By Nidal Chebbak
Fez – Thursday, December 1, 2011, Casablanca witnessed the opening of one of the five largest malls in the world. The opening ceremony of the mall, which was inaugurated by Princess Lalla Meryem, drew the attention of Moroccan celebrities who came from all over the world as well as the American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez.
National and international journalists were invited a few days before to cover the opening ceremony. The day of the ceremony, Moroccan journalists who did not possess international press accreditation were unceremoniously banned by Salwa Idrissi Akhannouch, the CEO of Aksal Group, and by her assistants and security from attending the ceremony to which they were officially invited.
Only international journalists were welcomed to the event. This incident sparked an outcry among Moroccan journalists, who expressed their disgruntlement at the humiliating way in which they were treated.
Adil Zoubeiri, a news correspondent of al-Arabiya channel in Morocco, expressed to Hespress ( a Moroccan news portal in Arabic) that he was “ prevented from delivering his media coverage in a very humiliating way, though he received more than one invitation to cover the event, among which was an invitation from Mr. Aziz Akhannouch himself.”
Zoubeiri said that when he insisted on his right to cover the event, he received many emails and phone calls urging him to leave and threatening that force may be used to keep him out.
Simo Belbachir, a Moroccan journalist, was luckier than Zoubeiri. He was first prevented from covering the event, then allowed to attend when he proved that he had an international press accreditation that gave him the same status as any international journalist there.
Belbachir refused to attend the event based on that accreditation and willingly chose to support his Moroccan colleagues and asked for an explanation for what he described as “a scandalous and humiliating situation.”
This event came one day after Mrs. Akhannouch distributed expensive gifts to international journalists while she gave “cheap” digital albums to Moroccan journalists who were all invited to cover the opening ceremony of Morocco Mall, before they were banned from doing their job in their own country.
Despite the changes unfolding in the country to create more democracy and equality, the incident shows that the authoritarian and elitist attitude of some Moroccans is still there. Ironically, this reminder occurred at the highly touted inauguration of a shopping mall, where supposedly every one of all different backgrounds are suppose to go and interact, a metaphor for democracy.
Morocco can change its constitution ten more times, but if people do not change their attitudes, the country cannot move towards democracy.
As Morocco is on the verge of embarking on a new era with the victory of the PJD in last Friday’s legislative elections, one of the measures that should be taken by the new government is to uphold the status of journalists and create an enabling environment in the country that would allow them to perform their job in the best way possible.