Wednesday, March 31, 2010

English Language Media Gives Us Nothing to Read On the Belliraj Trial

We usually post articles covering the latest news in Morocco. Unfortunately, the English language media isn't covering anything about the Belliraj trial that is going on in Morocco now. There are a few things in Arabic and French media outlets. The best document to address the major due process issues with the case was written by Human Rights Watch and posted on this blog a few months ago. Here is the link

A friend of mine who has been attending the trial sent me an email a few days ago with details of what was going on and all of the mishaps that in some other country might actually be cause for a mistrial. I am pasting below what my friend wrote then, the circumstances with the hunger-strikers changes daily, but the details about the case are still worth note.

An Email from a Moroccan Friend Regarding the Belliraj Trial

17 of the 34 detainees in the Belliraj case, including the 5 remaining political detainees have been on an open hunger strike since last Monday. Their demands are not that they be released or declared innocent. What they're asking for is a chance at a fair trial. The appeals process thus far has been an even bigger joke than the trial. Every single one of the defense's requests is turned down. We're not talking about big things like providing evidence or witnesses, we're not even there yet. We're still at the stage of requestion translations, little things.

I don't know if you heard the bombshell that was dropped a few weeks into the appeal. Apparently the people who drafted up the official document with the sentences were so distraught they forgot to put "In the Name of His Majesty.... " in the header, therebye, legally speaking, rendering the whole thing invalid. This could have slid unnoticed. But then, the document (now the defense all has copies of the original) was later falsified, ok let's say rectified, with the King's name on it. The defense now has both copies, proving flagrant falsification of documents.

The judge decided to disregard the whole thing.

This is one of the very small example of the violations of the right to a fair trial.

This is in addition to everything that preceded, including arrest and search without identification or warrants, torture, falsification of signed "confessions" (the detainees were made to sign 20 to 30 of what was supposed to be copies of the original, a 20 page document itself , without being given the chance to read through them. The contect was later changed and attached to the signed page).

Last Thursday, the defense team for the political detainees withdrew as a protest, and with it several other lawyers for the other prisoners. Yesterday Belliraj's lawyer announced his withdrawal too.

With all this, the judge is continuing the trial as though nothing out of the ordinary is going on. The trial was postponed form last Wednesday till Monday. The prisoners will be on their 8th day without food, one of them has already been taken to the hospital, there's no defense team... but the trial goes on.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Drying Out Morocco - The Debate Over Alcohol Consumption

Here is an article from the Economist concerning the ever returning debate about the legality of drinking alcohol in Morocco. A "dry" Morocco would be great if it emanated from a place of Faith in people's hearts - but then of course some hearts need to be guided to what is best for them.

Alcohol in Morocco
Glug if you're not local
A row over whether alcohol should be tolerated for some or banned for all

Mar 18th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

TOURISTS may be forgiven for thinking that drinking alcohol in Morocco is legal. You can happily buy the stuff in supermarkets, bars and smarter restaurants, but Muslims, who make up the vast majority of Moroccans, are strictly forbidden to drink it. Islamists dislike this compromise—and were delighted when the mayor of Fez, the religious capital, recently suggested it could become Morocco’s first entirely dry city.

It is not the first time that the Islamists have opposed the country’s tolerant attitude. In December Ahmad Raissouni, a hardline cleric, issued a fatwa calling on Moroccans to boycott supermarkets that sell alcohol. Two years earlier Islamist politicians had been outraged by the holding of a wine festival in Meknes, a conservative city at the heart of Morocco’s wine-producing region. Columnists in the populist press grumbled that Morocco was losing its Islamic identity.

Secularists have not been silent. After Mr Raissouni issued his fatwa, a human-rights group called for the ban on alcohol to be dropped altogether, arguing that, since it does not apply to foreigners, it thus discriminates against Moroccans.

It is a touchy issue, since Morocco wants to open up to the West and make tourism one of its main sources of income. The country’s 12,000 hectares (nearly 30,000 acres) of vineyards produce 35m bottles a year and provide 10,000 jobs in a time of high unemployment. Moreover, the state is the biggest vineyard owner and benefits from taxes on wine sales. Though Fez’s city council endorsed the mayor’s proposed ban, it is unlikely to go into effect. Tolerance, for the time being, prevails.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Women of Morocco : Critiquing Exoticism

Here is an article from the New York Times Arts Section about the exoticism exercised upon the image of the Moroccan woman.


Art Review | New Jersey
Reviving the Exotic to Critique Exoticism
Published: March 4, 2010

“Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc,” an exhibition at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, draws attention to one of the most interesting if puzzling developments in contemporary art: a revival of exotic, often historical imagery of people from faraway places in the name of a critique of exoticism.

“Les Femmes du Moroc: Grand Odalisque”

Ms. Essaydi is a Moroccan-born, New York-based photographer who has risen to prominence for her beautiful, striking imagery dealing with the role of women in Islamic societies. But much like Shirin Neshat, Shahzia Sikander and other successful expatriate female artists from Muslim nations, she trades in stereotypes, reflecting back at us our own misconceptions and prejudices.

The current exhibition of work by Ms. Essaydi, a touring show from the DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, in Lincoln, Mass., consists of 17 color photographs of Moroccan women dressed up and arranged into staged scenes appropriated from 19th-century European and American Orientalist paintings. Among her sources are paintings by well-known artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme, Eugène Delacroix, John Singer Sargent and Frederic Leighton.

The artist has scrawled Arabic calligraphy on her photographs. It is written in henna, which is used by women in South Asia and in some Islamic countries to decorate the hands, feet and body for marriage and other ceremonies. The calligraphy, loosely applied, is largely obscured by its presentation; for the most part it is illegible, even to those who read Arabic.

Though this is not a big show, the visual elegance of the works is overwhelming. They are beautiful and alluring; my immediate reaction on walking into the show was “Wow.” The impact can be attributed partly to the fetishistic and sometimes openly sexual aspects of the Orientalist originals, and partly to the decorative use of the calligraphy, which adds a pleasing patina of age.

Those who have studied art history will probably recognize several of the source images. “Les Femmes du Maroc: Grande Odalisque” (2008), showing a naked woman wrapped in a sheet on a bed, is an appropriation of Jean August-Dominique Ingres’s iconic painting “The Great Odalisque” (1819). Ms. Essaydi’s figure seems remote and unavailable to the viewer, unlike Ingres’s temptress.

While Ms. Essaydi changes her source images, stripping them of their luminous colors, removing male figures or replacing them with women, and covering up the nudity, I am not sure that she always transforms them enough. Too often her photographs look like an exercise in voyeurism, replicating rather than revising the stereotypical imagery she is working with.

Take, for example, “Les Femmes du Maroc #1” (2005), based on a Delacroix painting, “Algerian Women in Their Apartment” (1834), depicting three Arab women as slaves imprisoned in an exotic and secluded harem. Ms. Essaydi simplifies the setting by eliminating the colorful draperies and props, but her picture still retains some of the languorous sensuality of the original Orientalist painting.

My problem with these photographs is that Ms. Essaydi, by retaining the basic compositions, gestures and general style of dress of the original paintings, often leaves her women stuck in the same Orientalist fantasy that she purports to critique. Instead of changing the way in which we see Arab women, these photographs revive old-fashioned stereotypes.

“Les Femmes du Maroc #4” (2005) is an instantly striking photograph based on “The Slave Market” (circa 1867), one of Gérôme’s best and most famous paintings, which shows a slave woman having her teeth inspected by some prospective buyers. It depicts a degrading scene, the woman reduced to a piece of property. Nothing about Ms. Essaydi’s photographic copy changes this.

In the exhibition catalog, Nick Capasso, the show’s curator, argues that Ms. Essaydi presents us with images of women who are “empowered.” That’s the party line on these photographs. Sometimes I think it makes sense, as with “Les Femmes du Maroc: Grande Odalisque,” but at other times it just doesn’t work. I don’t see how there can be anything empowering about images of women as sex slaves.

No doubt the use of text on the images is meant to give these women a voice, to show them as more than just passive bodies. But given that the text is mostly illegible, it becomes just another decorative element enhancing the aesthetic appeal of what are essentially clichéd images of the East seen through the lens of Western desire.

“Lalla Essaydi: Les Femmes du Maroc,” Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, through June 6; (732) 932-7237 or