Morocco is a country abound with cartoonists who are using the art of satire to address a variety of social issues and injustices. But it is also a country with a deep recent history of governmental censorship and oppression. Amidst the struggle, though, Moroccan cartoonists are finding new and inventive ways to protect their freedom of expression.
“The political authority in Morocco dreads cynicism and fears independent press, and this fear is reinforced day by day in the mind of the state,” noted cartoonist Khalid Gueddar in a recent talk with Al-Monitor. One of Morocco’s most outspoken, prolific, and prosecuted caricaturists, Gueddar has done work for most of the major satire magazines in Morocco as well as for French magazine Charlie Hebdo. His take on caricature is brutally honest and to the point. Taking on challenging subjects like the monarchy, religion, sex, and censorship, Gueddar has been targeted by the government for years. But it doesn’t deter him from continuing to speak out: Caricature is “a means of expression based on criticism and cannot be positive,” declares the artist.
It is this brutal honesty that has led Gueddar and other Moroccan artists down the dangerous road that many other cartoonists face around the world. From police harassment to jail sentences, the monarchy and government actively work to halt free speech, even resorting to the dirty means of drudging up old charges to prevent cartoonists from producing new work. Gueddar was recently sentenced to three months in prison on charges of intoxication and insulting a police officer during an incident in 2012 — charges that only arose when he and other artists started the legal process of founding a new satire magazine. “I insist that I’m innocent, and I stand by my convictions. I will always defend freedom of expression, and we will not let go of our next project.”
Gueddar isn’t the only cartoonist though who faces these kinds of challenges. Left-wing journalist, Ali Lmrabet, who is a friend of Gueddar and one of the cartoonists attempting to start the new satire magazine, went on a hunger strike last month to take a stand against the censorship. And satirical artist Bziz has been outright banned from publishing caricatures in Morocco.
Needless to say, it is an ongoing struggle in Morocco for cartoonists to not only continue to be published but to also be able to stand up for their right to express themselves freely. But they continue to find ways to work and have established collectives that allow them to work closely together and protect each other. Every year, Morocco hosts the National Convention for Caricature, where cartoonists to come together and talk about their craft. It is also a peaceful opportunity for government agents like the Moroccan Information Minister to attend and to see not only the validity of the art form, but also how it is an integral part of the Moroccan media and ultimately vital component of non-violent conversation about issues today.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!