The clamor over the closure of Le Journal continues amidst an environment in which the parameters of free speech within the kingdom seem to be shrinking daily. Just days after Le Journal’s offices were shut down, a blogger was arrested for organizing a bloggers’ strike. All of this on the heels of a critical Human Rights Watch report that the Moroccan government has been handicapped to rebut.
It is telling that the cover story of Le Journal’s final issue focused on the failure of Moroccan diplomacy to foresee the fallout over the public diplomacy debacle that was the Aminatou Haidar Affair. It concluded that Morocco’s expensive image management could not substitute for diplomacy; that nominal improvements in women’s rights could no longer convince Hillary Clinton to overlook human rights violations in the Western Sahara or mounting attacks against the independent press.
This latest chain of events puts a dent in Morocco’s reputation on the world stage, stalling the momentum of Morocco’s most important foreign policy objective (its autonomy plan for the Western Sahara). As one analyst points out, these mounting cases of repression embolden Morocco’s main opponents—the Algeria-backed POLISARIO separatist movement.
The fact that Moroccan officials do not recognize that safeguarding gains made in the most basic human rights—freedom of expression and organization—is in their national interest is testament to the growing insecurity and knee-jerk repressive comportment of the makhzen. A new and invigorated image management campaign should be predicated on a commitment to human rights, not constructing Potemkin villages.