Rebecca Robinson is a Masters’ candidate in the Department of Justice and Social Inquiry at Arizona State who is currently conducting research on Morocco. I discovered her blog after reading her thoughtful comments on other Morocco-related blogs and immediately wanted to interview her. She was kind enough to share her perspective on the blogoma with me.
Jillian York: What sparked your initial interest in Morocco, and specifically the blogoma?
Rebecca Robinson: I earned my B.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State with an emphasis on the Middle East so my fascination with the region started there. I have wanted to go to Morocco ever since I was 19. All the travelers that I met in Europe recommended going there but I was traveling alone and my funds were disappearing quickly so I did not make it during that trip. Last year, I finally made it and I loved the culture and people. I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of why the PJD [ar] [Justice and Development Party] and other Islamic-oriented political parties were gaining popularity. I have been focusing on a combination of theories related to poverty, opposition to the monarchy, rejection of the separation of church and state, Anti-West sentiment (particularly in regard to U.S. foreign policy), and citizens becoming radicalized by being denied meaningful political participation. I was planning on going to Morocco this summer to conduct surveys and interviews but my family would not be able to afford the trip and grants for theses are not very substantial. To further complicate issues, we found out that we are expecting our second child in July. I was thinking about changing topics when one of my professors suggested doing research through the blogosphere. She had completed a comparative study of the Indonesian and Iranian blogospheres without leaving the country. So that's the very long-winded story for why I am here.
JY: What is your initial reaction to Moroccan blogs/bloggers?
RR: What I have seen so far is a group of very dedicated people seeking change. Their campaigns to save Fouad Mourtada and the Moroccan education system are very admirable. I find Moroccans to be very resourceful people and though they are aware that to make any changes it will be a long, uphill battle, they use what they have at their disposal to make a difference. I greatly respect this effort when much of the world has become apathetic in the face of unyielding status quo. They are influencing the national media (they have been mentioned on telquel-online.com several times) so, even if there is not an immediate manifestation of their efforts, they are creating awareness and resistance. I see a strong and growing community.
I detect a certain amount of self-censorship (Fouad's case and a few bloggers deciding not to write anymore reinforce this assumption) but I plan to conduct interviews to find out if this is indeed the case. I have been welcomed by several people in the Blogoma, which is not always the reception that social scientists receive, so I was very pleased. Bloggers have also offered help, which I definitely need, so I was relieved to find that people were willing to propose it.
Rebecca and her daughter enjoy the Marrakesh souk
JY: What do you think about Fouad Mourtada's case and sentencing?
RR: I was saddened by it but not overly surprised. The Moroccan judicial system seems very unforgiving. I think the Blogoma is feeling the effects of the tragedy- I have read that a few bloggers decided to stop blogging for fear that they could be next. It is difficult for me to comment on this case because it seems like such an absurd action to warrant imprisonment, especially because Fouad did not commit fraud or even damage the reputation of the Prince (I did read several different versions of the events and some painted Fouad in a more scandalous light). Americans take freedom of speech for granted (freedom of action is more suppressed- more and more legislation is implemented to limit peaceful protest), which is why it is so difficult for me to make sense of this misfortune. This incident demonstrates the diversity of beliefs in the Blogoma. While it seemed like the majority of bloggers called for Fouad's pardon, some bloggers agreed that he had committed a crime. On a positive note, I was impressed by the solidarity and the quick reaction from the Blogoma.
JY: What challenges do you see that face the blogoma?
RR: Related to the previous question, obviously freedom of expression is limited. I assume even people outside of the country will abridge what they write to avoid persecution if they decide to return to Morocco. Although the Blogoma is receiving media coverage, it seems concentrated in the dissident press so the efforts of the bloggers will not be exposed in mainstream media or to people that don't already agree with the position of the bloggers (i.e. people opposed to status quo). With the limited availability of the internet, certain voices in Morocco will remain marginalized. Even with the issue of censorship, Morocco is often acclaimed to be the freest blogosphere in the region so I am very excited to see where it will go and the changes it with enact.