Don't rate the king

The Moroccan authorities have banned this week's editions of two local magazines from newsstands for carrying a poll about the 10-year rule of King Mohammed VI. In his supportive argument for the seizing of the magazines, Morocco's Minister for Communications, Khalid Naciri, stressed that the "monarchy cannot be the subject of opinion polls." The media group that manages both magazines, has countered Naciri's remarks, saying there is no law in Morocco that prohibits opinion polls and that the seizures were illegal.
Morocco Magazines banned

BEIRUT, August 4, 2009 (MENASSAT) – According to Morocco's official MAP news agency, the independent weekly French-language Tel Quel, and Nichane, a weekly magazine published in Arabic, were taken off newsstands for violating the country's 1958 press code. Only this week's issues of the magazines were barred from the market, added MAP. 

Explaining the root of the issue, Morocco's Communications Minister Khalid Naciri told the AP over the weekend that it was the poll, apparently carried out by Tel Quel in conjunction with the French daily Le Monde, that had caused a problem.

Naciri emphasized that any publication, be it Moroccan or international, that chooses to publish the poll will not make it onto Moroccan newsstands, because the royalty, after all, must not in any way be surveyed, in his opinion.

"Any publication, be it foreign or Moroccan, that publishes the poll will be banned. Monarchy cannot be the subject of opinion polls and those who practice this sport are aware of the consequences," Naciri told the AP

TelQuel group, the self-described editor of both Tel Quel and Nichane, has slammed the ban and the apparent confiscation of more than 100,000 copies of the magazines. 

"TelQuel group condemns with force and energy the seizure and the destruction of 100 000 copies of the magazines TelQuel and Nichane, on the decision of the Moroccan authorities," read a statement posted by the group on Tel Quel's website.

According to Tel Quel's press statement, the poll was in fact in favor of the king. Yet, the group said, "The spokesman of the government has ruled that 'the monarchy could not be subject to debate,' even in the framework of a survey."

TelQuel meanwhile stresses that there is no law in Morocco that "prohibits or compels public opinion polls." Neither was there a judicial decision behind the destruction of the magazine issues, according to the group. Hence, they mean, the seizure and subsequent destruction of the magazines is an illegal act.

In Morocco, debating or criticizing the King and his kin, let alone surveying them, is a faux pas that can result in punishment for those who dare to challenge the monarchy.

In a 2008 incident, 26-year old Moroccan IT engineer Fouad Mortada was sentenced to three years in prison for creating a spoof Facebook profile of the king's younger brother, prince Moulay Rachid. Mortada was eventually given a presidential pardon after spending 43 days in prison. But the Facebook farce left a dent in Morocco's reputation, with both Arab and international media reporting on the events.

Forty-five year old Mohammed VI inherited the throne after the passing of his father, King Hassan II. He had ruled the country for 38 years. Mohammed VI celebrated his 10-year anniversary on the throne last week. 

As for TelQuel and Nichane, last week's polling incident does not mark the first time the two publications had tangled with the Moroccan authorities. In 2007, issues of both magazines were pulled off newsstands after they published editorials deemed "libelous" against the king.

At that time, Nichane's former editor, Driss Ksikes, and a journalist from the same magazine were handed three-year suspended jail sentences after publishing an article deemed defamatory to Islam - another no-go zone for critical journalists. As a result, the magazine was suspended for another two months. 

TelQuel referred to the latest incident as an "attack on freedom of the press" by the Moroccan authorities, while emphasizing that today's Morocco is certainly not "immune to setbacks."

"By this seizure and destruction, the government of Morocco attacks once again freedom of press and opinion – which demonstrates vividly that the 'democratization' of the scheme is a process fraught with pitfalls. Those who, on the tenth anniversary of Mohammed VI's reign have in mind the sincere tribute to 'Morocco' will 'advance' the notion today that it is not immune to the setbacks."