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THE ARGUMENT FROM SILENCE: MOROCCO'S TRUTH COMMISSION AND WOMEN POLITICAL PRISONERS Susan Slyomovics There is a difference, of course, between prison and death: it is possible for one to leave prison and return to a normal life, telling people what one has seen. (El Saadawi 1986:9) e© On 16 April 1996, the first witness to appear at the first hearing on the first day ofSouth Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a woman. Mrs. Nohle Mohape described how her husband Mapetla, a supporter of Steve Biko and the black consciousness movement, was killed in police custody in 1976. His death was not a suicide, as the official verdict claimed. On the second day, Nomonde Calata, widow of Fort Calata (one of the "Craddock Four" African National Congress activists killed in 1984), broke down, wailing in anguish. Listeners described her screams as unbearable and switched them offwhen played repeatedly over South Africa's television and radio stations (Boraine 2000:103). Antjie Krog, ajournalist covering the hearing, declared: For me, this crying is the beginning ofthe Truth Commission—the signature tune, the definitive moment, the ultimate sound ofwhat the process is about. She was wearing this vivid orange dress and she threw herself backwards and that sound, that sound, it will haunt me forever and ever (Krog 1998:42). In Casablanca, Morocco, on Sunday 14 November 1999, Maria Charaf's wrenching screams carried through the packed hall of the JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES VoL 1, Na 3 (Fall 2005). O 2005 74 œ JOURNAL OF MIDDLE EAST WOMEN'S STUDIES Complexe Anoual during the first public service to commemorate the fourteenth anniversary of the death of her husband Amine Tahani (which was combined with the twenty-fifth anniversary commemoration ofthe death ofAbdellatifZeroual). The gathering celebrated the lives and achievements of two successive generations of young Marxist activists united by political convictions but also by the status of each as shahld, a martyr to torture during police custody. Before 1999, annual private ceremonies were held in various family homes always subject to intense police surveillance. After the death ofKing Hassan II on 23 July 1999, the aforementioned 14 November 1999 Casablanca commemoration became a public occasion to highlight political and juridical demands that are part ofcontemporary public events; the moderator Abdelhak Moussadak (Marxist political prisoner, 1984-91) reviewed the political trajectories of the two activists' lives in order to call for trials of torturers at Derb Moulay Cherif, Casablanca's secret detention center, especially a trial for the head of operations, Youssfi Kaddour, considered responsible for their deaths (Moussadak 1999:np). Although the Moroccan state has imprisoned tens of thousands of dissidents and political opponents since independence in 1956 from France, the death of King Hassan II on 23 July 1999 was a watershed moment. During decades known to Moroccans as the "years oflead" (les années de plomb in French) and "the black years" (sanawät al-sawda' in Arabic), political opponents of'King Hassan H's regime (1961-99) often "disappeared" in the manner of dictatorships in Chile and Argentina. These opponents—many of them leftists, feminists, Berber/Amazigh activists, or Islamists—were tortured or killed while in state custody. In 1990, King Hassan II established the Advisory Council on Human Rights (in Arabic, al-Majlis al-Istishari H-Huqüq al-Insän or in French, Conseil Consultative des Droits de l'Homme), modeled on a similar French institution , to rehabilitate the regime's reputation for repression. These official efforts intensified after the king's death. Funded by Fulbright and AIMS awards for one year of research, I arrived in Morocco on 1 August 1999, a week after the death of King Hassan II, the ascension of his son and heir, King Muhammad VI, to the throne, and a day after the new king's first throne speech televised to his subjects, in which he confirmed his commitment to establish the rule of law and to safeguard human rights (Muhammad VI 1999:1). I SUSAN SLYOMOVICS œ 75 was swept into the study of public events heralding a different Morocco that was willing to address, after thirty-eight years, the issue of a state's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9579
Print ISSN
1552-5864
Pages
pp. 73-95
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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