Monday, March 04, 2013

The Moroccan Zorro - Unmasked

The Moroccan Zorro has removed his mask. Mounir Agueznay, the young man who has been nicknamed "the sniper of Targuist" has spent time over the last six years recording the actions of corrupt police. Hidden on a hillside above a road junction, "the sniper" used his small camera to great effect and along the way become something of a national hero

"It is time to have a face, but I will
continue to expose corruption openly," 

Targuist is a town in Al Hoceïma Province, in the north of Morocco and at last count had a little over 12,000 inhabitants none of whom were prepared to unmask their local hero.

Because Morocco is waging a war against corruption, Mounir Agueznay has become something of a national folk hero. His first video showing motorists, bus drivers and motorcyclists handing money to police was picked up and shown around the world on both Arabic and Western media. Yet his identity was not discovered. At the time the local police tried hard to discover his identity but the community protected him.

"With friends from the neighborhood, we were invited by the local authorities and the police. They questioned us at length and I had to deny everything," said Mounir Agueznay.  The authorities in Targuist strongly suspected Agueznay of shooting the videos, but after failing to catch him he says they turned on his family instead. "To get their revenge, they arrested my brother Radouane last October and accused him of drug dealing. He was sentenced to one year in prison," Agueznay said.

Targuist - the locals kept "the sniper's" identity secret

He has spent the last six years "underground" and during that time produced dozens of other videos showing police and officials in the act of corruption. He first agreed to give interviews openly to the Moroccan press last week, because "the character of the sniper became very well known, but had no face.  It is time to have a face, but I will continue to expose corruption openly," says Agueznay.

In December, Transparency International dropped Morocco eight places, in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2012, to 88 out of 176 countries rated, below Burkina Faso and Liberia. According to the Berlin-based NGO, 55 percent of Moroccan business leaders polled said corruption was "standard," while 53 percent said the government's policy was "ineffective."

The Islamist Party of Justice and Development (PJD), came to power after winning historic November 2011 elections on the back of pledges to tackle endemic corruption in Morocco. PJD officials say strides have been taken, with lists published last year of those benefiting from privilege, through the awarding of government contracts, and most recently with a new law that protects corruption whistleblowers.


The "sniper of Targuist" says he is disappointed by the government of Islamist Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who heads the PJD.  He ran as a PJD candidate in his village during the November 2011 elections, which followed constitutional reforms introduced by the king in response to Arab Spring protests, but despite the Islamists' sweeping victory, he was not elected.

"I really didn't believe it. I thought that after the electoral slogans of the PJD against corruption and in favour of real transparency, things would change... Unfortunately the government has still not taken any concrete measures on that," he said.

Benkirane, in an interview with French news channel France 24 last October, stressed that the battle against corruption needed time.

"Corruption exists in Morocco. It exists in lots of countries... but to different degrees," the prime minister said.  He said it was "a major issue, because there is a feeling of injustice among our people, who see people getting rich quickly without apparently having worked for it."

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