Sunday September 20th, 2020 10:47PM

Moroccan rapper on trial amid growing rage at powers-that-be

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

FES, Morocco (AP) — Moroccan rapper Gnawi knew the police would come, after he and two friends released a unusually outspoken video exposing their country’s problems with migration and drugs and expressing frustration with the king.

And sure enough, they did.

Gnawi, a former military serviceman whose real name is Mohamed Mounir, goes on trial Monday in a case that his supporters see as a backlash against expressions of growing public anger at authorities and lack of economic opportunity.

Moroccan authorities say the arrest was prompted by an earlier video in which Gnawi insults the police, which is a crime punishable with up to two years in prison.

But his supporters think his arrest was punishment for the song “3acha cha3b” (Long Live the People) by Gnawi and rappers Lz3er and Weld L'Griya. Released Oct. 29, it immediately went viral, and now has 15.6 million hits on YouTube.

Full of visual imagery familiar to struggling Moroccans, the five-minute manifesto speaks to the country’s disillusioned generation, raging against the powers-that-be and criticizing the country’s widening economic gap.

Gnawi was arrested two days after its release. He didn’t object, but het handed himself over and marched proudly out of his parents' house. Behind him, bystanders murmured “Long Live the People.”

One passage of the song reflects on the Hirak protest movement in Morocco’s impoverished Rif mountain region. Another section, on a mother whose sons died attempting to migrate to Europe, pulls at listeners’ heartstrings. Another paints a picture of a young generation ruined by hashish and hard drugs.

Most shockingly to many Moroccans, the song also directly criticizes Morocco’s king and his adviser, taboo subjects and a criminal offense.

“The song added insult to the injuries of my country. We didn’t do this project to point fingers or create controversy. We voiced what the majority of Moroccans feel but fear to say. We said it all and it naturally upset those who do not want change,” Lz3er told The Associated Press in an interview.

“All Morocco knows that Gnawi is arrested because of 3ach cha3b song,” said the 31-year-old, whose real name is Yahya Semlali.

He said he was followed after the release of the song. Slouched by the door of his studio, a small room on the rooftop of his parents’ house in the Moroccan city of Fes, LZ3er waited for the loud boots of police to come stomping in.

He wasn’t, but Gnawi was, in what Amnesty International called “an outrageous assault on free speech.”

Grounded in the tradition of poetic spoken word rather than American rap culture, Morocco’s political rap has its own rhythm and meter. The language’s guttural syllables demand fury in delivery, and rap is a welcome outlet for political passions.

“All of us are in the ‘see and be quiet’ mode. But I do this because I don’t want to see and be quiet. That’s why people respond to my music,” Lz3er said in his house in Fes, a city prized by tourists for its beauty and royal sites. For the locals, Fes is known as Morocco’s capital of crime.

Lz3er and Weld L'Griya grew up in that world. Having dropped out of school, their education comes from watching young men like them sleeping in carton boxes in the cold, prostitutes dreaming of working in offices, boys turning to drugs to escape reality.

“We are stuck in a caste system and our rap mirrors exactly that,” Lz3er said.

But for government spokesman Hassan Abyaba, the rap song doesn’t reflect Morocco’s reality.

"Songs of all kinds must respect the citizens, the constancy of the nation and the principles and values that are part of the Moroccans’ education,” he told a news conference last week.

The Minister of Human Rights, Mustapha Ramid, dubbed the song “provocative and offensive."

Morocco, a kingdom long known for its stability in the Arab world, adopted constitutional reforms in response during the 2011 Arab Spring, aimed at reducing corruption and abuse of power and expanding free speech. Today, Morocco is still struggling with poverty, corruption and unemployment. Freedom of expression is guaranteed in Morocco’s constitution, but with limits.

Researcher Zineb Harrouchi says "rappers are the spokespersons of a class of society” but that politically engaged rappers are often arrested for “offenses that have nothing to do with music or their artistic production.”

Opposition rapper Mouad Belrhouate, better known as El 7aqed or “the resentful one,” has been arrested three times for his music critical of Morocco’s social ills and ruling elite.

A political refugee in Belgium since 2015, he told the AP: “Though I love my country very much, it suffocated me. I was always followed, watched. I felt in prison outside of prison, and yet I dream of the day I return to my neighborhood, my little bunker in my neighborhood in Casablanca.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP World News, AP Entertainment, APOnline Celebrity News
© Copyright 2020
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Asian shares advance amid hopes for US-China trade deal
Asian shares are mostly higher amid some optimism that the U.S. and China may edging closer to a trade deal
2:09AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Moroccan rapper on trial amid growing rage at powers-that-be
A Moroccan rapper is going on trial accused of insulting police
2:08AM ( 30 minutes ago )
Kim orders N. Korea artillery firing, drawing Seoul rebuke
North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un has visited a frontline islet and ordered troops there to practice firing artillery pieces
1:53AM ( 44 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Pro-democracy camp looks to have won big in Hong Kong vote
The pro-democracy opposition appears to have swept to victory in Hong Kong elections, as a record turnout dealt a clear rebuke to city leader Carrie Lam and her handling of violent protests that have divided the Chinese territory
12:32AM ( 2 hours ago )
Verdict nears for priests accused of abuse in Argentina
Pope Francis’ homeland faces a complicated week of reckoning with the sex abuse scandal that has plagued the Roman Catholic Church
12:11AM ( 2 hours ago )
Uruguay’s opposition has narrow lead in presidential vote
Uruguayans are stuck waiting for final results in a closer than expected presidential runoff election that has the candidate backed by a united opposition holding a razor-thin margin over the governing center-left bloc
12:07AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP World News
Diahann Carroll’s legacy as a trailblazer remembered
Diahann Carroll was remembered as a brilliant talent, a loving friend and mother and a trailblazer by the likes of Cicely Tyson, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Lenny Kravitz and more at a poignant memorial service
12:53AM ( 1 hour ago )
Swift moonwalks past Michael Jackson’s record at AMA Awards
Taylor Swift has moonwalked past Michael Jackson’s record at the American Music Awards
11:44PM ( 2 hours ago )
The Latest: Swift wins top honor at AMAs, breaks MJ record
The Latest: Taylor Swift wins top honor at AMAs, breaks Michael Jackson’s record
11:27PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Entertainment
K-Pop star Goo Hara found dead at her Seoul home
South Korean police say pop star Goo Hara has been found dead at her home in Seoul
9:43AM ( 16 hours ago )
Ang Lee says China boycott of Taiwan awards show a loss
Taiwanese filmmaker Ang Lee says China’s boycott of Taiwan’s Golden Horse film awards demonstrates how politics can harm the arts
5:51AM ( 20 hours ago )
Prince Andrew’s troubles not over despite change in status
Britain’s Prince Andrew continues to face many hurdles despite his decision to step down from royal duties because of his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein
3:59PM ( 1 day ago )
APOnline Celebrity News
Asian shares advance amid hopes for US-China trade deal
Asian shares are mostly higher amid some optimism that the U.S. and China may edging closer to a trade deal
2:09AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Kim orders N. Korea artillery firing, drawing Seoul rebuke
North Korea says leader Kim Jong Un has visited a frontline islet and ordered troops there to practice firing artillery pieces
1:53AM ( 44 minutes ago )
Mother of slain man sues Cleveland mayor, police chief
A woman who says her son was killed by gang members connected to an Ohio mayor’s grandson has filed a wrongful death lawsuit saying the mayor and a police chief interfered in the slaying’s investigation
1:29AM ( 1 hour ago )
As more men run, Klobuchar makes case for ‘woman candidate’
Amy Klobuchar does not want to run for president as a ‘woman candidate’
1:28AM ( 1 hour ago )
Rodgers struggles in Packers’ 37-8 loss to 49ers
Aaron Rodgers dropped back on his first third down of the day, tried to avoid the pressure and got stripped on a sack that set up an early San Francisco touchdown and set the tone for the game for the Green Bay Packers
1:24AM ( 1 hour ago )