Editors Voice: 'Giving in would have meant becoming lapdogs'. An interview with Zakia Daoud, an emblematic figure of Moroccan journalism
Born Jacqueline David in 1937 in Bernay, France, in the heart of Normandy, she would later become Zakia Daoud in 1963, and one of the most emblematic characters of Moroccan journalism. The reputation of that self-taught woman who left school when she was 16 is mostly due to Lamalif, an audacious French speaking publication that she founded in 1966 with her husband, Mohamed Loghlam. During the 22 years of existence, this publication, to which contributed such high caliber and renowned intellectuals as Abdellah Laraoui, the Moroccan historian, never ceased to enlarge its readership. Paradoxically, it is its success, considered as a menace in higher echelons, that would bring Lamalif's demise. Twenty years or so after the publication of its last issue, Zakia Daoud and Éditions Tarik publish a book where she relates "The Lamalif Years." APN met with her for this occasion.
APN: Why are you using an alias and where is it coming from?
ZD: It is more or less precisely the Arabic translation of my proper name Jacqueline David. I arrived in Morocco in 1958, and a year later, I became a Moroccan national. And Jacqueline slowly became Zakia. In fact, I adopted this alias at the request of the director of Jeune Afrique when I was their correspondent, from 1963 to 1966. He had given me five minutes only to choose one.
APN: How would you describe Lamalif to those who have never seen it?
ZD: It is a monthly magazine that was published in Morocco from 1966 to 1988. It had an unspoken political stance and it put forward social, cultural and economical issues, but it was essentially all about political issues. It existed in a time that corresponded to the end of the struggle for power between what could be called in a nutshell the opposition, characterized by the USFP (Union Socialiste des Forces Populaires), and the monarchy. When the monarchy won over its opponents, who did not ceased to exist however, an interesting struggle was happening in the political and social fields. There was an ideological debate going on. Besides, in this time of triumphant ending to third world support, Morocco was the stage of an important beehive of cultural activity. That is when the main Moroccan artists cropped up, whether they were poets or painters or writers.
APN: How did you get the idea for such a title? Lamalif is made of two Arabic letters that form the word la, meaning no in Arabic.
ZD: My husband got the idea. It is an ambiguous way of stating that we were in opposition. Opposed to everything and that everything should be questioned.
APN: How many copies did you run? And at what price was Lamalif sold?
ZD: We started with a run of 3,000 copies and towards the end, we printed 12,000 copies, knowing that every copy was read by at least ten people. In the beginning, Lamalif cost DH 2, and when the page number went from 46 to 90 pages, we set the price at DH 7. Our passionate student readers, living off small stipends, shared copies with one another and that is why we could never consider raising the prices.
APN: Did you easily find advertisers?
ZD: We gathered ads from the public as well as from the private sectors. Let's say that we were not very greedy either, and that the ads did not cost an arm and a leg. It was a different time for the press.
APN: So why did the Lamalif adventure come to an end? Obviously not for economical reasons.
ZD: Of course not. I was threatened by Driss Basri [Editor's note: former Interior Minister] who thought we were selling too many copies. He accused me of insulting the king, which was not true. He was looking for an excuse. In fact, we stopped because we were becoming too important. It took me a very long time to accept the end of Lamalif and understand what had happened. There is a political explanation: We could no longer exist. The Interior ministry had managed to hijack a lot of our contributors and did not want to see these people belonging somehow to both worlds. It was a time when it had to corner the intellectuals, after having cornered political parties and their newspapers. Moreover, this hijacking of the intellectuals started in the beginning of the 80s and tolled the knell for freedom and intellectual effervescence.
At the same time, they did not want to ban us from publishing, they just wanted to take back our advantages, that is our freedom. They simply wanted to chain us and revise our autonomous status in a totally controlled space within which we evolved. We were aware of the issues we could not discuss. We knew where our boundaries were, contrary to the young journalists of today who are not aware of the red lines because they have pushed them far away and suddenly these come back right into their face like a boomerang.
So, we had a space, we knew it was limited and controlled, and we managed to make it grow and reach more than 12,000 people. The Interior Minister had told me it was "too many." He wanted to limit our run to 1,000 copies, distributed in universities. He thought we would give in, like others did. Giving in meant becoming lapdogs, and that was absolutely not acceptable. So we stopped everything.
APN: You never thought of resuming it?
ZD: Yes, at the beginning, but today I'm too old and I don't have that kind of strength. It takes such asceticism.
APN: If Lamalif still existed today, what would its cover be like?
ZD: Our covers often featured drawings signed by such artists as Jean Gourmelin [Editor's note: French press illustrator]. Furthermore, these covers are those that led us to be seized. I'm referring to the seizure of the whole issue published after the riots in Casablanca in 1981. The article was not what brought us the blame, but the drawing on the cover. It showed tombs that were raised up by tree roots. We got a lot of grief because of our drawings. I'm thinking of the one where there is a guy going up the stairs and there is nothing upstairs. If we existed today, we would probably be tempted by process printing, like everybody else.
APN: Why chose to come back to these Lamalif years by writing a book?
I didn't want to write that book. I put it off as long as I could, but everyone was telling me it needed to be done, that it was a memory duty. I thought to myself, why not. Then I tried to turn it into a collective work, because on my own, I didn't have the necessary impartiality. What happened is that the co-authors, former contributors, gave up when I had already started. As for myself, when I have started something, I need to complete it.
APN: What's your take on the current situation of the Moroccan press?
ZD: I am embarrassed to answer this kind of question, because it is not what the book is about, the book deals with the 1966 to 1988 era. Besides, the current situation of the Moroccan press is quite complicated. A lot of newspapers have problems. I have no opinion to share on that question in the course of an interview given on the occasion of the publication of this book... It deals with a different era.
APN: Except that you are of course the author of this book, and at the same time Zakia Daoud, the journalist to whom one is very tempted to ask that question...
ZD: Precisely, I refuse to let people lump together these two situations. Today, and that is what I state in my book, Morocco is a different country. This said, however, there are things that remain. The basis has not changed at all, but people's perspectives, the way they speak up, the way they write, the way they take charge of themselves, well or not, all this has completely changed.
APN: Are you satisfied with the way things are evolving?
ZD: The press, the freedom of speech, freedom rights, all this is made of waves going up and down. We are raised in the idea that History is a constant ascent, even though the era we currently live in proves that it is wrong. We live in a History that is constantly going in circles. The waves launch an attack on fortresses and taboos. The question is whether it is going to last and whether it is sustainable. I can't tell.
What struck me, however, in a debate in which I recently took part in Casablanca is that we benefited, at the time, as the current actors of the Moroccan press have explained, of the support of university forces, which is true, and that we had evolved with the university that, at the time, was predominantly progressive. And, today, the colleges are mostly Islamic and we live in a totally different set up. There are more struggles to be led than just the struggle against the powers that be.
At the same time, as a young journalist was stating, during that same debate, the red lines that Lamalif was dealing with have been exceeded. He hoped that one day his children would be able to publish a Canard enchaîné and in turn exceed the 2000 years' red lines themselves. These are the waves I was mentioning before. But this is not so straightforward either. Today's debates are less confrontational, more diluted, more ambiguous that those of the Lamalif era.
APN: You have been signing more books than articles lately. Is it by choice?
ZD: No, it's not. It is easier for me to write articles but I am not asked to write any anymore. For years I chased freelance assignments and now I am tired of it.