Cabled!

In a good exercise in vanity, I’m pleased to share this with you: one American diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks this week is quoting me anonymously. Here is the quote from a post published on Global Voice Online:

Summarizing the mood, one blogger on Global Voices wrote, “The end of ‘Le Journal’ signals a dangerous setback for the state of freedoms in Morocco. It pulls a thorn out of the regime’s side but it also sends a strong message to the remaining independent media still struggling to survive in an increasingly repressive environment.”

The cable sent in February 2010 from the US embassy in Rabat is reporting on the closure of a prominent Moroccan independent weekly, Le Journal, which the cable describes (quite correctly) as “the vanguard of the Moroccan independent press, serving as a potent symbol of the new face of Morocco promoted tirelessly by King Mohammed VI.”

The controversy around Wikileaks aside, the released diplomatic cables have revealed a general rule among American diplomats posted in the Arab world: they are mostly clueless about what was happening in the region, as demonstrated by a rather shallow cable on a meeting diplomats had with two prominent human rights activists in Morocco in 2009 for example.

But I must admit, this one piece of diplomatic correspondence sounded like it got it right. “When it’s in line with their own values, they get it right” commented my friend Jillian York, with whom I agree. Take a read!

US embassy cable – 10RABAT94

LEADING INDEPENDENT WEEKLY CLOED FOR TAX

Identifier: 10RABAT94
Origin: Embassy Rabat
Created: 2010-02-05 13:16:00
Classification:
Tags: PHUM PREL KPAO MO
VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0094/01 0361316
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 051316Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE1169
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RABAT 000094 

SIPDIS 
SENSITIE 

STATE FOR NEA/MAG, DRL/NESCA AND NEA/PPD 
LODON FOR MOC 

E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM, PREL,KPAO, MO 
SUBJECT: LEADING INDEPENDENT WEEKLY CLOED FOR TAX 

EVASION 

REF: 09 RABAT 0608 

------ 
Summary 
------- 

1.  (SBU) Summary:  On Jauary 27, 2010, a Moroccan 
commercial court seize and sealed the offices of 
independent weekly "L Journal" for non-payment of 
taxes.  While repreentatives ofthe court claim 
that action had no olitical overtones, we see this 
incident as only he latest, and most chilling, in a 
series of effrts on the part of the Government of 
Morocco (GO) to rein in the independent media in 
Morocco.  nd summary. 

----------------------------------- 
Le Journal: A History of Legal Woes 
---------------------------------- 

2.  (SBU) Boubker Jamai co-director of "Le 
Journal," told IO Ranz on Jauary 28 that four 
bailiffs from the Moroccan comercial courts had 
seized the offices of "Le Joural" the day before 
and sealed its doors, posting  guard out front to 
prevent anyone from entering  This action was taken 
on the order of a judge because of nearly 4.5 
million dirham (over USD 560,000) in debts owed to 
the Moroccan social security and the tax 
administrations.  Jamai acknowledged the debts but 
insisted that the seizure was illegal, as the 
current newspaper owner is not the one that owes the 
back taxes; the debts date back to 1997-2002, when 
the newspaper was owned by a different company.  He 
also blamed the Moroccan Government for Le Journal's 
persistent precarious economic situation, claiming 
that -- following an earlier run-in with the 
authorities in 2001, when the newspaper was banned 
for 40 days -- the Government pressured advertisers 
not to do business with "Le Journal."  As a result, 
Jamai stated, "Le Journal" lost 80 percent of its 
revenue, and never completely recovered its 
financial footing. 

3.  (SBU) Jamai also mentioned that bank accounts of 
"Le Journal" had been seized a few weeks earlier in 
connection with an outstanding 3 million dirham 
(about USD 375,000) libel judgment dating back to 
2006.  That case involved Claude Moniquet, a Belgian 
researcher, who sued "Le Journal" after the 
newspaper reported that a research paper he wrote 
supportive of Morocco's stance on Western Sahara had 
been paid for by the royal palace.  In 2007, Jamai 
severed his editorial ties with "Le Journal," sold 
his shares in the holding company and left for the 
U.S., where he spent over two years in self-imposed 
"exile" in an effort to shield "Le Journal" from 
having to pay the fine.  He returned to the 
editorial masthead of "Le Journal" in the fall of 
2009 when it became clear that none of these 
measures were succeeding in protecting "Le Journal" 
from further legal action. 

-------------------- 
Muted Local Reaction 
-------------------- 

4.  (U) Beyond factual reporting of the closure, 
Moroccan press reaction has been very limited.  Few 
newspapers have commented on the incident at all; of 
those that have, commentators have reflexively and 
predictably aligned themselves into two camps. 
Those predisposed to the government perspective 
(pro-Palace daily "Le Matin" and "Aujourd'hui le 
Maroc," which tends to align itself with the 
security establishment) have focused on the taxes 
owed, denying that the closure was anything more 
than a simple legal action by the commercial courts. 
They also accuse "Le Journal" leadership of 
arrogantly believing they are above the law.  A few 
independent newspapers known for their strong 
promotion of freedom of expression (such as "Al- 
Jarida Al-Aoula," which has itself faced its share 
of legal actions) have characterized this action as 
an attack on the press, and part of a pattern of 
Moroccan government actions over the past year to 
restrict press freedom.  For their parts, neither 
the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers 

(FMEJ) nor the Moroccan National Press Union (SNPM) 
has commented on the case. 

5.  (U) In an interview with "Aujourd'hui le Maroc," 
an attorney for the social security administration 
stated, "What is happening to 'Le Journal' is the 
culmination of a regular judicial process dating 
from 2002 ... if the amounts owed by the weekly are 
paid to the different creditors, all legal 
procedures will automatically be dropped." 

----------------------------- 
Strong International Reaction 
----------------------------- 

6.  (U) By contrast, international observers have 
reacted strongly, condemning the closure.  A 
representative of the Committee to Protect 
Journalists stated in reaction to the closure, "We 
condemn the strategy of using the courts to silence 
critical publications."  British daily "The 
Guardian" published a critical op-ed on the closure, 
and several bloggers that follow press freedom 
issues in Morocco have also lambasted the action. 
Summarizing the mood, one blogger on Global Voices 
wrote, "The end of 'Le Journal' signals a dangerous 
setback for the state of freedoms in Morocco.  It 
pulls a thorn out of the regime's side but it also 
sends a strong message to the remaining independent 
media still struggling to survive in an increasingly 
repressive environment." 

------- 
Comment 
------- 

7.  (SBU) It is impossible to see this as a simple 
commercial court matter.  For more than a decade, 
"Le Journal" has been in the vanguard of the 
Moroccan independent press, serving as a potent 
symbol of the new face of Morocco promoted 
tirelessly by King Mohammed VI.  Since Jamai resumed 
writing the weekly editorials in "Le Journal" in 
late 2009, we have been waiting for the other shoe 
to drop; the increasingly strident, direct and 
daring tone of his commentaries appeared designed 
(and destined) to provoke an overreaction by the 
Moroccan Government (see the block quote below, for 
example).  There seems little doubt that this 
closure is intended to have a chilling effect on 
freedom of expression in Morocco. 

8.  (SBU) That said, Jamai is not going quietly into 
that good night; he held a press conference on 
February 3 (which has garnered minimal local press 
coverage) in which he declared (again) that he was 
abandoning journalism in Morocco and exiling himself 
abroad in protest against the newspaper's closure (a 
theatrical flourish, as in truth he has not lived in 
Morocco for almost three years; since leaving the 
U.S. in the fall of 2009, he has resided in Spain 
where his wife is from, and come only infrequently 
to Morocco).  Perhaps more importantly, he has an 
extraordinary network of contacts in the West -- he 
conducted fellowships at Harvard and Yale, taught at 
UC San Diego, and was the subject of a glowing 
profile in The New Yorker Magazine in 2006 entitled 
"The Crusader -- which he is clearly employing to 
great effect to generate international pressure on 
the GOM.  End Comment. 

----------- 
Block Quote 
----------- 

9.  (U) "Political Hooliganism" editorial by 
director Boubker Jamai in independent French- 
language weekly Le Journal on 12/12/2009: 

"Two series of recent events are at the origin of 
[Morocco's] tension with the EU:  the hysterical 
repression that hit the press a few weeks ago, and 
Morocco's management of the Aminatou Haidar case. 
What is so dispiriting in analyzing these two 
examples of repression is their gratuitousness.  In 
other words, what would have happened if the regime 
had not cracked down on the press, and if it had not 
stripped Aminatou Haidar of her nationality before 

expelling her?  Aside from avoiding the humiliation 
of the injunctions of the EU to respect press 
freedom and human rights, nothing.  What increase in 
respect for the monarchy did it gain in using its 
"justice under orders" to send journalists to 
prison, ban newspapers and ruin media companies? 
What prestige did it gain by treating Aminatou 
Haidar as we have done?  How has this treatment 
convinced the rest of the world of the Moroccan-ness 
of the Sahara?  Because in case some people have 
forgotten, this is what we are supposed to be doing. 

"So why?  Because it's in the nature of this regime. 
A nature that is unfortunately nourished by our 
collective weakness in creating for ourselves a 
future for the country that respects the dignity of 
its citizens.  The Moroccan regime, like certain 
autocratic regimes, has become a repression junkie. 
Junkies who shoot up with authoritarianism and who 
must constantly increase their dose.  In this 
metaphor, we, collectively, are its pushers -- by 
keeping quiet, by mumbling so-called patriotic 
arguments with a confusing stupidity, as [then 
Justice Minister] Abdelouahed Radi did this week in 
Spain.  By not daring to criticize actions and 
decisions that are manifestly inept.  So, let's cut 
off the supply." 

Kaplan
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