Greatest achievement: Challenged a conservative politician about the legal prohibition of sex outside marriage.
Most controversial statement: “I have a relationship without being married and I don’t see why that would bother anyone.”
Most loved by: Moroccans who would like to have more individual liberties.
Most hated by: Moroccans who are attached to tradition, especially the ruling conservative party
Journalist Omar Radi was front page news himself when he dared to challenge Minister of Justice Mustafa Ramid’s views on sexual freedom. Radi told the minister he lived with his girlfriend without being married and didn’t see why that should bother anyone. In response, Ramid warned him not to say anything more because he might reveal he was breaking the law that forbids sex outside marriage and wind up in prison.
It was not the first time that 26-year-old Radi chose to express his personal view on a taboo subject. An activist as well as a journalist, Radi is a member of the Moroccan protest movement 20th February and says he is “preparing for the revolution”. Surprisingly, this enfant terrible is a nephew of Oussama Cherribi, a former politician of the right-wing Dutch VVD party.
Radi and his uncle clearly have very different opinions, but political and social engagement is a family tradition. “My parents are both active members of the main Moroccan human rights’ organisation. When I was still in high school, I was active in the youth sections of this group as well as of ATTAC, an NGO which opposes free trade, globalisation and neo-liberalism.”
Radi grew up in the port city of Casablanca. After studying economics, he got a job at Radio Atlantic, where he was responsible for a programme about financial news. “It was with Radio Atlantic that I learned the basics of journalism. The do’s and the don’ts. What the don’ts are? You cannot say everything - there are a few delicate subjects about which you shouldn’t talk. You shouldn’t bother sponsors, and you need to respect the editorial lines. I mainly discovered that journalism is more than simply transmitting information.’
While still working at Atlantic, Radi was asked to join the liberal weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire. Although the magazine was closed down by the authorities only three months later, it was the start of his career in print media. At the same time, he continued his activism within civil society. “I know that being a journalist and an activist at the same time is sometimes viewed negatively, but in an authoritarian country like Morocco, where you have to struggle for access to information and for freedom of speech, you have to be both.”
A meal too far
In the summer of 2009, he was the spokesman for MALI, the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, which organised a public meal during Ramadan to provoke a discussion about individual liberties. This open flaunting of the Islamic obligation to fast during the daylight hours of Ramadan outraged many Moroccans who considered it a far too provocative act.
Omar Radi is nonchalant: “I’m not aiming to offend people, but I do say what I think. We need a serious debate and dialogue, but sometimes we also need a shock. It’s good to stir up the foundations of this society now and then. That won’t hurt.”
The palace decides
Individual liberties are still limited in Morocco, and Radi hasn’t noticed any improvement in press freedom since the government of Abdelilah Benkirane came to power at the beginning of this year. “But it’s not because of the government that things are changing or not. The government has no power whatsoever. The bad vibes never come from the government because it can’t send any. It is the Palace which decides on the limits of what is allowed.”
The current state of the Moroccan press isn’t very inspiring. “The press has been tamed. There’s been so much repression, censorship, retaliation... to a point that many journalists have lost the sense of the fight for freedom and are just happy to be able to make a living out of it. We have an obedient press. This press won’t bring about any change.”