The Arab Spring may not have toppled Morocco's regime, but it has put pressure on it to change. Journalist Aboubakr Jamai says the country may be on its way to true democratic institutions.
DW: In 2010, the newspaper you founded, "Le Journal Hebdomadaire," was forced to close in response to intense legal and financial pressure from King Mohammed VI and his regime. The Moroccan government pressured advertisers, urged boycotts and presented false libel claims, ultimately forcing the paper to shutter in 2010. At that time you declared that you were going to give up your journalistic career because you no longer believed that independent journalism was possible in Morocco. Why did you say that?
Aboubakr Jamai: I was a bit emotional to be frank with you. I really believed that we had done everything we could to keep the project alive. I also believed - and I still believe today - that there is no economic model in Morocco for an independent press. What you see in Morocco at the moment is not independent journalism. It's only independent as long as you don't touch taboo subjects. The moment you deal with taboo subjects - the Sahara, the monarchy, some aspects of religion - then you have total homogeneity across the board. So you see a diversity of titles, but actually they are all towing the regime line, because that's the only way to survive.
Perhaps that's the case for print media, but what about online media? In 2011 you became the co-founder of the Moroccan news site Lakome.com. That suggests that you haven't given up on the idea of independent journalism.
It's an incurable disease - once a journalist, always a journalist. We decided that the Internet gave us the possibility to found a new journalistic brand at very low cost. We knew that we could survive - despite the regime's actions - because our servers are based outside of Morocco, and our resources are mostly from Google Ads or aid from international NGOs. The only way that the regime can clamp down on ventures like Lakome.com is to put us in jail physically. That would be very costly PR-wise for the regime.
How much influence do web-based news media have in Morocco?
One recent poll conducted by the Doha Institute shows that news websites are a more trusted source of information than newspapers in Morocco. I think it's just Morocco and Palestine which have that media make-up - which tells you something about the editorial potency of the news website. It's an uphill struggle, and it's really frustrating that we don't have the financial means of the traditional media. But we are happy because we know that the society is changing, and that something has to give in our country. When the time comes that journalistic ethics and honesty will be rewarded, then we will be well-positioned to have a more structured, well-funded media.
You sound hopeful.
Yes, I am.
What makes you hopeful?
The Arab Spring makes me hopeful - despite what's going on in Egypt. What's been shown by the people of this region is that they fear no more. They want to be respected; they want the state to be at the service of society and not the other way round. I think that's a major tectonic shift and there's no going back on that. It's going to take time to settle, and there will be problems … but I'm hopeful.
But the Arab Spring failed in Morocco. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate, but King Mohammed VI and his political regime are still in power.
Yes, the revolution failed in the sense that the king - and more importantly the regime - are still in place. But the regime felt obliged to at least pretend to be changing things. That means that there was a pressure from the streets, and that pressure was felt. The story is not over yet - we are still in the middle of it in Morocco. I think that we need to keep our eyes very closely on current events, because I think that the very defective process which was initiated by the recent constitutional reforms is falling victim to its own internal contradictions. This is happening as we speak. I don't think that it's a tenable social contract, and we will have to come up with a better solution. For me, that can only mean true democratic institutions.
Moroccan journalist Aboubakr Jamai is a recipient of the International Press Freedom Award and current Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Foundation in Berlin.