Imprisoned Moroccan Rapper Defied the King


By: Muhammad al-Khodayri

From the early days of the protests in Morocco, rapper al-Haked’s anti-regime songs echoed in the streets, until he was arrested on dubious grounds.

Calling himself “The Spiteful” (al-Haked), an anonymous protester released a rap song on YouTube only a day after the start of the February 20 protest movement in Morocco.
Directly addressing the king in the name of the people, the song broke new ground in political speech, sharply criticizing the regime. Back then, nobody knew who he was.
Yet since September 9, al-Haked has been languishing in Casablanca’s Akasha prison. He was arrested on charges of assault and battery, but many believe that his real crime was political activity, since his lyrics set a new standard for direct criticism of the Moroccan regime.
Al-Haked is 24-year-old Muadh Balghawat, from a poor working-class neighborhood in Casablanca.
Al-Haked became the official singer of the February 20 Movement, a constant presence at its meetings and marches, where he performed his songs in the street and at rallies.
During the early days of the protest movement, al-Haked participated in the general assembly of members of the February 20 Youth Movement at the United Communist Party’s headquarters in Casablanca.

Balghawat, a tall, thin young man appeared shy at the assembly, and his political inexperience was immediately apparent. He wasn’t skilled in the pandering or slick talk of refined politicians.

He tried to defend the slogan “the people want…,” which has been echoing through the squares of Arab capitals.

Nobody knew yet that he was al-Haked, singer of “One Day, When the People…,” a song that was already widely circulating among revolutionary youth.

Balghawat released a second song, and then a third and a fourth. From a musical perspective, his works were slightly amateurish, but his critical message is both powerful and sophisticated.

He twisted chants heard at pro-regime protests held in front of the state television station near his home, rewriting them so that they praised the people, not the state.

He threw the kingdom’s fiery slogans back at them on his YouTube channel, turning its motto “God, Nation, King” into “As long as power remains in the hands of one man, I will remain an Antagonist (al-Haked).”

Al-Haked became the official singer of the February 20 Movement, a constant presence at its meetings and marches, where he performed his songs in the street and at rallies.

His scathing lyrics were enough to transform Balghawat into one of the regimes most wanted dissidents. He criticized the kingdom, and described Prime Minister Abbas el-Fassi as “al-fashi” (fascist).

Yet when the young rapper was finally tracked down by the government, he was not arrested because of his songs, but rather “because of a dispute in which he assaulted a citizen,” according to the government.

In early September, al-Haked was distributing pamphlets calling for a protest march in the poor neighborhood of Alfa, where he lives. A dispute broke out between him and a young man affiliated with the Royal Youth organization that supports the regime.

The story told by the alleged victim differs from the story told by al-Haked and his friends. What is certain is that the government has moved unusually fast for a case of assault and battery charges.

The February 20 Youth Movement insists that Balghawat’s arrest was political, and has issued statements condemning his imprisonment. At many of the movement’s marches, the protesters chant slogans demanding his release.

The movement has also organized several demonstrations in front of security headquarters in Casablanca, supporting the rapper who inspired the movement with his chants and slogans. More than a hundred lawyers have volunteered to defend him.

Maria Karim, TV producer and a member of the February 20 Movement in Casablanca, has founded a committee to defend him. She has also launched an initiative to collect photos of the “Free al-Haked” posters that have appeared around the city.

“Everyone is demanding a response on this issue,” Karim said.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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