Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Reflections on an exceptional year

I haven’t been updating these pages lately as often as I would’ve liked, and there were certainly so many things that happened last year that deserved the mention. I don’t want to go through the ritual listing of ups and downs as I used to, but I wanted to write down some short thoughts that come to mind at this moment in time, so as to fix and prevent them from evaporating as we supposedly turn a page and start a new year afresh.

First Thought
Beirut: Touching the Levant
The funny thing about me putting my feet in a region or a country for the first time, is this recurrent urge that props up one’s conscience and senses so that they’re forced into full capacity in order to grasp the magic of the moment: every smell, every feel counts. This often causes me insomnia and proves to be a rapidly exhausting experience. Beirut is no exception. What a wonderful city. I visited Beirut last December as I was attending the second Arab Bloggers Conference to which I had the privilege and honor to be invited, thanks to Global Voices, and where I met wonderful and inspiring “beebull” (people). We visited the city mostly by night. From the little aspects of the city’s life that I got to watch, mainly in the Hamra district, it reminded me of Casablanca: the same modern vs. traditional contrast, the same agitated nightlife, the same chaos, the same foolish driving habit, the same omnipresence of fast food and the same obsession with food in general. Only in Beirut I sensed a much bigger appetite for life: peace is so elusive and life too short not to be passionately enjoyed I suppose. Women are also seemingly more visible in the streets, bars and restaurants. Whether veiled or not, women here seem definitely more emancipated. Also, you wouldn’t in a lifetime find in any bar or café in Casablanca a menu reading:

More than a café, it was envisioned [back in 2006] as an open cultural space where all could come to socialize, read, meet, surf the net, and discuss issues of the day. t-marbouta was set to open on July 2006, but the outbreak of war that summer prompted a change of plans. The café instead transformed itself into a relief center and a hub for volunteers who came together to provide assistance to those displaced by war. This experience only enriched the original idea and teh quickly turned into a social space. From the the beginning t-marbouta has sought to be politically and socially engaged. We encourage the boycott of all goods that benefit Israel and try to maintain reasonable prices in the ever-gentrifying Hamra. –the anti-management.

Menu of a Café downtown Beirut, in Hamra district, called t-marbouta تاء مربوطة

Which goes to show how much politics, history and activism are present in the life of a city that was once the Pearl of the Levant, torn by war, violated by Israeli invasion then criminal bombardments, and that may look banal at the surface today. But a city that, with all those flickers of light and beauty put together, had made many of us fall in love with it instantly.

Second Thought
Mohammed VI: Falling from Grace
After a decade of reign, it became clear during 2009 that the Moroccan regime is not going to depart from past repressive policies. People are being jailed for their political opinions, journalists for their writings. Foreign publications have been repeatedly banned, bloggers harassed and imprisoned, cases of torture and unlawful arrests been reported. What worries me most is this distant, disinterested attitude of the Moroccan king. An apparent detachment that would have been healthy in a genuinely constitutional monarchy where the monarch contents himself with an honorary role. But when the king is supposed to be the autocrat, one wonders who really is in charge. Arguably the king still benefits from a large popularity as shown by a poll conducted earlier last year and subsequently banned, because deemed illegal. But his apparent indifference in the face of repeated attacks on freedoms and human rights, supposedly conducted by his conservative entourage, has inexorably sealed the rupture between him and a progressive and liberal base, mostly young, cosmopolitan or living abroad, which we might now call the Ninepercenters, and that could have given his reign a salutary support and nurtured his image. We rather ended up with a repressive plutarchy, repeating the same recipes of the past.

Third Thought
Najib Akesbi: Renaissance Man
Thanks to Cap’Dema, a young and very active Moroccan association based in France and led by progressive activists, some of them brilliant bloggers, I had the unique opportunity to meet Najib Akesbi, the respected and much admired founding member of the PSU party (Parti Socialiste Unifié) during a conference held in the SciencePo institute in Paris. The man is an inspiration and it was interesting to see the contrast between Akesbi’s honest and clear-cut discourse and reading of the situation in Morocco, and that of an opportunist like Nabil Ben Abdellah, a supposedly journalist by training, so-called ex-communist, previous communication minister and who also was in the panel. Parts of the conference can be watched on YouTube.

Fourth Thought
Talk Morocco: Giving Voice
It’s been long overdue, but now it’s there: an edited forum for bloggers, journalists and authors who populate the media landscape in Morocco. A place where they can all come together and discuss a given subject related to Morocco. With Jillian C. York, we’ve been presenting the project in the second Arab Bloggers Conference in Beirut where much of the feedback has been positive. Criticism focused mainly on the fact that we were using English as the primary language for the site’s front page. We have since been working on translating the site but we also realized that some manpower was needed and have since launched an appeal for volunteer translators. Considering mounting restrictions on freedom of speech in Morocco, where now journalists and bloggers can be put in jail for their writings, any platform that would allow for more space of expression and that would bring those energies and individualities under the same roof, seems needed even more today than ever before. Since Talk Morocco has been designed as a collaborative, and to some extent a user generated project, we hope that it will strike a chord with the ever growing audience interested in everything that relates to Morocco.

Fifth Thought
Mubarak: Epitome of Disgrace
As the world commemorates the first year anniversary of the criminal assault on Gaza, I can’t help but feeling disgusted by the attitude of the Mubarak government. My most cherished hope for the new year is for that one regime to be suppressed. Maybe then all the other stooge Arab regimes can be toppled once and for all for the sake of humanity. My heart goes out for the people of Gaza and the Palestinian people as a whole.

Final Thoughts
Good Reading
I’ve come across some wonderful books at the end of last year but never really had the opportunity to read them. So here is my top three books recommendation for the new year:

Bareed Mista3jil: True Stories collectively written by anonymous authors
A unique collection of short stories from people of “non-conforming sexualities and gender identities.” The book gives voice to queer women in Lebanon, a community seldom heard of in our region of the world. Touching.

Master and Disciple: the Cultural Foundations of Moroccan Authoritarianism by Abdellah Hammoudi
It’s not an easy read given its very academic style but it is worth the effort since the book disentangles the historical constructs and cultural frames that led to contemporary structures of repression in Morocco. Powerful.

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by Ilan Pappe
A forensic historic account, supported by impressive archival evidence, of the Zionist scheme in Palestine. A masterpiece.

5 thoughts on “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

  1. I was in Beirut indeed and it was really wonderful experience. I would go and settle there in a heartbeat if it wasn’t for job and all the rest of it. I know you’re a nomad yourself, you know something about the joys of constant travels, don’t you?

  2. Hisham,
    Yes, I am starting to look around, enough of Khmiss Batata. Time to gather the tribe and move elsewhere. Que sera sera 🙂

  3. I would like to comment on the fourth thought if you allow me that is. I have just check the website out and I can say that the raw idea is very rich. As far as I am concerned, the theme of the site is not that good at all. It is built via CMS and once you are with wordpress, you will find the right way. apart from this , everything is just perfect. Keep up the good work guys. my fingers crossed and my eyes too for the Blog Award 🙂
    I love your Blog, Hicham

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