Saturday, November 12, 2005

Morocco: Internet as an alternative media against censorship

I just came across this article in the Lebanese daily The Daily Star. It talks about the growing influence of the internet in Moroccan Society as a way to spread information. Especially in cases where the authorities in Morocco have tried to silence opponents to the regime.

In Morocco the Internet is putting the censors under greater duress

By Mohammad Ibahrine
Commentary by
Monday, September 26, 2005

While satellite television often attracts the lion's share of analysis about new media and their effect on prospects for democratization in the Middle East and North Africa, another technology may already have had at least as large an impact: the Internet. In Morocco, where the regime has severely constrained, controlled or silenced independent print media through direct and indirect censorship, the Internet has become an important instrument for unrestricted flows of information, which in turn is leading to the emergence of a more vibrant public sphere.

The degree of Morocco's connectivity to the Internet is surprising. For a country that established its first Internet connection in 1995, Morocco has now about one million users from a population of about 32 million - one of the highest growth rates in the Arab world. The spread of cybercafes (now numbering over 1,500), as well as of Voice Over Internet Protocols for inexpensive long-distance phone calls, are helping to spread Internet use.

Since the introduction of the Internet in the political field in Morocco in the late 1990s, government ministries, political parties, and Parliament have been online. The same holds true for activists and civil society groups, which have a long tradition of developing and using independent media to promote their interests and facilitate communication.

Among the most important cases of political use of the Internet in Morocco was that of Abdul Salam Yassine, leader of Al-Adl wa al-Ihsan (Justice and Charity), a leading Islam-oriented political organization. Internet use for political purposes gained momentum in 2000 when the organization launched a Web site ( to publish an open letter in many European languages after the regime banned independent newspapers for publishing it. Entitled "To whom it may concern," the voluminous memorandum criticized the regime of King Hassan II and urged King Mohammad VI to redistribute the late king's wealth. Yassine's Web site featured information resources, news and audio and video clips, thus breaking the chains of censorship.

A separate but related recent case that shows how the Internet is facilitating political communication in the face of growing authoritarian tendencies was that of Nadia Yassine, daughter and unofficial spokesperson of Abdul Salam Yassine. In an interview published last June 2 in Al-Usbuiyya Al-Jadida, a Moroccan weekly, Nadia Yassine criticized authoritarian regimes and expressed support for a republic. She was charged with damaging the monarchy and, if found guilty, may face heavy fines and up to five years in prison. Following the charges, Nadia Yassine launched a Web site in Arabic, English and French ( containing detailed information about her life, ideas, and activities (including audio clips of her public lectures - for example one given at the University of California at Berkeley), as well as the full text of the interview that resulted in the case against her. The Web site has received numerous e-mail messages of support, mostly from highly educated Moroccans.

Nor have Islamists been the only ones to use the Internet to circumvent government constraints. Since January 1998 progressive intellectual and human rights activist Mahdi Elmandjra, denied access to regular Moroccan media, has used his Web site ( and e-mail lists to disseminate information and alternative viewpoints. Elmandjra recently launched the "Baraka Movement," similar to Egypt's "Kifaya" movement, which opposes despotism and monopoly of authority. In using his electronic networks with international and national human rights organizations, he is able to quickly publicize abuses, rights violations and repressive practices. He perceives information sharing as an important feature of political participation, as it empowers marginalized individuals and civil society groups to overcome regime censorship. Since 1998 his Web site has had more than 400,000 hits, a large number of visitors for a personal site in the Arab world.

Internet-based political activism in Morocco is still nascent, but it is growing at a fast pace and is likely to play an increasingly important role in accelerating political pluralism. The Moroccan regime is not ignorant of the power of the Internet and is attempting to stifle its effectiveness via legal constraints, such as the 2003 anti-terrorism law as well as technical methods such as filtering and blocking sites. But such methods ultimately are ineffective; even when a Web site is shut down, there are still e-mail list serves and blogs to take up the cause.

Mohammad Ibahrine is a lecturer in international and comparative communication studies at the University of Erfurt, Germany. This commentary is reprinted with permission from the Arab Reform Bulletin Vol. 3, issue 7 (September 2005) (c) 2005, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


Anonymous dionysos said...

La censure d'état était tjs là et peut tjs sévir ...Ce que je crains c'est l'auto-censure ...

5:24 PM, November 13, 2005  
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8:16 AM, November 14, 2005  

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