A colleague of mine was far more eloquent than I am going to be on the subject of Wikileaks: sensational stuff, but nothing we did not know before, and no immediate threat to the stability of the incumbent regime. Still, that maybe due to the fact that our little web community -very loosely defined, I must point out- grew so disillusioned with the official line in Morocco, that when truly shocking news pop up about our relationship with France, the Royal Family or indeed the Royal Army, it was small halal beer.
On the other hand, over the long term, and with some degree of patience -which the Blogoma has yet to acquire- and some serious journalism -which Morocco has yet failed to set the standards for- there is a great deal of first class resources to be put to good use –what some at the Moroccan Communications Ministry would label as nihilist. These revelations were merely rumors. They are now stated on confidential diplomatic cables, originated, no less, from within the impregnable walls of the highly-pitched fortress of the US Embassy in Rabat.
It’s a bit like ‘Notre Ami le Roi’ [Fr] in 1990: lots of shocking revelations carefully contained within the learned population, and if it wasn’t for the large-scale staged national protestation [Fr] -arranged by the late Hassan II’s factotum- many in Morocco would have never heard of it, even though cohorts of political exiles and dissidents supplied the incriminating material. It is true that the book is no more than a pamphlet, but the backdrops do show that a great deal of documentary research was carried out, and as far as the secret detention centres were concerned, the claims were accurate, and the book was successful in getting a target hit on that specific issue.
Still and all, I am firmly waiting by for an angry comment from Communications Minister Khalid Naciri, and of course the undertaking of a spontaneous popular demonstration against the vile Wikileaks canard slurring the sacred fundamentals of our nation, among which, our beloved King and His family, our formidable armed forces, and a few other things we don’t want foreigners to comment on, like our special relationship with the French.
As far as the normal population is concerned (and by that I mean those that are not hooked to internet, news tweets or indeed anyone prone to have a slightly overused F5 on their keyboard), the Wikileaks revelations are little known in Morocco. Though the failing attempt to censor newspapers reporting the juicy cables related to Morocco is merely plugging a crumbling dam likely to burst any moment now. There is no need for panel analysis to know that at the present, there are some rumblings with the neighbours across the straight and the eastern border to fill the void in Moroccan households and minds.
Media initiative is definitely on the official side which is keeping a dignified silence over the whole matter, probably hanging their heads in shame. So, again, Wikileaks revelations are smothered among other seemingly irrelevant pieces of news, rendering any attention to it ridiculously dearth.
That, my dear friends, is what the masters of the dark arts call ‘spin’. On media terms, Wikileaks is far, far below other pieces of news on the media noise scale. And that’s the better for it –-for the regime, that is.
Can it get any more pessimistic? Perhaps I am being hasty in my judgment. After all, many people do use the internet in Morocco for useful and unfiltered information, among other things. The trouble is, a couple of major obstacles prevent these pieces of information from reaching the public opinion and reaching their desired effect:
– Language barriers: there is some effort to slip up some English language in the national curriculum, but then again, very few people speak the language, and even fewer would get through some idioms typical of diplomatic cables that are often written in informal tones. Unless someone is volunteering for the daunting task of translating the behemoth of cables related to Morocco in French or Arabic, these leaks will reach only a circle of faithful “nihilists.” At best these will just provide the ultimate proof to their less disabused friends that, contrary to the official line, l’3am machi dima zine (all is not always well).
Don’t even count on the newspapers to do the job; even though they have people paid for that (they are called journalists). First because they don’t speak the language themselves –in their huge majority, as the language is not taught in depth at the institute for media studies in Al Irfane University complex- or because they would be afraid of some retaliatory strike from high-up. Journalism in Morocco is barely licking its wounds from showdowns earlier this year, and the dispersed ranks are not willing to take on another fight. If news outlets like Le Monde, Al Aqsa or El Pais [Fr] are banned because they ‘defamed Morocco’s institutions’ local journalists would have to expect worse a treatment. And even they produced sloppy articles –quite expected from French or Spanish journalists-, poorly documented and poorly commented.
– Reprisals: let us assume some daredevil did publish some of these cables. On paper I mean. Let us assume they documented fully their claims about deals on real estate involving the Royal Family, or about structural weaknesses the armed forces suffers from, or indeed His Majesty’s aversion for political Islamism or political power at all. Do we assume the regular safeguards of fair trial are guaranteed? Evidence and empirics show that it is certainly not the case. Unlike the Western judiciary, proof matters little in Morocco. When the prosecutor is set on getting a conviction, only a royal pardon can spare the impudent journalist, or indeed the regular cyber-citizen from the Makhzen’s wrath. The nasty dark forces are out there. Be afraid, be very afraid.
– Aftermath: let us again assume the information spread out across the Moroccan population. First, the pieces of information on these cables are hardly breaking news. So the benefit of surprise, or indeed shock is partly allayed. What’s next? That’s the trouble: even if individuals would feel very upset toward the regime, and would even have a fit for reform, who’s to coordinate? Internal security has it all sewn-up. Informants are all over the place. Am I being paranoid? What’s the M’quadem or Caid for? Why do the Interior Ministry and its security agencies so closely check on people? Likelihoods of (genuine) spontaneous large-scale protests are slim. There are occurrences in the recent event in Laayun, [Western Sahara] but that was carelessness and the local Wali was removed afterwards. The recent events in the Rif [northern Morocco] too are much localized. The essential mechanisms of nation-wide coordination are being obliterated by the watchful eyes of the Renseignements Généraux [Fr] and the Direction Générale de Surveillance du Territoire.
Wikileaks revelations however, were bliss to a few. The scrutinising US diplomatic eye produced a harsh but accurate judgment on post-1999 Morocco. Contrary to what the rabble think, the Sahara issue matter very little in that assessment. The Americans are more concerned about internal balances more than possible outcomes to the Sahara dispute, which benefits from their sympathetic neutrality. They worry more about how power is concentrated among a core circle of policy-makers, about the dangers of radicalisation in the lower echelons of the Army, about business practises; These are usually overlooked by regular Moroccan commentators because they cannot, or do not want to discuss these sensitive issues. The judgment is a sad indictment of the ‘new era’.
I don’t know about my fellow nihilists, but sometimes I force myself into thinking that things in Morocco have changed. That the old-style Makhzen plotting, is definitely set to limbos. That there is a new kind of government, still authoritarian, but opened about fair government. A bit opaque, but giving reassuring signals that it will open up one day soon. I disparaged some rumours about the Institutions -those that really matter, that is- but to no avail.
Things barely changed at all, and I blame myself for being credulous of a moment.