Recently Released Islamist Al-Kitani Details Prison Experience

The following is a translation of a piece from Hespress, a Moroccan Internet Newspaper.

Al-Kitani: Prisoners wrote the Qu'ran on the walls of their cells with jibn

Hassan Al-Kitani, one of the three recently released Islamist political prisoners, said that some of his fellow prisoners connected to Jihadist branches of Salafism, a fundamentalist Islamist political movement, were forbidden copies of the Qu'ran. As a result, some of them wrote parts of the Holy Book on the walls of their cells with jibn, Moroccan cream cheese, for fear of being tortured. He added they would wipe the verses away before sunrise to avoid being caught by guards.


Al-Kitani connected his release to the Arab Spring, which impacted every country it spread to and toppled several tyrants. He emphasized that Morocco had chosen to undertake reforms, which set it apart from some other countries ensnarled in post-revolutionary chaos. Despite noting what these reforms lack, he emphasized that his and fellow Islamists' imprisonment, "cannot be forgotten, but it's necessary that we move on", demanding the release of other political prisoners arrested after the May 16, 2003 terrorist attacks in Casablanca.

Speaking at symposium organized by the Joint Council for the Defense of Islamist Prisoners this past Thursday, February 9, Al-Kitani questioned the crime he and his fellow prisoners committed. Directing himself to those who now say the prisoners should be put back behind bars, he said, "I say to those people, do you believe we are naive? Praise be to God, we've always been against extremism, but we're also against innovation in religion. We've were always integrated into society while going about our roles as religious scholars." He added that the judge who ruled against him was unjustified in doing so.

With reference to the clashes that occurred between guards and prisoners at Sale prison, Al-Kitani said, noting that he was one of several prisoners who negotiated with the prison administration, that most of the inmates stayed in their cells and that few of them participated in the riots. However, he added, they were all held accountable and they were all tortured as a result.

This piece sheds some light on the ambivalent relationship between the Moroccan government and Islamists. Despite the fact that Islam is the dominant religion in Morocco, Islamism, as it is generally understood, has been kept at the margins of political life until very recently.

Independence from France gave the Alawite Dynasty an opportunity to consolidate its political power and the means to extend its authority throughout Morocco. We can see this in the realm of religious affairs.

Morocco's post-colonial Constitution enshrined the King with the title "Defender of the Faithful" and unchecked authority in officiating the country's Islamic affairs. This was essentially a power play, giving the throne the power it needed to deprive some of its most vocal opponents of their authority and influence.

In Morocco, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs approves the appointments of Imams in all mosques in all major and most minor cities. The Ministry also distributes the sermons these prayer leaders read to their congregations on Friday afternoons. Imagine, if you will, if the American government controlled churches and other places of worship similarly. Needless to say, the government's interference in religious affair gives it a great deal of influence.

It also creates problems.

Islamists have always found ways to criticize the Moroccan Monarchy. There are obvious contradictions between a government that is led by the 'Defender of the Faithful' and at the same time permits, among other things, the production of and distribution of alcohol and marijuana, a national lottery, non-Islamic banks, and women to drive. To some Islamists, the 'corrupt' nature of Moroccan society, combined with the 'hypocritical' government's control of religious affairs is enough to merit calls for revolution.

As a result, the government is not shy about sending a message to religious officials who challenge its hegemony.  The article above makes that clear.

Additionally, the War on Terror has made life for Islamist dissidents throughout the Muslim world more difficult. Regardless of their ideologies and intentions or ability to commit terrorism, American support for 'anti-terror' regimes encouraged the political marginalization and detention of Islamists and Muslim political activists everywhere, often at the expense of their human rights.

You can read the original Arabic article here.