23.11.2006MoroccoThe Arab World Has Its Own ModelsCould Morocco serve as a political model for Iraq in the country’s attempt to come to terms with its dictatorial past? Dr Sonja Hegasy of the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Germany, thinks it could
Upon hearing devastating news from the Arab world, observers ask themselves how these deeply traumatised societies deal with home-grown violence. In answering this question, there is still a certain amount of reluctance to use psychological theories to explain what is going on in the Arab world. In the humanities and social sciences in Germany, such an approach would appear to be reserved for introspection. Are there no forms of collective remembrance in the Arab world?
From Morocco to Lebanon, citizens have launched a whole range of exemplary initiatives in an attempt to unify their deeply divided societies and make it possible for victims and perpetrators to live side by side. Morocco in particular is spearheading progress in this area. Literature penned by former political prisoners has been booming here for the past two years: they tell the story of their imprisonment in autobiographies, comics, poems, novels and films.
Power handover paved the way for reappraisal of state violence
Two of the most famous of these authors are Abraham Serfaty (imprisonment: 1974-91) and Fatna el-Bouih (imprisonment: 1977-82). Their testimonies are an important part of the Moroccan remembrance process. For the first time in the history of the country, the handover of power from Hassan II to Mohammed VI paved the way for the systematic reappraisal of state violence and opened the door for a process of reconciliation. Fatna el-Bouih views the changeover of power in 1999 as a positive development. In an interview with Susan Slyomovics in spring 2001 (Middle East Report 218), she said:
“As a former political prisoner, I feel this enormous psychological relief and unburdening since the death of King Hassan II and note the changes in me and in Morocco. It is only during this ‘new era’ ('ahd jadid) that I became really active. Before I just wrote, now I feel useful. For example, my husband and I are among the founding members of the Moroccan Observatory of Prisons (OMP) officially organized November 13, 1999. I experienced prison, I wanted to help other prisoners, and I found a way to do so through the NGO movement.”
Prison authorities receptive to reforms
“We write reports, visit prisons, and last Ramadan”, Slyomovics goes on to say. “We organized festivities first in the women's and then in the men's sections of Oukacha Penitentiary. We are working to establish programs to help prisoners reintegrate into society by paying attention to their individual familial and social contexts, and we work to change laws concerning current prison sentencing practices. The prison authorities have been receptive.’
Morocco is the first – and to date the only – Arab country to establish an independent truth commission for the reappraisal of human rights violations. Here, victims of violent tyranny and former political prisoners come together in the Forum Verité et Justice. They organise sit-ins, press conferences, hearings or pilgrimages to former torture centres. The state has already reacted to these developments by establishing a royal atonement commission.
Mohammad VI: ending the dark ages of the father’s reign
Even though there was no regime change in Morocco – just a handover of power – Mohammed VI’s actions mean that human rights violations committed during the reign of his father, Hassan II, are no longer being covered up. This is not an easy step for any son to take, in the states of the Middle East or elsewhere. Only one week after the death of his father - before the 40-day period of mourning had come to an end - Mohammed VI announced a general pardon for 46,000 prisoners and released 8,000 from prison. While many hopes have certainly been disappointed since he ascended the throne, the dark ages of his father’s reign are over.