By Karima Rhanem
By Karima Rhanem
Morocco World News
Rabat, August 15, 2012
Moukhtafoun (The disappeared), has become one of the top viewed TV programs in Morocco, reaching sometimes more than 13 million viewers. Moroccans of all ages and social background await impatiently the broadcast of the program, aired every first week of each month.
Moukhtafoun, as its presenter Adil Benmoussa calls it, is a social program featuring true stories of people who have disappeared either in Morocco or abroad.
“We have many cases of people who have disappeared for a long period of time, commonly with no known reason. We display their faces on screen with a phone number to allow people to call if they see or recognize that missing person,” Benmoussa told Morocco World News.
Benmoussa said that they receive hundreds of calls every day from Moroccans looking for their missing relatives or friends who have disappeared for several reasons.
“Some were kidnapped, abducted, detained, illegally immigrated to Spain or Italy, abandoned, run away or simply moved without notice,” said Benmoussa.
“The program is very successful because it is very close to the public. We have been following many cases of disappearance and we have broadcast people’s reunion when they found their missing ones,” added Benmoussa.
He went on: “we have also followed some cases where relatives sued a husband because he abducted his wife or those who run away from home and become drug addicts or prostitutes. The program has become so popular that now we have even calls from foreigners searching for their relatives who have disappeared in Morocco or elsewhere.”
The program is organized in themes highlighting the causes of disappearance. Each episode has a different theme and a different story. These include marriage and disappearance, illegal immigration, unemployment, abandoned children, groups lost from sight…
Moukhtafoun receives hundreds if not thousands of emails everyday from people all around the Kingdom explaining their problems and asking for help to find their relatives or friends.
“It is a very hard job to deal with the so many letters and calls we receive. We have to select urgent letters and classify them in themes, contact the people who requested our help, do our reporting, and follow closely the case of the person who disappeared,” stressed Benmoussa.
“After carrying out our investigations, we work on the person’s profile, who is he, where and how he lived, how he disappeared, listen to his family, and friends. That makes the story more newsworthy. And through the program, many families were able to find their beloved ones, which is very touching,” he said.
As for the challenges facing the Moukhtafoun staff, Benmoussa said that the biggest problems they have are the sources of information and the slow administrative procedures.
“Many times, we have problems concerning the credibility of our information sources. Those looking for their missing ones, often do not tell us the whole truth for us to be able to help them. Or they don’t have enough information that may help us in our research and investigation,” said Benmoussa.
He added that administrative procedures might also be a stumbling block, preventing them from speeding up the search process.
“We certainly deal with police departments, hospitals; we need to get authorization for ADN tests for example, authorization to shoot in certain places…and these are the major challenges we currently face,” he said.
One of the most touching stories that Moukhtafoun has broadcast is that of a woman who was abducted by her husband and imprisoned for twelve years in a remote and abandoned place in south Morocco.
Moroccans were shocked by the story and closely followed it as the program broadcast the hearing of her husband after he was arrested for inhumanly detaining his wife.
“This was a very sad story; the woman’s husband imprisoned her for quite a long time and abandoned her until she got very sick. We were called by her brothers to offer help. Her husband was very violent and he even attacked us when were shooting the hearing,” said Benmouss.
Abdelrazak El Bihi, who lives in London, had not seen his sister Aïcha for more than 15 years. Back home, he discovered that she has disappeared, and that nobody knew where she was. He went with his brother Habib to meet Aïcha’s husband, but weren’t able to see her. Her husband pretended she was in Casablanca seeing some of his relatives. After investigation, they found out that she was imprisoned in an abandoned house in Ouled Ali Kiyada Al Amer in Safi, south Morocco.
Enthusiastic, anxious and concerned, Abdelrazak is only seeking justice.
“I want this man to be tried, and I want to take my sister to be treated in a hospital either in Morocco or England. My sister has become mentally ill and she needs urgent medical treatment,” said Abdelrazak.
Aïcha El Bihi was born in 1956 in the Safi region. She moved to Marrakech with her family at the age of four. She was closed to herself, and had a very traditional life with no experience nor contact with the outside world.
In 1979, her father died, followed by her mother in 1981. Alone, Aïcha found herself responsible for raising her three brothers and three sisters. Her mother was quite rich and left her lands and belongings before she died.
Illiterate and naive, Aïcha was unable to manage the funds. While she was going around her lands to find out how much she had, she came across her current husband who was working indirectly with his brother at her land as a farmer contractor.
Abdelrrahman (her current husband) proposed to help her in accounting.
“Since he and his brother were working for my family, Abdelrrahman was seeking any opportunity to control all my sister’s money and lands,” said Abdelrazak El Bihi
“My sister didn’t like him at all. We just can’t understand how the marriage happened. It was very mysterious as nobody attended the wedding, not even her brothers and sisters,” added Abdelrazak.
Nobody in El Bihi’s family believed that Aïcha could marry such a man as he was already married to two others and had seven children.
After the marriage in 1987, Abdelrrahman sought to be the guardian of her young brothers and make sure he controlled her money and that of her small brothers’. However, the court refused to grant him the guardianship.
Abdelrrahman changed his surname to Bennani (a surname of a big and well known family in Morocco), and controlled around 120 hectares of his wife’s lands and prevented her brothers and sisters from benefiting from their inheritance. Aïcha’s brothers and sisters filed a legal suit against him, demanding their share from the assets they inherited from their mother. It took them several years to get their legal share from him.
Since then, Aïcha’s brothers and sisters lost sight of her. They knew she was in Safi, but ignore where she was exactly.
“My first meeting with my sister was in 1992 when she fled her husband’s house. She went to her cousin in Safi, and phoned my sisters, who brought her back to Marrakech. She was very sick,” said Habib, Aïcha’s younger brother.
“After talking to her, we found out that she is suffering from psychological problems due to her husband attitude and behaviour. He treated her like an animal,” emphasized Habib.
Aïcha was then transferred to the hospital for medical treatment. She got well, but didn’t stop asking for her three-year old child. Two months later, Abdelrrahman came with the little son to ask for her.
Aïcha was depressed to learn that her son didn’t recognize her. She told her brothers and sisters that Abdelrrahman used to beat her and lock her in the house and that she didn’t want to come back to him.
Relatives and friends helped in their reconciliation, and Aïcha came back with him. Since that time, she disappeared completely.
“Whenever we had the opportunity to ask for my sister, he gave us a ready-made answer that she is here and there, and we have never managed to meet her for more than 12 years until my brother came from London,” said Habib.
After investigation, the ‘Gendarmes’ (usually in charge of policing of countryside areas and of small towns) went with Aïcha’s brothers Abdelrazak and Habib to identify where she is imprisoned.
The Gendarmerie had located an abandoned house in Ouled Ali Kiyada Al Amer in Safi. They knocked at the door but nobody answered. They kept knocking until a woman responded yes. The house was like a detention cell locked with an iron chain.
“You could see from the half locked door that there was no furniture in the house as police reports confirmed. Aïcha used to sleep alone all these years on the soil. The house was like an animal farm,” explained Habib.
Police reports said that Aïcha’s words were not understood. Neither the Gendarmes nor her brothers figured out what she was telling them, and concluded she might be mentally sick. The Gendarmes came back to look for her husband, but he refused to come and used violence against them.
Abdelrrahman got arrested but was released 20 days later. Instead of taking Aïcha to the hospital, the Gendarme handed her over to her son who is under 18. In turn, her son took her to his father’s house.
“The Police and the judge sent my sister to hell again. I am shocked. When I asked the judge why they freed her husband, he answered: she is his wife and he brought medical certificates that she is being treated elsewhere,” said Abdelrazak.
“Is this the law, is this justice?!! Of course the certificates are falsified. Even her son neglected her and followed what his father told him. My sister is in high need of medical treatment. What happened is inhuman,” added Abdelrazak.
There have been several hearings with no efficient results. Thanks to Moukhtafoun program, the story got enough coverage and attention and several women organizations have staged a sit-in in Safi before the house where Aïcha was imprisoned in order to put pressure on government to find a just solution for this case.
Aicha’s story was just one example of the millions of stories Moukhrafoun receives every day. The program also contributed not only in raising public opinion attention to certain issues and cases, but also reunited hundreds of families.
Karima Rhanem is a Moroccan Communications and social media Specialist, researcher on Governance & Public Policy, former journalist and a social activist. She is currently president of the Moroccan Association for development and Parallel Diplomacy. She holds a BA in communications and Leadership studies, and preparing an MA in Governance and Public policies at Mohammed V University, Rabat.
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