Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reforms and Islamic Radicalism in Morocco

This recent article in the New York Times highlight the sluggish pace of reform in Morocco in recent years. Erlanger and Mekhennet contend, rather unconvincingly, that the king has reversed course on democratic reforms under pressure from Islamic radicalism. With the increasing threat of AQIM in neighboring Algeria and Sahel countries, and growing conservative forces at home, the king has chosen to freeze meaningful political and social reforms until further notice. However, state officials still maintain that the king is still committed to vast political and economic changes, but places a high premium on the "balance between freedom and social cohesion." This is in reference to the massive crackdown on Islamist radicals and Islamist politicians, who are in jail for plotting acts of terrorism according to the state. Maintaining that balance between freedom and social cohesion has also meant censorship and prior restraint against major independent publications. The case of the French language weekly Tel Quel and its Arabic sister Nichane are indicative of this alarming trend of limiting freedom of the press.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gaddafi's Clown Show

Libya is in the news these last few days after the release of convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi. Amir Taheri provides a scathing account of Gaddafi's authoritarian regime. Taheri paints a gloomy picture of a mismanaged and corrupt political system, which over the last 40 years, has squandered billions of dollars in oil revenue: "Over the past 40 years the colonel has had something like a trillion dollars in oil revenues to play with. That much money could have done wonders in a nation of four or five million. However, visitors to Libya would be struck by the rundown aspect of public infrastructure and the widespread poverty. A few new buildings in the capital Tripoli may impress some Westerners. Elsewhere, however, many Libyans live in substandard homes and experience daily power cuts, water rationing and frequent shortages of staple foodstuffs. Parts of Benghazi resemble slums in black Africa, not neighbourhoods in the second-largest city in an oil-rich country. In neighbouring Malta, one often runs into Libyan refugees begging in the streets."

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Suicide Bombing in Mauritania

Mauritania witnessed its fist suicide bombing on Saturday. The event took place at a proximity from the French Embassy in Nouakchott. The suicide bomber has been identified as Ahmedou Ould Sidi Ould Vyh al-Barka, 22 years-old from Arafat district in Nouakchott (graphic pictures of bomber here). It is unclear at this point if he is tied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) at all. The attack killed the bomber and injured six other bystanders. It is worth noting that these attacks come at the heels of the contentious elections of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who during his campaign and recent inauguration, vowed to combat terrorism in a clear reference to the growing threat of AQIM in the region.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Prior Restraint in Morocco.

The Ministry of the Interior in Morocco has blocked the publication of the two upcoming issues of the French weekly magazine Tel Quel and the Arabic weekly Nichane, both directed by the controversial Ahmed Benchemsi. The magazines have marked the tenth anniversary of King Mohammed VI's enthronement by dedicating a series of issues to the record of the king in office. The Ministry has singled out the upcoming issues number 384 and 385 of Tel Quel and issues number 212 and 213 of Nishan, for "assault on the person of the king and Morocco's socio-political foundations." According to a communique released by the Tel Quel Group, the issues in question would have pulished an opinion poll done in partnership with the French daily Le Monde on the approval rating of King Mohammed VI's ten-year on the throne. The group claims that the results of the poll were positive for the monarchy, as %91 of those surveyed approved of the king's management of the country. Tel Quel has always dared to go where other press outlets could not, and its director Ahmed Benchemsi is known for his weekly poignant editorials. No subject, political, social or cultural is taboo for the weekly french magazine. It remains to be seen whether the state will throw the book at the magazine and Benchemsi, or whether this is a mere slap on the wrist and a warning of things to come in the future of Tel Quel and Nichane.

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