Exclusive Interview with Threatened Moroccan blogger Kacem Al Gazail

September 7, 2010

At just 19 years old, Kacem Al Gazail is among the youngest, most effective and most controversial Arabic bloggers. His blog “Bahmut,” which means a large fish that is difficult to look at, is a well known Moroccan blog.  In recent days, Al Gazail has received numerous death threats following his secular, democratic and liberal writings.  His blog discusses issues ranging from freedom of expression to political Islam. CyberDissidents.org’s Arabic programs coordinator, Ahed Al Hendi, caught up with Al Gazail for this in depth interview.  It has been translated from Arabic.


Q: When did you start blogging?

A: I started blogging at 17 years old with no actual intention of doing it. I only wanted to publish an article that asked for the renewal of an old pedestrian path that many people used to get to school. None of the Moroccan newspapers wanted to publish my article, so I found myself writing my first blog.


Q: Did your first blog entry help solve your problem?

A: Not much. But it encouraged some students’ families and teachers to push for a solution because my blog was so blunt.


Q: So at first your blog focused on pedestrian problems such as a school path?

A: Yes, I started writing about the educational and behavioral problems of students. I was highlighting these problems from a new point of view. As I began to write more, I started to focus on political, religious, and social issues.


Q: What do you mean by a “new point of view?”

A: I came from a conservative background that destroys the ability for an individual or a student to have strong critical thinking skills. This affects the outlook people have of their community, as well as their social, artistic and political systems. These people stay imprisoned within their conservative ideology in analyzing their lives and the demands put upon them. But because I am a part of a generation that has grown up with the influence of the Internet, I try to analyze everything from a critical and epistemological way.


Q: You said that you belong to a conservative community. How did you come to form alternative viewpoints?  What role did protests in Morocco play?

A: The improvement comes from within. I started to look at life from another point of view. I realized that individual freedoms and human rights are the initial step to solve any problem. This revelation didn’t come to me because of seeing any protests or demonstrations. It was realizing that an intellectual background has to be established for each demand. For instance, the French Revelation came after several intellectual and cultural throes. Revolution doesn’t come without shock and shock can have heavy losses. Thus, I prefer to publish a picture with a comment or open a discussion about a specific issue rather than screaming and yelling in front of government departments.


Q:  You have written: “Political Islam is the most dangerous ideology that threaten all mankind. It’s a game of lying, hypocrisy and distortion of the facts that promote the mono-truth and each person who disagrees with this ‘truth’ will face killing and all kinds of ill-treatment.” Are asking for an intellectual revolution above all else? How would that happen in the shadow of dictatorial regimes that do not allow any civic activities?

A: As a blogger I can play a key role by interacting with readers and people within social networks. I can communicate with young people and teenagers from different backgrounds. I can transform these virtual activities into physical meetings and events.


Q: Some in the West think that secular dictatorships in the Arab world are better than having a democracy that will bring about Islamist rule. What do you think about that? And how secular is the Moroccan regime?

A: This might be right from a pragmatic point of view and I might agree with it to some extent. However, this doesn’t justify having a dictatorship; I am against both such regimes. Morocco is not a secular country at all. But it is a very unique country that lives in a state of schizophrenia. From the outside, Morocco looks as if it is a liberal country full of colors.  In fact, it is an extremist country.


Q: I saw a post on your blog discussing the law forbidding anyone from breaking fast in public during Ramadan. I have also heard that people were arrested in Morocco for protesting this law. Could you give me more details about that? Does protesting this law put you at a risk from the authorities in your country as well?

A: The movement started on Facebook. We planned to organize a picnic to protest the law and to eat in public. I was one of the co-founders of this movement on Facebook. However, I could not attend the picnic. The people who did attend were arrested before starting their food. It is true that I was at real risk for starting the movement, and my family, friends, and neighbors all were mad at what I had done. I was constantly scared of being hurt by some radicals because my pictures and address were all published on my Facebook profile.

I also want to talk about the censorship lobbies in Morocco. They are all non-governmental lobbies. For example, a group of people on Facebook publishes the profiles of secular, atheist, and Berber activists. They ask others to report it to Facebook’s management, which results in the person’s account being deleted. This led to thousands of profiles being deleted from Facebook. My profile was deleted more than ten times. Facebook does not review the reports; they have algorithms that automatically delete profiles that are reported a certain number of times.


Q: The Internet has helped secular dissidents spread their message throughout the Middle East. The governments have their own forums and the Islamists have their mosques. How did the Internet help democratic dissidents in Morocco?

A: We are not organized, but we have done a couple of Facebook activities that were effective. We always try to publish our opinion and to target many people to change their way of thinking. We are not devils and we are not asking to boycott the past and traditions. We are only fighting for human rights, freedom of conscience, and a secular educational system. We do not consider ourselves anti-Islam, but we are against political Islam, which kills one's mind and creativity. We aim to promote the value of tolerance and peace regardless of one’s religious identification.


Q: What is your message to the West?

A: By “West,” I mean America because it is the only power that can support and encourage freedom. This is clear from its policy of empowering our countries in the Middle East. Most of us, as bloggers and activists, are ready to help the US in its quest to fight terrorism and extremism and to empower our countries. We need the American administration to keep an eye on our regime and to pressure it, always.