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Supreme Court Justice: Monsanto Seed Saving By Indiana Farmer Is Like Bank Robbery

In Monsanto, News on February 20, 2013 at 8:15 PM

evl

02/20/2013

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Vernon H. Bowman v. Monsanto Co, a six-year-long legal battle between a 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer and a multi-billion-dollar seed conglomerate that could have profound implications for the agriculture industry and the future of American intellectual property law.

The immediate dispute in the case is whether or not Bowman infringed on Monsanto’s patent protection when he sowed second-hand commodity soybeans from a grain elevator — some of which were the genetically modified RoundUp Ready variety produced by Monsanto — then saved the seeds from the plants that grew in his fields to sow again the following year. In agriculture lingo, the practice is known as “seed saving”; farmers had been doing it for millennia before Monsanto started demanding that farmers not do so with the company’s genetically modified, patented seeds. Monsanto has been notoriously aggressive about going after those who, like Bowman, failed to heed that agreement. The Center for Food Safety recently published a report showing that Monsanto has sued 410 seed-saving farmers for patent infringement since it started selling GMO (genetically modified organism) seeds, and it has never lost a case in open court.

Bowman’s attorney, Mark P. Walters, argued Tuesday that his client was allowed to save seeds because Monsanto’s patent protection only extended to the seeds it sold, not their offspring, like those from the grain elevator.

But the justices seemed no more likely to agree with this line of reasoning than had any of the lower courts that had ruled in favor of Monsanto. Seconds after Walters began speaking, Chief Justice John Roberts jumped in with an emphatic rhetorical question:

“Why in the world,” he asked, “Would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?”

The idea is that patent law is designed to allow inventors to profit off their inventions by preventing customers and competitors from copying the idea behind the invention for a period of time. It doesn’t matter that Bowman’s method of copying the invention utilized a natural process of reproduction. It was still copying. Walters attempted legal somersaults involving the doctrine of “patent exhaustion” to try to argue that patent law didn’t extend to progeny of the seeds — but this seemed just to exhaust the justices. Justice Stephen Breyer, the most vocal among them throughout the debate, said early on that “it really has nothing to do with the exhaustion doctrine.”

“You know, there are certain things that the law prohibits,” Breyer explained. “What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention. And that is what he did.”

Breyer even went on to compare Bowman’s actions to bank robbery and throwing seeds in a child’s face — two things that “you can’t do” with soybeans, unlike, he says, “make tofu turkeys.” (Marking what was surely the first reference to Tofurkey in the 223-year history of the Supreme Court.)

With his central arguments decimated, Walters resorted an emotional appeal on behalf of his client, a small-town David facing a nigh-unstoppable Goliath of a corporation. Referring to Monsanto, he said, “They want the farmers to take all the risks associated with farming, yet they want to control how they use those seeds all the way down the distribution chain.”

Alas, equitability isn’t always the law of the land. Later, when Monsanto lawyer Seth Waxman made his case, the justices let him speak mostly without interruption, which New York Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak interpreted as a sign he would likely prevail.

The Court isn’t expected to issue a decision in the case until June. If they do rule in favor of Monsanto, as seemed likely in oral arguments, Bowman will be forced to pay the $84,456 in damages the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court awarded Monsanto in its judgment.

On the other hand, a surprise ruling in Bowman’s favor would strike a serious financial and symbolic blow to Monsanto’s dominance of the American agricultural industry. Though the patent on the first generation of RoundUp Ready beans is set to expire in 2014, such a ruling might open up expensive RoundUp Ready 2 beans, the current standard, to rampant seed saving by thrifty farmers.

That would be good news for farmers who have faced higher and higher prices for commodity seeds over the past decade. (A 50-pound bag of RoundUp Ready soybean seed now costs closer to $50 than the $20 Bowman was paying around 1999, accounting for about half the cost of producing an acre of soybeans, not including the price of the land itself.)

“The advent of genetic modification has radically consolidated the seed industry,” Patty Lovera of Food & Water Watch told The Huffington Post. “Farmers now have to pay Monsanto exorbitant fees for GM seeds. And it’s harder and harder for them to find seeds that aren’t GMO.”

What’s more, a victory for Bowman could dramatically change the way American intellectual property law treats potentially “self-replicating products,” from Adobe Photoshop to the flu vaccine. The theory goes that if Bowman has the right to save RoundUp Ready seeds, maybe it means that us Civilization IV owners have the right to duplicate and distribute copies of the game over the Internet.

It would also be sweet revenge for farmers Monsanto has targeted for seed saving in the past, like North Carolina’s Thomas Wagoner, who settled to the tune of over $80,000 when he was hit with a suit in 2008.

“Monsanto treats us farmers with absolutely no respect,” Wagoner said. “They just come in and they just act like they’re gonna take over and do what they’re going to do because they act like you broke the law.”
If Bowman loses, it’s likely that he’ll be prevented from planting Monsanto seeds ever again. Wagoner’s settlement included a similar provision that lasts just five years, so since then, he’s switched to conventional, non-RoundUp Ready seeds, which cost about half the competition but require you to use more herbicide to control weeds. But Wagoner had good news for Bowman about these seeds: you can save them from season to season.

“If you buy ‘em, you raise ‘em, they’re yours, aren’t they?” he asked. “People have done that since the beginning of time.”

Unfortunately for these small-market farmers, robust intellectual property protection has been a core tenet of U.S. law since the ratification of the Constitution — which may as well be the beginning of time to the Supreme Court.

Via HuffPost

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White House announces online espionage response policy

In News on February 20, 2013 at 7:55 PM

wh

02/20/2013

In response to a report published this week about the emerging cyber threat posed by Chinese hackers, the White House has unveiled a new policy that will impose sanctions and other punishments on foreign nations engaged in online espionage.

According to a detailed threat analysis published this week by Northern Virginia’s Mandiant, hackers employed by the Chinese government have waged a sophisticated cyberwar against entities in the United States and elsewhere, compromising over 100 computer networks over a few short years and attacking networks belonging to the public and private sector alike. Now, only days after that report was released, the administration of US President Barack Obama has published a 141-page document outlining plans to implement harsh penalties on nation-states caught pilfering American computer systems for trade secrets and other intelligence.

The plan increases the threat of new trade restrictions on products and services made by foreign companies on the basis of information stolen in hacking operations or other similar online raids. White House officials also named a series of diplomatic measures meant to back up their promise to take such thefts seriously. The report recommends that various government agencies review current legislation to determine whether new laws need to be written to protect American corporate secrets.

It also outlines Washington’s plan, led by the State Department, Commerce Department and US Trade Representative, to coordinate with allied governments on pressure strategies against countries it says are stealing its intellectual property.

“Trade-secret theft threatens American businesses, undermines national security, and places the security of the U.S. economy in jeopardy,” the report reads. “These acts also diminish U.S. export prospects around the globe and put American jobs at risk.”

Though the report does not exactly rebuke China or threaten action against it in plain language, it does name several examples of Chinese thefts of American corporate secrets.

During the State of the Union address earlier this month, President Obama weighed in briefly on “the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks,” claiming “foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets” and that America’s “enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions [and] our air traffic control system.” Only hours before his address, Obama signed an executive order designed to create a cyber-infrastructure that will better manage future attacks against the US, and the next day two members of Congress reintroduced a bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, which will thrive to correct security concerns that the executive order cannot.

“This is happening thousands of times a day,” former-FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry told the AP of the cyberattacks. “There needs to be some definition of where the red line is and what the repercussions would be.”

“If the Chinese government flew planes into our airspace, our planes would escort them away. If it happened two, three or four times, the president would be on the phone and there would be threats of retaliation,” he adds.

The Chinese government, though, has largely disavowed cybercrimes against America. In response to the Mandiant report, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said it was ripe with “groundless criticism” that was both irresponsible and unprofessional.

Nevertheless, on Tuesday White House press secretary Jay Carney hinted at what would be coming from the Obama administration on Wednesday. “I can tell you that we have repeatedly raised our concerns at the highest levels about cyber-theft with senior Chinese officials, including in the military, and we will continue to do so,” he told members of the media.

According to the Washington Post, former-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said before her recent resignation that “We have to begin making it clear to the Chinese that the United States is going to have to take action to protect not only our government, but our private sector, from this kind of illegal intrusions.”

Mandiant’s report, published earlier this week, suggests that hackers employed by the People’s Liberation Army in China have targeted computers used by major Pentagon contractor Lockheed Martin and soft-drink giant Coca-Cola. A State Department diplomatic cable about the hackers from 2008, published two years later by whistleblower website WikiLeaks, says the Chinese hackers have also waged attacks on computers belonging to the Department of Defense, the State Department and other government agencies, occasionally with success.

Via RT

Related Link: White House Warns of WikiLeaks/LulzSec/Hacktivist Threat

Anonymous, LulzSec & TylerSec continue fighting back, U.S. State Department hacked

In Anonymous, Archive, Hacking, LulzSec on February 20, 2013 at 5:17 PM

anon

02/20/2013

The internet activist group Anonymous has released statements saying they have penetrated the U.S. State Department’s website and gained access to information which they have published. This is just another in what is a growing series of attacks in retribution for the “suicide” of Reddit co-founder and internet activist Aaron Swartz who was being persecuted by the US and facing over three decades in prison for apparently hoping to release research papers and scientific documents that were paid for by
taxpayer money. Many people worldwide agree, the US security state is out of control, and when pushed, Anonymous is pushing back.

Anonymous is continuing to strike back as mercilessly as those who they are after, those who pursue anyone who seeks to make a positive change in the world by bring knowledge to the people, and those responsible for the death of one of the world’s most brilliant and promising young internet activists. The latest “victim” of Anonymous, or the last organization they have “owned”, is the US State Department, and there is little likelihood that they will back down anytime soon.

On January 11, 2013, as many of us were recovering in way or another after celebrating the New Year’s holidays, 26 year-old Aaron Swartz, an accomplished internet activist, apparently committed suicide after being literally hounded to death by the overzealous and the brutal US Federal Authorities and in particular U.S. Federal Prosecutor Carmen Ortiz.

Young Mr. Swartz’s crime? An act of terrorism? Exposing war crimes? Blowing the whistle on war profiteers? No dear reader, he merely downloaded too many free articles from the Internet according to blogger Daniel Wright, who obtained and published 21 pages of a 23 page FBI file on Mr. Swartz. In particular the FBI was after Mr. Swartz for accessing what are called “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” (PACER) documents.
Were these secret documents? No. Did he hack a government site to get them? No. Did he use the information in the documents to commit a crime? Again no. Did he commit any crime whatsoever? Even the FBI decided that NO! No crime had been committed and they closed the case, but it did not end there.

Once they had decided to make an example of young Mr. Aaron Swartzthe ruthlessly pursued him until the end, until they effectively killed him. The Federal Government and the US Authorities apparently have to prove to the world by force that you and I will do what they say or we will pay the price, including the ultimate price paid by Mr. Swartz. They continued the persecution.

For the alleged gathering of Scientific material and research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) paid for by US taxpayers, and technically belonging to them, material that the US Government alleges Mr. Swartz was going to release to the public, he was facing 35 years in prison.

Is this excessive? Of course? Is this an exception? No. Has the United States of America become a murderous torturing brutal hyper security state? Ready to kill, maim and destroy anyone who voices an opinion against theirs? Ask Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond and millions of others whose lives have been quietly destroyed for believing in freedom and justice. You could have asked young Mr. Swartz too, but they killed him.

The “authorities”, in particular Ms. Ortiz, see nothing wrong and congratulate themselves, believing they have now terrorized everyone into submission perhaps, but quite the opposite is taking place.
Anonymous, LULZSEC and TylerSec are continuing their attacks and their activism in honor of Mr. Swartz attacking those who brought about his death. So far they have attacked, hacked, defaced and taken down such sites as those of MIT, the State Department, George K. Baum & Company, the US Sentencing Commission and many others in what they are calling round “five” of “Operation Last Resort.” The groups attempted to interrupt the State of the Union Address by Obama as well, as Obama was continuing his calls for even more crackdowns and heightened Cyber Security. Something which would have been symbolic.

Anonymous and TylerSec released a joint pastebin statement which reads as follows:

Hello there Attorney Carmen Ortiz, Stephen Heymann and MIT corporate “expletive”

HIS NAME IS Aaron Swartz and he is twenty-six years old. His name is Aaron Swartz, and Aaron Swartz will be twenty-six years old forever because you killed him.

HIS NAME IS Aaron Swartz. He is twenty-six years old,and he was part of the fight for internet freedom against people like you.

HIS NAME IS Aaron Swartz. He is twenty-six years old, and you wanted to use him to prove that the state always wins and that resistance is futile.

HIS NAME IS Aaron Swartz. He is twenty-six years old, and you wanted to divide us so that we will turn on each other rather than stand up for our rights.

The people you are after are the people that society depends on: we write songs, we create art, we build, we invent, we feel love and laugh, we will defend our freedom to our last breath. Do not “expletive” with us.

The First leak from the Anonymous Tyler Network: 33 GB of the JSTOR files that Aaron Swartz died to bring to the world.

The U.S. Government appears to be growing more and more desperate and continues cracking down and using more and more force.

Recently I reported about Anonymous and their petition to U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration to make DDoS attacks the equivalent of a simple sit-in protest. A completely reasonable proposal which will never take place, apparently reason has long ago left the room and will not be returning.

Anonymous placed the following message on MIT’s site:

In Memoriam, Aaron Swartz, November 8, 1986 – January 11, 2013, Requiescat in pace.

A brief message from Anonymous.

Whether or not the government contributed to his suicide, the government’s prosecution of Swartz was a grotesque miscarriage of justice, a distorted and perverse shadow of the justice that Aaron died fighting for — freeing the publicly-funded scientific literature from a publishing system that makes it inaccessible to most of those who paid for it — enabling the collective betterment of the world through the facilitation of sharing —an ideal that we should all support.

Moreover, the situation Aaron found himself in highlights the injustice of U.S. computer crime laws, particularly their punishment regimes, and the highly-questionable justice of pre-trial bargaining.

Aaron’s act was undoubtedly political activism; it had tragic consequences.

Our wishes

We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of computer crime laws, and the overzealous prosecutors who use them. We call for this tragedy to be a basis for reform of copyright and intellectual property law, returning it to the proper principles of common good to the many, rather than private gain to the few. We call for this tragedy to be a basis for greater recognition of the oppression and injustices heaped daily by certain persons and institutions of authority upon anyone who dares to stand up and be counted for their beliefs, and for greater solidarity and mutual aid in response. We call for this tragedy to be a basis for a renewed and unwavering commitment to a free and unfettered internet, spared from censorship with equality of access and franchise for all.

For in the end, we will not be judged according to what we give, but according to what we keep to ourselves. Aaron, we will sorely miss your friendship, and your help in building a better world. May you read in peace.

Anonymous is in currently in hyper security mode so they would not comment on continuing operations.

Via VoiceofRussia

How One 75-Year-Old Soybean Farmer Could Deal A Blow To Monsanto’s Empire Today

In Monsanto, News on February 20, 2013 at 3:17 PM

 

02/20/2013

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a 75-year-old soybean farmer’s appeal against biotech giant Monsanto, in a case that could permanently reshape the genetically modified (GM) crop industry. Victor “Hugh” Bowman has been battling the corporation since 2007, when Monsanto sued him for violating their patent protection by purchasing second-generation GM seeds from a grain elevator. An appeals court ruled in favor of Monsanto, and despite the Obama administration’s urging to let the decision stand, the nine justices will hear Bowman make his case today.

Monsanto is notorious among farmers for the company’s aggressive investigations and pursuit of farmers they believe have infringed on Monsanto’s patents. In the past 13 years, Monsanto has sued 410 farmers and 56 small farm businesses, almost always settling out of court (the few farmers that can afford to go to trial are always defeated). These farmers were usually sued for saving second-generation seeds for the next harvest — a basic farming practice rendered illegal because seeds generated by GM crops contain Monsanto’s patented genes.

Monsanto’s winning streak hinges on a controversial Supreme Court decision from 1981, which ruled on a 5-4 split that living organisms could be patented as private property. As a result of that decision, every new generation of GM seeds — and their self-replicating technology — is considered Monsanto’s property.

Unfortunately, second- and third-generation seeds are very hard to track, which may explain why Monsanto devotes $10 million a year and 75 staffers to investigating farmers for possible patent violations. Seeds are easily carried by birds or blown by the wind into fields of non-GM seeds, exposing farmers who have never bought seeds from Monsanto to lawsuits. Organic and conventional seeds are fast becoming extinct — 93 percent of soybeans, 88 percent of cotton, and 86 percent of corn in the US are grown from Monsanto’s patented seeds. A recent study discovered that at least half of the organic seeds in the US are contaminated with some genetically modified material.

Bowman’s appeal gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to determine whether or not Monsanto is using patent enforcement to control their monopoly on a vital resource. As GM seeds become more ubiquitous, farmers who want to avoid Monsanto’s strict patents have few alternatives. As a recently released Center for Food Safety report notes, the concentration of market power among Monsanto and a handful of other companies has led to skyrocketing seed prices and less innovation by smaller firms:

USDA data show that since the introduction of GE seed, the average cost of soybean seed to plant one acre has risen by a dramatic 325 percent, from $13.32 to $56.58. Similar trends exist for corn and cotton seeds: cotton seeds spiked 516 percent from 1995-2011 and corn seed costs rose 259 percent over the same period.

[...] USDA economists have found that seed industry consolidation has reduced research and likely resulted in fewer crop varieties on offer: “Those companies that survived seed industry consolidation appear to be sponsoring less research relative to the size of their individual markets than when more companies were involved… Also, fewer companies developing crops and marketing seeds may translate into fewer varieties offered.”

Furthermore, emerging evidence indicates that Monsanto has hardly perfected the technology. A core argument for GM seeds in the 1990s claimed they would reduce chemical pesticide use because the plants themselves would repel pests and weeds. But studies have confirmed the spread of so-called “superweeds” that have developed a resistance to Monsanto’s gene, leading farmers to deploy even heavier doses of herbicides like Monsanto’s own product, Roundup. Another new report debunked the company’s argument that GM seeds would have higher yields; in fact, two of Monsanto’s most popular genes caused yields to drop.

Despite the mounting evidence against their products, the biotech industry enjoys a cozy relationship with government regulators. In December, the Justice Department abruptly dropped their investigation into anti-competitive practices in the industry without so much as a press release. The stalled Farm Bill also contains generous provisions that would allow these companies to put their products on the market with cursory or no review by the USDA.

Today’s oral argument is a study in these intertwined interests: the Obama administration is presenting their own defense of Monsanto, and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was once a Monsanto lawyer (but will not recuse himself from Bowman’s case). Still, the same high court that enabled the current state of American agriculture in 1981 now finds itself in a position to check Monsanto’s power — or help them tighten their hold on the industry.

gmo

Via RT/ThinkProgress

In the Arab world’s deepest state, the revolution continues

In News on February 20, 2013 at 12:01 PM

morocco

02/20/2013

Ten years ago, in what was the first – and until early 2011 the only – successful youth-led rebellions in the Arab world, Moroccan metalheads launched an unprecedented series of protests against the arrests and prosecution of 14 of musicians and fans on charges of Satanism. The charges were ludicrous, ranging from killing cats to having ash trays shaped like pentagrams (never mind that the pentagram is on the Moroccan flag); but the precedent of similar Satanic metal affairs in Egypt and other Muslim countries gave them a fair degree of valence in a society that, despite its international reputation as a haven for tolerance, remained a conservative society.

Yet where their Egyptian counterparts were driven largely underground in the wake of its 1997 “affair”, Morocco proved a very different case. In one of the earliest adoptions of the kind of grassroots social media organising, supporters of the jailed young people combined email and internet campaigns with savvy publicity (including performances in front of the court house where activists were on trial) that attracted enough international media attention not only to force the government to overturn the convictions, but also helped to reshape the contours of acceptable identities within Moroccan society.

By 2005, Morocco’s main grassroots festival, “L’Boulevard”, was not only attracting tens of thousands of fans for nights devoted to metal, hip-hop and trance music, but also featured significant amounts of open social and political activism on issues such as homelessness, AIDS and Amazigh (Berber) rights. Indeed, art was openly being used as a vehicle to corral young people into spaces where they could be educated and motivated to become far more socially and political active than most Arab governments would then tolerate. Local branches of hardcore international activist movements like ATTAC were even organising film festivals to accompany the festival.

One could even witness cops and metalheads – goths even! – laughing it up at together while hijab-wearing teens rocked out to British hardcore bands and local rock, rap and metal groups whose music verged on the unabashedly political and a time when underground music scenes in other countries of the region still kept their true sentiments close to the vest.

Add to the mix a young King who’d taken the unprecedented step of apologising for his father’s oppressive rule and establishing a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as sponsoring reforms of the traditional family law, and an opposition movement – the Justice and Charity movement (al-Adl wal-Ihsane) that was committed to directly taking on the monarchy and to non-violence and dialogue with other sectors of society – and it seemed Morocco was poised to be the first Arab state to make a substantial transition to democracy.

Indeed, as the first decade of the 21st (Christian) century drew to a close, it still seemed to many people who regularly travelled across the Middle East and North Africa that Morocco was at the forefront of the admittedly slow and often tortuous evolution towards substantive democracy.

It was all, it’s now clear, if not quite a lie, then far closer to a mirage than to a real development of democratic foundations in Morocco.

Arab world’s deepest state

As with most attempts to understand the inner workings of contemporary Arab authoritarianism, one need go no further than the archive of WikiLeaks to obtain a good idea of why Morocco has so far avoided a successful push for significant change to its governing politics and economic system. Put succinctly (as US diplomats are surprisingly apt at doing in cables to their superiors), the “appalling greed” of the King – whose wealth more than quintupled during his first decade in power – and the ruling establishment, or Makhzen, while poverty remains “at the core of civilisation” in major cities such as Marakkesh and even more so in the countryside, much of which is still without electricity and/or running water.

With all that’s happened the last few years, it’s easy to forget just how honest a glimpse into the workings of the United States’ most important Arab/Muslim allies WikiLeaks provided when they came out almost four years ago. As one cable explains, corruption in Morocco

“during the reign of King Mohammed VI is becoming more, not less, pervasive… While corrupt practices existed during the reign of King Hassan II… they have become much more institutionalised with King Mohammed VI… XXXXXXXXXXXX’s experience demonstrates a reality, of which most Moroccans dare only whisper – the influence and commercial interest of the King and some of his advisors in virtually every major real estate project here. A former US Ambassador to the Morocco, who remains closely connected to the Palace, separately lamented to us what he termed the appalling greed of those close to King Mohammed VI. This phenomenon seriously undermines the good governance that the Moroccan government is working hard to promote.”

Another cable explained that corruption and the lack of transparency by the King and the ruling elite created an “‘explosive situation’” at a time when Moroccans face rising prices for goods whose production and distribution is often assured by the king’s own companies. These issues too have long sparked hushed debate in Moroccan business circles…”

At the heart of this corruption for hundreds of years lies the institution of the Makhzen, which includes the King and his immediate advisers and the political and economic elite surrounding them. As I explained in a previous Al Jazeera column, the Makhzen has come to signify not just the power holders in Morocco, but the manner in which power has been exercised and flowed through society. Having developed over several dynasties stretching back over half a millennium, the Makhzen system constitutes one of the most stable political orders in history. In the pre-colonial era, the rule of the Sultan was always tenuous outside of the main towns; during this period, the mediating role of the Makhzen and its ability to help direct flows of wealth and power to the centre was crucial to maintaining whatever degree of political coherence existed in a particular period.

Under French rule, from 1912-1957, the Makhzen was revamped and significantly strengthened, bequeathing a state to the newly independent Kingdom that had historically unprecedented control over the territory included in the new country. But the networks and flows of power sponsored and contained within and by the Makhzen supported “traditional” power brokers and practices rather than encouraging democratic institutions. At the same time, however, centuries of experience surviving against internal and external opposition have provided the Makhzen, and the monarchy and state, with an incredible institutional memory and savoir-fairewith which to manage dissent.

Few states can match the skill with which the contemporary Moroccan state has managed to continue to arrogate more of the country’s wealth to the King and his coterie while maintaining the system’s hegemony across the majority of Moroccan society. To be sure, there have been moments of significant stress on the system caused by the rampant inequality and the oppression necessary ultimately to preserve the status quo. Mohammed’s father Hassan II survived two assassination attempts in the 1970s. And on February 20, 2011, a group of youth activists organised the Moroccan answer to the Tunisian and Egyptian revolution, launching a wave of unprecedented protests, the likes of which had not been seen since the country’s independence from France.

From barbarism to revolution

But the King and his deep state have well managed the challenge, co-opting the reform banner of the opposition, bringing in a major share of the Islamist forces, while variously dividing and delegitimising the pro-democracy forces. A New Constitution was approved by an incredibly wide margin based on the belief that it did offer at least some substantive reform of the King’s and Makhzen’s power, but in fact it has left his executive power unchecked. And has not meaningfully addressed the policies of wealth concentration and political oppression that have, unbenounced to most of the outside world, continued.

The Justice and Development Party, the official “Islamist” party, has like its Egyptian equivalent completely embraced the system it once protested, becoming little more than a “puppet” for the Makhzen. As one activist explained to me, “Now that the Islamists have their Prime Minister, everything that goes wrong can be blamed on him rather than focusing blame on the King and Makhzen, which are the main source of our problems.”

Indeed, Morocco stands as almost the polar opposite to Bahrain, on the other extreme of the Arab world. Where the Bahraini monarchy could not survive without the support of powerful neighbours and patrons (particularly the Saudis and other gulf monarchies and the US and UK), the Moroccan monarchy remains, for the time being, the unquestioned source, broker and mediator of power in Morocco. Its deep roots across Moroccan society allows it to attenuate the application of violence and restrictions on the media and political freedoms with discourses of royal beneficence, piety and charity that have thus far inoculated the King from serious calls for him to relinquish political power or for the end of the monarchy.

On the other hand, despite the imbalance of power between them and the ongoing international support for the Moroccan government, activists continue to search for new ways to pressure the state and the King to open up the country’s political and economic system, more substantively democratise, and address the rampant institutionalised corruption that will inevitably doom any reform, never mind revolutionary process. For many, Tahrir remains [Arabic] a powerful model as young activists share their stories and experiences [Arabic] even though directly taking on the establishment can earn one a significant prison sentence, not to mention a severe beating and worse.

Social media remains an important battleground, from Facebook [Arabic] (the number of whose Moroccan users increased by over half a million since 2011) to more innovative tools, all of which aim to challenge the widespread propaganda of the King/Makhzen and its foreign supporters and commentators that a “Moroccan Exception” (istithna’ maghrebi) will enable the system to continue in its present form and (im)balance of power into the foreseeable future.

As Moroccan blogger and activist Zineb Belmkaddem argues in her assessment of the last two years, more and more “Moroccans know” the reality of the system in which they live. The problem today is that this knowledge is not accompanied by a belief in a way forward, or a sense that things are so bad there is no longer much left to lose. Indeed, one of the main problems facing those pushing for what could be termed “revolutionary reform” is the ongoing belief by most Moroccans (especially the most disenfranchised and politically abused that “the country’s progress is completely dependent upon [the King's] generosity”.

Against intense propaganda (it’s impossible to watch the state TV or read a paper without seeing images of the King opening a new hospital or institute, or providing charity for the poor), the majority of the people still imagine that the best hope for survival is to work through or around the corruption and political opportunism that define the country’s political life.

But this dynamic cannot continue indefinitely. It is striking to me how many Moroccans are talking today the way my Egyptian friends were talking in the latter part of 2010: “This can’t go on…”, “If the government doesn’t alleviate people’s suffering there will be an explosion…”, “If things don’t change soon the opposition that replaces us will make the government wish for the good old days…”, and so on.

Then as now, the one thing no one could anticipate was what would spark a revolutionary wave of protests that would shake even the deepest state to its core. And while the octogenarian Mubarak and his wildly unpopular son could be jettisoned to protect the larger system, King Mohammed is still in the prime of his rule. It’s hard to imagine how the system could survive his downfall if the explosion, increasing numbers of people believe could occur in the near future happens.

Like the thumping music of Moroccan metal pioneers Reborn (whose members were arrested during the 2003 Satanic affair), or the words of poet Abdellatif Laabi, Morocco’s artists and activists remain unremitting in their attacks on the “rule of barbarism” represented by the existing system and the “monstrosities” and “automatons” it has produced. As the jailed rapper, El Haqed, sings in his (in)famous song “Dogs of the State” [Arabic], “They exploit our wealth and leave us only crumbs while so many freedom fighters have died for us.”

Fans of Arab hip-hop and revolutionary music more broadly will not be surprised at the striking similarities in Haqed’s words and those of artists like Tunisia’s El General or Egypt’s Ramy Essam and Arabian Knightz. If and when the next round of mass protests erupts in Morocco, King Mohammed, like his counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, won’t be able to see he wasn’t warned. What remains to be seen is whether the Makhzen, for centuries so adept at variously negotiating and fighting its way out of any and all internal challenges to its power, will finally lose its footing, and let power slip through its hands, and if its hold begins to slip away, how far it will go to preserve its centuries-long hold over Morocco and an increasingly angry populace will go to pull it away once they realise doing so is no longer a dream but might actually be possible.

Via Aljazeera

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