Hardly covered in English-language media, Morocco’s image abroad is usually set by vapidly laudatory puff pieces and its photogenic tourist sites. The social reality of its inhabitants tells another story. With a Human Development Index score near the bottom of the Arab world, an illiteracy rate above 26%, and approximately 80% of its workforce toiling informally, the North African kingdom provides distinctly un-Instagram-able conditions of life for its disenfranchised majority. Politically, the Moroccan state likes to present itself as a dependably tolerant and reformist regime. In reality, it is currently waging a fiercely illiberal campaign against journalists who expose the economic corruption and malfeasance of the royal palace and its crony elite. This campaign has pioneered a new muzzling strategy which avoids direct political trials of opponents, in favor of tabloid smearing and spurious accusations of impropriety. This repression is being meted out in a frantic attempt to marginalize any remaining credible critical voices, as reigning king Mohammad VI careens towards an impasse not unlike those which led to uprisings in other Arab countries last year.
Caught at the height of this final assault on freedom of expression is Maati Monjib, a pro-democracy activist and among Morocco’s most preeminent modern historians. He has long been in regime cross-hairs due to his critical scholarship, principled political interventions, and intransigent intellectual independence.
A stalwart veteran of the Moroccan left and one of its only spokespeople with a profile abroad, Monjib has had to spend much time under the scrutiny of Morocco’s politicized courts. An international appeal saved Monjib’s life in 2015 by ending his 24-day hunger strike protesting the imposition of a travel ban meant to prevent him from speaking about Morocco to international audiences. Scurrilous judicial harassment has since never ceased, and in October of this year Monjib was charged with “money laundering” on unconvincing grounds. In a country whose metropolitan skylines consist of tacky high-rises universally known to launder the ill-begotten fortunes of the elite, the idea that the personal property of a modest academic such as Monjib is worthy of the attention of the king’s prosecutor is risible. Previously brandishing directly political prosecutions, this change of tack is indicative of the Moroccan state’s current strategy. Reached at home in the capital Rabat, Monjib says, “In the past, an independent or dissident journalist was granted the ‘honor’ of a political accusation: violating entities deemed religiously sacred or threatening the integrity of the state, etc. Today, their reputation is tarnished first, subsequently leading to imprisonment.”