted wars resulting in over six thousand U.S. casualties and costing tax payers close to four trillion dollars leaving our economy in tatters; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have also been killed and displaced.

The terrorist attacks on 9/11 have defined my generation much like the Japanese offensive on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 shaped the vision of those before. But I cannot help steering clear of the landfill of 9/11 commemorative radio programs and T.V. shows, the landslide of overly maudlin memorials and overdrawn exultation in the heroism of those who died as a result of this devastating tragedy. I feel that the families and friends of the victims need to reflect on their losses and renew their vows of remembrance in complete national silence and away from self-aggrandizing political slobbery. The bereaved, I am sure, mourn every day. It is hard to imagine the final living moments of those who died that day, the great trepidation as the building rocked and creaked, the utter hopelessness of options, the shuddering realization the dice had been cast and their fate had been sealed. The void left by the disappearance of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughter who left home that day to never return to attend to their outstanding plans with their families can never be filled.

But for me, as an Arab American, the atrocious event stands as a stark reminder of the paucity of courage in American politics and the cynicism and hypocrisy of a people willing to compromise on the fundamental principles of the Bill of Rights for the self-serving fantasy that the Arab and Moslem people are inherently inimical to what America stood for. I find it equally tragic that the untimely death of 2996 innocent people was so thoroughly exploited by the Bush administration for partisan political gain, that it was used as exculpation from warping the laws and causing more deaths, to general applause. As an Arab, I never felt that the cowardly terrorist action of a criminal fringe that highjacked Islam to satisfy a psychotic agenda represented me; As an American, I find it difficult to reconcile with U.S. practices that vindicate despotic Arab governments. Conducts such as the imprisonment of children and innocent civilians in Guantanamo Bay detention facility, extraordinary rendition of detainees to countries known to torture prisoners, the legalization of waterboarding and other torturous approaches in interrogation, the authorization by executive order to conduct assassination operations against individuals labeled “military targets” greatly restrict our ability to project our values abroad and should be considered unconscionable dereliction of duty and leadership.

Days after the towers fell, posses roaming New York City streets hunting for Arabs and Moslems became patriots; railing about Islam became fashionable even among those moderates who deplore the suppression of liberties of other ethnic and religious groups. racial-profiling a consensus, the steamrolling of rights and liberties of a single group within our society a patriotic endeavor. Arabs, Moslems, even Sikhs looked suspicious. Rudolph Giuliani, then Mayor of NYC, recognized the precariousness of the situation and pleaded with New Yorkers not to attack Middle Easters. Unfortunately, George W. Bush did not share Mr. Giuliani’s level-headedness when on September 16, 2001, during a press conference at the South Lawn of the White House, he referred to his war on terrorism as a protracted “crusade.” It wasn’t long after that, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Bush At War,” that Rumsfeld raised the possibility ”that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately.”

Since then, the U.S. intelligence community had been tasked to spin intelligence to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and the targeting of Arab Americans and immigrants has been systematic. Law enforcement agencies took shortcuts with the law. Thousands have been summarily deported while others were extrajudicially detained indefinitely as material witnesses. Thousands more were erroneously put on no-fly lists. Private citizens had their homes searched, cars TTLed (Tag, Target, Locate), and phones bugged for no reason other than holding an opinion critical of the Bush administration and being of Arab descent or Moslem faith. The chipping away of the rights and liberties of Arab Americans was mandated by new laws such as the Patriot Act, thousands of Executive Orders, and amendments to existing laws. It was encouraged by groups such as Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America and the politicians that cater to them.

The blatant infringements are still being carried out during Obama’s watch. In October 2010, Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old U.S. born Arab from Santa Clara, California, took his car for a routine oil change. The mechanic discovered underneath the car a device he did not recognize. The posted a picture of it on the internet. Two days later, the FBI paid him a visit to retrieve their GPS tracking device. He was never arrested, nor was he provided an explanation as to why he was being surveilled. Consider the case of Khalid Lyaacoubi and Yassine Bahammou, two Moroccans who immigrated to the U.S. after 9/11; they joined the Army as 09 L linguists to support the war on terrorism, and of course to benefit from the immigration process expediency offered by the Department of Defense as an incentive to non-citizen recruits. They were investigated within the framework of Threat Awareness and Reporting Program (TARP) formerly known as Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) based on an unfounded allegation that they and three other Moroccans were plotting to poison other soldiers. They were attacked by their fellow soldiers and their belongings were ransacked. As counterintelligence threats, they were removed from their regular assignments, restricted to barracks, forbidden to contact family and friends unless monitored by a guard.

To borrow Henry James’ observation, it has indeed been a complex fate – for Arabs and Moslems in the U.S.  – to be an American.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in 9/11, Terrorism | Tagged | 4 Comments

Moroccan Hospitals: Poor People Unwanted

Dismayed by the lack of official responsiveness to the humanitarian tragedy in southern Somalia, a group of Moroccan activists launched a campaign on facebook to sensitize the population, mobilize support, and solicit donations. They called on the Moroccan government to deploy an emergency contingent to deliver much needed medical supplies and food to the region.

The magnitude of the worst famine Southern Somalia has experienced in the past sixty years is unfathomable; Tens of thousands of people have died and millions are on the verge of starvation. Harakat al-Shabab al Mujahideen has a tight control over the region where they’ve imposed a strict Islamic rule. Because they forbade anything they deemed of Western origin including immunizations, thousands of emaciated children have been dying from measles and cholera. The few fortunate refugees that were able to flee reported that al-Shabab fighters have been diverting river waters from impoverished villagers and selling it to commercial farmers. They have been interdicting people attempting to reach aid camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia and forcing them into crowded and filthy internment camps where sustainment is scarce. The dearth of food airlifted into the region was stolen and sold in local markets at exorbitant prices. The lawlessness and lack of infrastructure make the region inaccessible to international aid organizations whose workers are reluctant to venture into al-Shabab territory.

Layla Aarirjat

The initiative of my fellow Moroccan activists is commendable and should be encouraged. But I think our attention is much needed at home where Moroccans are still dying from lack of medical due care. Just a few days ago, Al-Massae reported on Layla Aarirjat, a thirty-year-old mother of two, hailing from Shqaqfa village, who was denied medical attention in the regional community hospital of Kenitra despite the precariousness of her condition. She was promptly thrown out into the street. Ms. Aarirjat’s ailment greatly eroded her mobility. She lingered by the hospital’s main gate bearing a resigned expression, the glint of life slowly fading from her eyes as time waned. A group of passers-by, appalled by the unconscionable actions of the hospital staff, intervened. They laid Ms. Aarirjat on a gurney and challenged the forcefully objections of hospital security and administrators while rolling her into the emergency. Hospital staff still refused to attend to the patient. As far as I know, Ms. Aarirjat’s frail body remains on that gurney in the emergency hall, drenched in her defecation and urination. The hospital refuses to feed her and she subsists on the alms of other patients and their visitors. Myopic nurses and doctors, with deadpan mien, saunter past her paying her as much attention as Ron Paul gets from Fox News.

A delivery at Sidi Benour hospital

Saturday, a pregnant woman delivered her baby daughter in a main thoroughfare not far from Fez regional community hospital. She was rejected from the maternity ward earlier. And in the village of Tamri, north of Agadir, another pregnant woman delivered her baby outside the health center because the whole maternity staff was attending a meet and greet function with the mayor. Less than a month ago, another unattended delivery outside the gate of the same health center resulted in the death of the baby. According to local rights organizations, The Tameri health center has had an unsettling track record of negligence and incompetence.

Unfortunately, these cases are not exceptions. Pregnant women deliver outside hospitals not only in rural areas, but major cities as well. On a daily basis, Moroccans die from what was initially benign medical conditions that become malignant as a result of a lack of due care. Moroccan government hospitals are exclusive clubs and only those who can afford the cover charge are granted access. The gate security demands money before they let you in; the nurse expects a payment to provide care; the doctor sells you unnecessary medication and overcharge you for unperformed procedures; the hospital billing department duns patients, even emergency ones, prior to any care be given and shows no compunction denying service to those who are too impoverished to pay.

Let’s not go too far; there is a large segment of the Moroccan society living in conditions not far off from that of Somalia. What the Moroccan poor has going for him is that the trash of Morocco’s rich upon which he subsists is far better than Somalia’s.

A. T. B. © 2011

Posted in Al Masae, Children, Democracy, HUMAN RIGHTS, MOROCCO, POVERTY | Tagged | 7 Comments

Morocco’s Constitutional Sleight of Hand

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights – Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH) made public today, Tuesday July 12th, a pointed report on the July 1st constitutional referendum. It noted the government orchestrated grave transgressions that undermined the electoral process and influenced the electorate leading to a 98.5% in favor of the new constitution. The report decried the extensive use of television, radio, and newspapers, as well as taxpayers’ money, public property, and apolitical venues such as mosques by governmental entities to saturate the opinion pool with a discourse favorable to the agenda of a few and mute the undogmatic grassroots opposition whose public support has grown exponentially since the 20th of February. The government’s partisanship is contrary to the democratic principles boded by the new constitution. As to human rights, the association conveyed its skepticism of the government’s willingness to uphold its obligation to foster a state of law and condemned its disingenuous efforts to curtail abuses against those who oppose the status quo.

Justice Monitor of Morocco, another watchdog, leveled harsher criticism against the government in a statement to the media. They denounced the unethical and sometimes unlawful campaign the government launched to mobilized the population in favor of the new constitution. Their investigation and analysis indicated the number of voters and the tally of favorable votes the government blared out were grossly inflated and should not be considered seriously. The watchdog argues that the Moroccan electorate is estimated at twenty-four million; of those and according to voters registrar, less than thirteen million hold a voter’s card. It assesses that the July 1st referendum turnout could not have surpassed 20% and by no means expresses the will of the majority of Moroccans. Additionally, the watchdog raised serious misgivings about the electoral process and uncovered irregularities in the way voters lists have been compiled and maintained and voters cards have been handled.

Many Moroccan journalists, political analysts, and bloggers, myself included, have reported on the flagrant perversion of democracy the government has been trying to impose on the people. Just recently, Taieb Fassi Fihri, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Khalid Naciri, Minister of Communication and the government’s official spokesman, in interviews with international and national media, carried on their bovine insistence that the post-July 1st Morocco is more democratic and nationally cohesive. Moroccans understand that the situation will not improve so long as the same nepotistic and avaricious potentates with total disregard for the law and the will of the nation. They have made the prospect of democracy in Morocco walk the plank.   

 A. T. B. © 2011       

Posted in Democracy, HUMAN RIGHTS, Khaled Naceri, Moroccan Constitution 2011, MOROCCO | Tagged | 2 Comments