Hip hop in Morocco
With the birth of hip hop behind us for almost three decades it seems like the wave of political and generational demands it put forward back then now make a comeback. Earlier on, this blog posted about the new street art scenes in Northern Africa and the Middle East, and more recently we paid attention to Omar Offendum, who came over to Utrecht to perform at the Liberation Festival. His presence didn’t go unnoticed as shows the feature on the national television here.
But this new wave of engaged and empowered hip hop artists may look very strong to us, outsiders, the new regimes in many of the post Arab Spring countries aren’t the biggest fans. Unfortunately the case of Mouad Belghouat, a rapper who goes by the name El Haqed — Arabic for “The Enraged” or “The Sullen” —in Morocco proves just that. He was sentenced last week in connection with his song about the country’s police force, “Dogs of the State.” In the song, about police corruption in Morocco – widespread, and hated among the Moroccans – one of the police officers heads was replaced by the head of a donkey. This insult was too much for authorities – the text wasn’t the biggest problem apparently.
Still, lyrics as “You are paid to protect the citizens, not to steal their money,” “Did your commander order you to take money from the poor?” were not allowed at all a few years back. A video clip without donkey heads is still viewable, click here. The 24-year-old Mouad Belghouat, who also writes his name alphanumerically as l7a9ed, is an outspoken critic of the government and his music is closely associated with Morocco’s February 20 protest movement. He was jailed in September for fighting with a supporter of the Moroccan government, released after four months, and he was arrested again in late March for the song. The great people at Freemuse wrote a good piece about it.
Human Rights Watch condemned his trial and harsh sentence as a breach of Morocco’s constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Morocco and Western Sahara, please visit their site.