Portrait of a free rapper in prison
Mohamed Khadhiri - 16/02/2012
The Moroccan rapper Mouadh Belaghouat, alias El Haqed has been liberated on the 12th of January. The trial lasted four months, during which the judge has rejected his lawyers’ demand for provisional release. The young 24-year-old singer, member of the protesting 20th February Movement is accused of having hit and wounded one of his compatriots. However, this opposition movement has always stated that the arrest of its most famous rapper was a political affair. According to the 20th February Movement, the charge is only a means to divert attention from the real case, that is the songs full of political dissent and critiques against the Moroccan regime. These are songs where the social and political claims are abound and exclude no one. No political institution escapes the “forked tongue” of El Haqed’s songs that also evoke King Mohamed VI and absolute power. This is a review of a case that certain media described as surreal.
The people demand…
As from the beginning of the Arab protests in Tunisia and Egypt, a slogan has invaded public spaces: “The people demand the fall of the regime”. Given the political nature of the Moroccan regime, this slogan has been adopted by Moroccan youth with less acuity. Instead of claiming the fall of the regime, they claimed the fall of tyranny…including that of the rentier economy, abuse of power and the cult of personality. In article 19, the Moroccan constitution stipulated that the “king is sacred and cannot be desecrated”. Many political parties, especially the left-wing ones, have claimed this article’s repeal. Nevertheless, this article has survived all constitutional amendments since 1962, date of the adoption of the first Moroccan constitution.
During the protests, the young Moroccans have raised the slogan “the people demand the fall of tyranny” adopted by a still unknown rapper in a song he launched on Youtube. The lyrics say: “50% of Moroccans like the king, 40% are hypocrites and 10% do not recognise him”. The rapper’s strange statistics have shocked a few. Never before had Moroccan songs, even those whose lyrics carried a clear wind of protest, openly criticised the king. The unknown singer used the pseudonym El Haqed that later became his official name.
The song was launched the day after the 20th February, the day of the great gathering in Hammam Square, the historic square in the heart of the city of Casablanca. No one knew the outcome of this protest movement but the young singer has quickly sided with the opposition. His song spread like wildfire and tens of thousands of people had watched it in less than a week. El Haqed’s song did neither spare police repression nor the deterioration of public education, nor the grip of corruption lobbyists on the country’s wealth, nor judiciary corruption and its lack of independence. The song ends up by supporting the demands of the youth and the “children of oppressed people”. It is true that others have sung of the 20th February but El Haqed has a particular imprint. He has not stopped singing during the protest as was the case of other more famous groups like Hoba Hoba Spirit. The adherence to the movement led E Haqed to take part in their gatherings and marches to the extent of becoming the “official” singer as from the early days. Those who attended the meeting of the Movement Coordination at the United Socialist Party’s headquarters in Casablanca did not all know that this was El Haqed, a slender young public worker. He is 24 years old with childish features. He is quite spontaneous during the meetings and often taking radical positions. It is that kind of radicalism of a young man with no political experience but who has been carried away by the enthusiasm of the Arab revolutions’ rumour. Before singing, he takes the microphone to shout the slogans during protest marches and gatherings of the Movement. He is always present at the meetings of the 20th February Coordination. His song has evolved to become more acerbic, more critical of the regime. This is why he has become a symbol the Movement in Casablanca. Many people thought that he would pay the tribute of his songs especially since he belonged to no political organisation. When the Franco-German channel Arte interviewed him, he did not hesitate to criticize the King Mohamed VI. From his family home in the popular area of Olfa, he claimed: “Nobody is satisfied with the power. Liar is the one who claims that Morocco is a special case. God, motherland and freedom. As long as power is in the hands of one person, I will be resentful.’ From one song to another, El Haqed’s critics are becoming increasingly sharp. In one of his lyrics, he calls the Prime minister a fascist and in another he rewrites the kingdom’s motto of the God, the country and the king in God, the country and the people. This is subject to legal prosecution but the young rapper seems to have broken the wall of fear. The rapper also distributes leaflets calling for protests organised by the 20th February Movement. On the 9th September he had a verbal altercation with a member of the 9th March Organisation (a group created after the king’s speech on the same date when he announced an amendment of the constitution). The altercation turned out into a fight and the 9th March Organisation’s member filed a complaint accusing Mouadh Belaghouat of assault and wounds that the latter denies. This type of complaint normally takes time to be processed but the case of El Haqed took a different turn.
El Haqed’s trial detention took a surreal turn. The arrest procedure was quickly established and his family was only informed the next day. He was imprisoned in “Oukacha” in Casablanca and bail was categorically refused to him. The last act of his lawsuit took place on the 6th December. The trial court of Ain Sebaa in Casablanca decided to postpone the case to the 22nd of the same month. Although the case is of a penal nature, the 20th February’s Movement believes that El Haqed’s trial is a political one, penalising his songs. A statement of the information committee confirms this: this case is political and aims to blackmail the Movement and push it to give up its legitimate claims that are those of the Moroccan people claiming freedom, dignity and social equality. Despite the campaign, no positive response was given to the calls for the provisional release of El Haqed, calls that the committee has repeatedly expressed.” According to the Defence Committee, the postponement of the case decided by the trial judge to allow the defence of the accused to prepare arguments and call witnesses is not very convincing. According to El Haqed’s defence lawyers, the committee has not been convened for the 6th of December and this resulted in the absence of the majority of its members. The lawyer Mahdi Messaoud stated: “I was surprised, on the afternoon of the trial, by a group of activists from the 20th February Movement who contacted me to inform me that the artist El Haqed was deferred to the court of Aïn Sebaa without neither notifying the defence committee nor his family. For El Haqed’s family, the arrest is a case of kidnapping and included many offences. The 20th February Movement organised a protest outside the court against this measure.
According to the defence, the file is riddled with irregularities. El Haqed’s lawyers believe that his continued detention was due to political reasons since the latter had given all guarantees including a bond to be able to appear in court in bail. However, since his arrest, the court continues to refuse any application for bail. The defence committee has made several requests in this sense and they were all refused.
On the 12th of January, hall 8 at the court of Casablanca became a “space of contestation” as hundreds of activists came to support El Haqed. The young members of the 20th February Movement shouted “long live the people” before the verdict was announced. The judge sentenced the young singer accused of assault to 4 months in prison. The 20th February Movement interpreted this sentence as a victory of mass mobilisation and international solidarity.
An international solidarity campaign.
El Haqed’s arrest generated a wave of international solidarity and support demanding his release. Since his arrest, during protests, the 20th February Movement brandishes slogans calling for his release. The largest demonstrations in Casablanca have also claimed his release using banners and slogans that condemn his detention.
Moreover, civil society parties have been mobilised to support Mouadh Belaghouat. A Facebook page has been created www.facebook.com/L7A9AD.MOUAD to support the rapper and call for his release. His friends have established a support group in which the young documentary filmmaker Maria Karem is very active. She is also a member of the 20th February Movement and has initiated a vast operation to support El Haqed on Internet.
According to her, “everyone should support El Haqed by participating to the initiative she has created with other friends. There are many actions, such as changing one’s photo on Facebook and replace it with Mouadh Belaghouat’s one. Or ask Facebook friends to take a photo with a banner claiming his release and send it by email to email@example.com . This initiative has been widely followed by Moroccan and other Internet users. Photos of persons in Ireland, France, Morocco and elsewhere have been published on http://l7a9ed.com . The support committee has also launched a website where articles and photos of persons supporting the rapper can be uploaded.
His family and friends have organised several press conferences to publicise their cause and lobby for his release. Many activists and lawyers, including the Moroccan Association for Human rights supported his case. El Haqed’s arrest also echoed in the Moroccan press. Karim Boukhari, editor of the weekly review Tel Quel www.telquel-online.com/501/edito.shtml , wrote: ”El Haqed’s arrest is a case that has been set up to silence the people’s child. Let’s not be afraid to call things by their names. El Haqed is a political prisoner who pays the price of his ideas and his words.”
The “spiteful” song
El Haqed’s music is amateur rather than professional but his lyrics are close to Hip-Hop culture and Rap with a touch of “protest”. The rapper’s intelligence led him to mention the obvious: education crisis, the drugs problem in popular neighbourhoods, transport problems, the grip of a few families on the country’s economy, the alliance between power and capital. His vocabulary comes from the streets. He doesn’t speak in a fossilised way but uses a language that is close to the “middle-class” Moroccan but is not less powerful. His simple words vehemently criticise the violence of the police against the unemployed and demonstrators. However, El Haqed has also criticised the King Mohamed VI, the Prime Minister, the Mekzen (court), the army and the security forces. Nobody seems to be immune to his critics except the People that he has chosen to defend, he who has not stopped repeating “long live the people.”
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech