Morocco suppresses poll despite favorable results for king

The survey found that 91 percent of Moroccans approve of the king, but the government seized the magazine that published it, saying the monarchy "can't be an object of debate."

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

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    Morocco's King Mohammed VI (r.) and his brother Moulay Rachid (l.) review an honor guard during an official ceremony to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his ascension to the throne in Tetouan July 31.
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A news weekly that dared to ask Moroccans what they thought of their king was seized and destroyed over the weekend – even though the survey's respondents gave the monarch an overwhelming thumbs up. Local and international human rights groups condemned the confiscation, but the Moroccan courts upheld it on Tuesday.

The unprecedented poll, conducted by the magazine TelQuel and the French daily Le Monde, coincided with the 10-year anniversary of King Mohammed VI's ascension to power. Printed in an issue titled "The people judge their king," the survey found that 91 percent of Moroccans hold a favorable view of the monarch.

But the issue was never allowed to hit the stands. Over the weekend, 100,000 copies of TelQuel and its sister Arabic-language publication Nichane were seized and destroyed by the Interior Ministry. On Monday, the issue of Le Monde that carried the poll results was also banned.

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"I was ready to publish the results, whatever they were," says TelQuel's editor, Ahmed BenChemsi. "If the result were bad [for the king], it would have been risky to do it, because Morocco isn't exactly democratic. But the results weren't bad. I published them without any feeling of risk. When the magazine was seized, I was really shocked."

The ministry's actions – the latest in a series of clashes between the monarchy and the press here – were based on the Moroccan press code, which criminalizes "any offense towards His Majesty the King" and allows the seizure of publications "that threaten public order."

King Mohammed VI took the throne in 1999 amid expectations of greater freedom and openness. A burgeoning independent press began covering subjects that had long been off limits. But they paid a price for their daring. According to Reporters Without Borders, Moroccan journalists have been condemned to a total of 25 years in prison and fined a total of almost $2.9 million under the new king.

In July, 20 Moroccan newspapers printed blank editorial pages in protest of this "judicial persecution." And Moroccan bloggers have been up in arms over the latest attack on freedom of expression. They've been quick to find and share the results of the banned poll online, and have adopted the slogan "I'm one of the 9 percent," – referring to the minority of polled Moroccans who are not fans of the king.

Public has reservations on poverty, women's rights

Forty-nine percent of the 1,108 respondents describe the monarchy, which dominates political decisionmaking, as "democratic." And 69 percent find that the king's many financial holdings, which make him the most important entrepreneur in the country, are good for the country's economy.

The public's reservations center on Morocco's still endemic poverty and on the issue of women's rights. Thirty-seven percent of Moroccans find that poverty in Morocco has lessened, while an equal number thinks it has remained the same, and 24 percent believes it has worsened. Meanwhile, 49 percent find that with the 2004 reform of family law (which gave women equal rights in matters of divorce and custody) the king "has gone too far."

In the eyes of the Moroccan authorities, apparently, any survey that discusses the king – regardless of its results – is an attack on his legitimacy. The minister of communication stated that the monarchy "can't be the object of debate, even through a poll."

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