Freemuse interview with the Moroccan rapper El Haqed, who was awarded with the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Arts.
By Shaima Aly
Mouad Belghouat (also spelled: Belrhouate) is better known under his artist name, El Haqed – the now world-famous Moroccan rapper and human rights activist who criticises the widespread poverty and corruption in Morocco though his music. During the Arab Spring, his songs contributed to lit a spark of revolution in Morocco.
For this reaon, El Haqed has been imprisoned on various charges due to his musical expressions: Three times over the past five years. Most recently four months of imprisonment in 2014.
El Haqed has stated that he just would like to ‘sing’ freely about anything and everything, and his utmost aspiration is to see Morocco free from poverty, corruption and oppression.
Freemuse had an opportunity to interview the artist in July 2015. We were eager to learn about his recent situation, his ambitions, challenges and his most recent projects.
How has your life been since you were released from prison?
“I feel besieged. I cannot hold concerts, and musicians are being threatened not to work with me. The studios which I know would like to collaborate with me, have also been banned from co-operating with me. I feel like a stranger, alienated in my own country. I feel very oppressed. I just want to sing for love and peace in my homeland, but I cannot. I want to sing for the citizens’ rights, but I am being isolated here. My spirits are down, and I feel depressed.”
When was the last time you performed in Morocco?
“Ironically, I have never performed live in any official concert in my home country, since my music has been permanently banned. I have managed to hold only two secret, small-scale and informal concerts though, when my audience gathered after they had been notified through Facebook. The venue of those small concerts in fact was a house of one of my fans in Casablanca.”
How did your fans and audience who were already at the venue receive the news that the concert had been called off?
“I was totally besieged and could not establish a contact with my audience. The roads were blocked and the people were not able to come into the area where the concert venue is located. I was under siege for five hours, and my fans were not able to approach me. The majority of the audience was dispersed after arrival. The boat was planned to host between 500 and 1,000 persons. Like a private event, the concert’s announcement and booking were only available online with limited publicity.”
From your point of view, what do you think is the motive that pushes the authorities always to follow you and shut you up?
“I have never changed my attitude, thinking, or political views in regard to the Moroccan regime. In fact, the regime tried to negotiate with me many times, but I turned it down. It also tried to threaten and intimidate me by menacing phone calls and threatening Facebook messages. Once, a regular person with civilian clothing approached me in public trying to convince me to change my point of view to follow the regime, but I have turned all of them down. I believe this is the reason behind all these issues.”
Did you receive any national-level support in response to this police action and how do you see it?
“In fact, everyone is afraid to address my cause or support me, except for the Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH), which was proactive when they learned about the banning of my concert. They called me right away to show support. However, up till now they have not published any formal statement of denouncement or condemnation to support me officially.”
“How was your arrival to home in Morocco back from Norway – your last station of your Scandinavian tour? Did you receive any threats?
“Of course coming back to the country was not easy for me. I received severe threats right upon my arrival. The threats reached me on phone. They asked me either to change my political position and to reflect that in my music, or to never come back to this country. They asked me why I came back at the first place, as I do not belong to Morocco. So I was given the choice to either to be ‘tamed’ or to leave the country forever – and if not accepting either, I would be ‘dispatched’. There was also a video claimed to be made by a pro-regime association called ‘the Association of the Royal Youth Movement’ where the members of the association asked for my death. In one other video they called for the court to re-retrial me.”
What are your plans for the near future? Any upcoming music projects?
“I am currently working on various songs. I prepare also works with singers from Norway and a singer from Finland. I may release a song soon online. I work on the lyrics and music of my waited new album. I try though in my new album to address humanitarian cases, which are addressing international causes in regard to the global politics, rather than local political views.”
Do you have any fears now after this recent banning of your concert?
“Definitely, I always have fears. I just received a notice sent by the Disciplinary Court in Casablanca to pay a fine to the ‘police’ for my song which I released in 2010. I have never been informed that there is a case still pending and filed against me. If I did not pay this fine, so I can be imprisoned, of course. I believe that banning of my concerts will continue, and I will have to face the threats all the time.”
From your own point of view, what could the international community do to improve your situation for you and other Moroccan artists?
“I am not sure. I really do not know. However, I can suggest that the international community should discuss the art and freedom of expression situation in Morocco in a more serious way. Also, I believe that the international organisations working on defending human rights should always communicate with the foreign embassies located in Morocco and elsewhere so they can constitute a lobby, or pressure mechanism, on the government in Morocco.”
Shaima Aly is Freemuse’s MENA programmme officer
Index on Censorship Arts award winner 2015: Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat
» Index on Censorship – 7 October 2015
Index Awards: El Haqed still has a bad rap with the Moroccan authorities
“Moroccan authorities have repeatedly prevented Index Arts award winner Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat from performing in the country. So yet again, he turns to Europe.” Article by Ryan McChrystal
» Index on Censorship – 18 March 2015:
El Haqed: I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever
“Moroccan rapper and human rights activist Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, winner of the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for Arts, spoke at the ceremony in London on 18 March”
Video published on youtube.com on 20 March 2015.