Friday, March 7, 2008
Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
In 1972, Moroccan defense minister General Mohamed Oufkir staged a failed coup d'etat against King Hassan II. Oufkir was reported to have committed suicide, but was found with five bullet wounds. In retaliation for the coup, his entire family was imprisoned: Oufkir's wife, Fatima, and his children Malika, Raouf, Soukaina, Maria, Myriam, and Abdellatif. A cousin, Achoura, and a close family friend, Halima, joined them. Malika Oufkir was 17 years old; her brother Abdellatif was only 3.
Malika had been adopted at age 5 by King Mohammed V, to serve as a playmate for his daughter. After King Mohammed's death Hassan came into power, and continued to treat Malika like a member of his own family. However, she was completely separated from her family of origin and had only recently rejoined them when the coup attempt took place. The first part of this memoir vividly describes the opulence and luxury of Moroccan court life, which of course was in sharp contrast to prison conditions. Over a 20-year period, Malika and her family were kept in three different places, with markedly different conditions and privileges. Initially they were able to spend their days together, later they were transported to a harsher environment and placed into cells either alone or with 1-2 other family members. They spent 10 years without direct face-to-face contact, and yet devised ways to communicate and support each other in maintaining their will to live. Their mental and physical strength is both amazing and inspiring.
Oufkir's story is a shocking one, and yet is just one example of people who "disappeared" during King Hassan II's reign. I am embarrassed to admit that even though I came of age in the 1970s, and was nearly 30 by the time the Oufkirs gained their freedom, I knew nothing of the human rights violations in Morocco. Stolen Lives was a compelling and enlightening read.
My original review can be found here.