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Blogging for freedom in Morocco

Menassat : Here's what's happening in Arab media.

The news about freedom of expression in the Arab world isn't all bad. In Morocco, for instance, bloggers enjoy near absolute freedom.
Sanaa Al A'ji, Menassat.com Correspondent

Nawal is addicted to the blogosphere. The first thing she does when she gets up in the morning is check her blog and the comments posted on it by others. This automatically leads her to looking at her friends’ blogs and news as well.

So far, everything is normal. But Nawal repeats this process several times a day, effectively making the blogosphere a full-time occupation. Some might say: obsession. Like Nawal, there are thousands of people in Morocco.

For "Al-Arabi" [The Arab], one of the most renowned Moroccan bloggers, the blogging experience has been “a truly enriching experience because it allows communicating with others, enjoying beautiful writing, discovering unexpected things and taking part in heated debates”.

Blogging, he says, "reassures me about the future of Morocco because it confirms that there are many Moroccans out there like me who are open to the world and to others”.

Blogs come in all shapes and forms. Some Moroccans blog about politics, society, sex or religion; others are content to address ordinary events in their daily lives. The latter may seem pretty mundane but, in the Arab world, it is a kind of revolution in its own right.

"We are people who do not like to express ourselves and we never learned how to write about our daily life”, said Muhammad al-Zawwaq who runs the popular “Ya Bladi” [My Country] blog. “This is why I don’t believe in the progress of blogs in Morocco. It is somewhat related to our conservative culture.

But there are many who disagree with al-Zawwaq. Muhammad Hafiz, the former director of the Al-Sahifa newspaper, believes that blogs “are widening the margin of freedom in Morocco. Moreover, the written press is locally oriented while blogs have a cosmic dimension”.

For his part, Younes Moujahid, the secretary general of the Moroccan National Press Syndicate, said that “technological progress will make it impossible for blogs to be controlled."

Does this mean that blogs could one day supersede the written press because they enjoy much more freedom than tha mainstream media?

It is a fact that freedom is almost absolute for bloggers in Morocco today. Unlike their counterparts in Tunisia or Egypt, where bloggers have been imprisoned for their writing, Moroccan bloggers have nothing to fear from a meddling government.

This is mostly due to the fact that the officials at the Moroccan Agency for the Regulation of Communication (ANRT) consider that they are responsible for controlling only the technical aspects of the Internet and not its content.

The new press bill does include the electronic media for the first time but it still doesn't apply to bloggers because they do not meet the three levels of professionalism required under the law: respect of professional standards, respect of the country's laws and respect of the moral responsibility of the profession. Failing to meet one of these conditions can result in the prosecution of a journalist or the suspension of a newspaper. Bloggers have so far not been affected by these measures.

Bloggers have another bid advantage over traditional journalists: anonymity.

“Due to modern technology and the possibility of using nicknames to express opinions on certain issues, control in its traditional sense is no longer possible" said Moujahid. "Today, technology has become a facilitator for the development of freedom of expression."

But not everybody is happy about the anonymity in the blogosphere. Nadia, a journalist who runs her own blog, feels that hiding behind an alias is cowardice. “To create a blog means you wish to communicate with others. The minimum you can do in order to show respect and courage in this communication process is to reveal who you are to the other”.

So should blogs be monitored?

“If blogs are serious and are subjected to monitoring, they become online newspapers and not just blogs”, said Idriss.

Moujahid believes that “we should rely on professional self-censorship by the bloggers themselves and on raising the coming generations on a basis of respect for others and the foundations of dialogue. The future of freedom depends upon these two factors and not on laws and censorship”.

But in a country like Morocco, where freedom of the press has recently improved but is still very vulnerable, the blogosphere has been a godsend for some. "All those who were defeated by the written press", says former newspaper publisher Muhammad Hafiz, "are turning toward the Internet to satisfy their craving for freedom”.

Marseille,01 21 2008
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