Morocco’s king Muhammad VI is being hailed in his country and abroad as a reforming monarch who is far more sensitive to human rights issues than his late father, king Hasan II, who died in July. This unwarranted and selective praise - largely because he gave permission to an old dissident and the family of a murdered activist to return from exile - ignores the fate of Islamic activists like Shaikh Abd al-Salam Yasin, who are either in jail or under house arrest, and who have apparently no rights once they are dubbed ‘terrorists’ in the lexicon of Moroccan secularism.
Muhammad VI’s standing as a champion of human rights is based on his decision to accept the appeal of Abraham Sefarty, a leading opponent of his late father, to return to his country after an eight year exile in France. On September 30, the 73-year-old former Marxist-Leninist activist flew into Rabat with his wife, Christine. But confined to a wheelchair and without any political affiliations, the ailing and ageing Sefarty is of no threat to the monarchy, his concern having been not to die in exile.
In fact Sefarty wrote to the new king to express support for the succession and his desire to serve the cause of democracy under his leadership. On September 21, he wrote - repeating what he had said in an earlier letter - that he shared “the hopes that the whole Moroccan nation has placed in you.” He added: “I hope to be able to return to my country and once again play a part in the construction of a modern and democratic Morocco under your leadership. I therefore appeal to your majesty to allow me to return to Morocco as soon as possible as a free and full citizen.”
Another reason for the former Marxist being permitted to return to the country is that he is Jewish, and that Muhammad, like other rulers is the Arab world, is desperate to stay in the good books of the west and Israel, both close allies. This appears to be working. The French daily Le Monde commented that “the new king has wisely not allowed himself to be influenced by his father’s vendettas.” And the London-based Sunday Times enthused that “the former crown prince, previously known for his cars, jet skis and disco dancing, is unexpectedly emerging as a champion of the poor and the abused.”
Of course, no thought was spared for the Islamic activists languishing in jail or under house arrest. Shaikh Yasin, leader of Morocco’s suppressed Islam movement, Adl wal Ihsan (Justice dnd charity), was not even mentioned in the chorus of praise. He has been under house arrest at his home in Sale since 1989, with guards placed outside to control his visitors.
But Sefarty’s return to Morocco has focused attention on the Adl wal Ihsan leader, and Rabat is under pressure to address his case. A Moroccan human rights group appealed for Muhammad to ‘finalize Yasin’s issue’ the dayafter Sefarty’s return. A spokesman, Abdul Aziz Benani, said on October 1, that “the only logical thing is to solve the case,” adding that though the two men were different, “one a radical leftist, the other an Islamist,” both were victims of unjust treatment at the hands of the rulers.
A palace spokesman immediately explained that the reason that Sefarty was allowed to return was that he had appealed to the king. Muhammad Oujar, the minister for human rights, had earlier said that Yasin would be released if he renounced violence and undertook to respect democracy.
However, there are signs that the government would like to do a deal with the Shaikh in order to disarm the Islamic opposition and improve its standing in the country. Recent media reports claim that discreet and informal negotiations to end his house-arrest are under way. On October 17, a London-based Arabic weekly, Al-Mujallah, quoted a senior Moroccan official as saying that the issue was no longer whether Yasin should be released. The unnamed official, who had allegedly held two-hour talks with him, said the real issue was the status of his group, Adl wal Ihsan, and its place in Moroccan politics.
There is little doubt that if Shaikh Yasin renounces his past struggles and accepts the constitutional validity of the monarchy, like Sefarty, he would be freed. Any repudiation of his Islamic work would be presented by the government as a ‘defeat of the Islamic movement on the ground’. Both Egypt’s Husni Mubarak and Libya’s Mu’ammar Qadafi have publicly claimed victory over Islam in their own countries and expect to be rewarded by the west.
But the 69-year-old Shaikh is not about to oblige the king and ask for forgiveness. His daughter Nadia flatly rejects any similarity between her father’s case and that of Sefarty, saying that there is no principle behind the desire of a very old man to die in his own country, while the ‘siege’ of her father is the siege of a movement.
In an interview with the London-based al-Quds Al-Arabi (October 19-20), Sister Nadia said that there had been no negotiations with the Moroccan authorities, but that private individuals had called on him to suggest ways out of the impasse. Some had suggested that her father should write to the king asking for forgiveness’, she said, adding that he categorically refused to do so and that the matter rests there.
According to Sister Nadia, her father’s plight is unimportant in itself since it is part and parcel of the larger issue of the banning of an Islamic movement, and that while they see no objection in collaborating with efforts to create a ‘true democratic system’, they will not work within an arrangement that puts all the power in the hands of one man.
She illustrated the problems of an Islamic movement working within a sham democracy by highlighting the problems of the moderate Adala wa Tanmia (Justice and Development) party in the present parliament. There are so many restrictions on what the members of parliament can do, that it is not worth being there, she says. For example, she said, they are not allowed to raise, either in a full session or in committees, the Palestinian issue.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1999