... is a medical doctor, blogger and free speech advocate. Born in Morocco he now lives in France. He is passionate about citizen media and writes about good governance, human rights and online activism. He is co-founder of TalkMorocco.net and author for Global Voices Online.
Eugene Delacroix (1798 - 1863) once said: “I looked for the truth among the masses, but I only found it in individuals”. Thanks to his travel books and magnificent paintings Delacroix helped transmit the details of an ancient Moroccan society – it would have been impossible to imagine it otherwise. If Delacroix lived today he would be probably running his own blog.
Blogging, and the Web 2.0 more broadly, have op-posed mass and citizen media. It’s bridging the gap between the often impersonal, sometimes filtered, mainstream media and the colorful diversity of individual narratives. By doing so Delacroix’s dream becomes true: he thought the closer we get to individuals, the closer we are to the true interpretation of their lives. The Web 2.0 is a patchwork of millions of individuals creating a rich, constantly updated multi- media content. There are 500 million active users on Facebook (more than 15 times the Moroccan population), 190 million on Twitter, tweeting over 750 tweets per second, 650 million per day.
In Morocco there are half a million active netizens on Facebook and a few hundred on Twitter. There are no official figures for blogs but a conservative estimate puts the number at around 50,000. Beyond the numbers, however, lies a remarkable cultural and linguistic diversity that mirrors Moroccan society.
But what social impact does the Web really have?
I like to believe that those hundreds of thousands of bloggers, microbloggers and social networkers are writing the corpus of Moroccan contemporary history. By sharing bits of their daily lives and by expressing their opinions freely, people are reclaiming a public sphere that has been restricted and censored for too long. And by so doing, they are finding ways to change things.
One example: July 8, 2007. A Moroccan citizen, armed with a simple video camera, goes out to shoot a scene of daily life near his remote village in the northern part of the country. In the early morning, he laid quietly on the roof of an abandoned house, overlooking a crossing where a police roadblock is usually set up. He made sure no one noticed his presence. Then as soon as the first policemen arrived he started to film. On the video you can clearly see police officers stopping vehicles and extorting bribes from drivers. A scene of everyday corruption, unfortunately all too familiar for the villagers living nearby. The videos were soon posted on YouTube, followed by two others. They went viral almost instantly, and toured the world, seen by millions of Internet users. They were broadcast on news channels, and soon became a topic for television debates. They became part in a documentary on online activism and screened in over 45 countries worldwide.
And the most remarkable thing about it – against all odds – was the fact that the Moroccan authorities reacted positively, and rather than shooting the messenger they took steps to investigate the case. Soon after the offenders were apprehended and concrete measures were taken to abolish corruption in the police. Today, the government is running a website where citizens can anonymously report cases of corruption and abuse by officials and representatives of the authority. (See StopCorruption.ma)
These videos started a trend: the technique was imitated by many others in Morocco and elsewhere. Films and photographs started to emerge on the web, uncovering electoral fraud, corrupt regimes, the poor infrastructure around the country, the floods in stations and airports, the impact on the environment of illegal dumping of industrial waste.
Others have found in social networks, like Facebook, the perfect tool to gather support for their cause or coordinate their actions on the ground. On September 2009, a group of young Moroccans, calling themselves MALI (Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties) decided they were going to eat in public during daytime in Ramadan — the holy Muslim month, during which believers are supposed to observe fasting from dawn until dusk. The action was coordinated almost entirely via the Internet and was meant as a symbolic action in favor of the amendment of a law that calls for the punishment by prison or fine of anyone whose actions are perceived to be disrespectful of Islam. The protesters were intercepted by the police but they helped open the debate about freedom of conscience in a Muslim society. A subject so far considered taboo.
There’s general skepticism about whether the Web 2.0 can actually change public life in a country like Morocco. But collective power and collective action are taking shape thanks to initiatives on the ground for which the Web is serving as a powerful catalyst. After decades of marginalization, civil society is standing up. If authorities or governments aren’t transparent enough, citizens will potentially step in to unfold the truth. Today an ordinary citizen knows he or she can, with good purpose, change things and start a debate all by himself or herself. But good intentions are certainly not enough. For the Web 2.0 to succeed in empowering ordinary people, I think three objectives must be achieved:
First, the government must commit to build an infrastructure guarantying broadband for all. Access to broadband Internet should actually be elevated to thefully fledged status of a Human Right. The reasons for this are obvious, and the benefits countless in terms of development, business and education. The Moroccan government has been proactive in encouraging investment in information and communications technology (ICT) resulting in a rapid increase of Internet users (10,000 percent in the last 5 years) making Morocco second only to Egypt in the MENA region in terms of Internet subscribers. But the rate of penetration (33%) is still relatively low and efforts so far have fallen short of providing rural areas with adequate infrastructure.
Second, the government must ensure network neutrality: the idea of any discriminatory management of the Internet traffic by internet service providers (ISPs), destroys the very foundations of a free, fast and fair Internet. The lack of legislation in this regard means that ISPs can decide what people can see on the Inter-net and at what speed. There is a need for more transparency so that ISPs treat all data the same. The monopoly of the ICT sector in Morocco by a small circle of families and businessmen close to power, makes the change all the more difficult and means that reform intimately linked to the struggle for more democratic accountability.
Finally, the government must ensure that the principle of freedom of expression is paramount. Considering the restrictions on the press in Morocco, the Internet has become an important outlet where bloggers are able to tackle subjects few journalists can.
The new spaces of freedom of expression offered by the Web 2.0 are a creative force for Morocco as well as for all African countries. In this respect, censorship is an impediment for development and creativity that must be fought head on, because only free societies can foster innovative, informed and open debates. Something my country and the whole African continent badly need.
Facts about Morocco – according to Wikipedia:
The Kingdom of Morocco is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of nearly 33 million and an area of 710,850 km², divided into 16 regions. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with an elected parliament.
A steady growth of 4.9% between 2003-2007 helped the Moroccan economy to become much more robust. The economic system of the country presents several facets. It is characterized by a large opening towards the outside world. France remains the primary trade partner of Morocco. France is also the primary creditor and foreign investor in Morocco. In the Arab world, Morocco has the secondlargest non-oil GDP, behind Egypt, as of 2005. The major resources of the Moroccan economy are agriculture, phosphates, and tourism.
33% of its population have access to the internet.
If you want to comment on this article you can do so over at our blog.