There is a widely held perception that the Moroccan king Mohammed VI is beyond the reach of criticism. That view was quickly shattered in light of the “Daniel Gate” scandal following the king’s pardon of a convicted Spanish pedophile, Daniel Galván Viña, in the midst of serving a thirty-year prison sentence for sexually abusing eleven children. The initial response on social media spread rapidly through the use of the #DanielGate hashtag, which remains active to an extent. Reacting in a united outrage, Moroccans from across the political spectrum mobilized in thousands across the country protesting against the royal pardon. The widespread anger compelled the palace to release a statement on state media claiming that the king was unaware of the crimes Daniel committed, promised to launch an investigation on how he ended up on the list, and to meet with families of the victims.
The “Daniel Gate” scandal evolved into a major PR disaster for the regime, especially for the king and his royal cabinet, which remains at the center of decision-making. The conflicting statements from the Party of Justice and Development-led ministry of justice claiming the release was “in Morocco’s national interest” added more fuel to the fire. The king then announced he had retracted his royal pardon, but the announcement came too late as Daniel Galván Viña already left Morocco, reportedly on an expired passport, and was back in Spain. Despite the evolution of the scandal, what remained central to the outrage was that this was a decision sealed with the approval of the king, making direct criticism against the king inevitable.
Moroccans reacted online, on the streets, and in the media. One Moroccan, however, took to his Facebook page and graphic designing tool, releasing one political cartoon after another, encapsulating what many Moroccans seemed to feel. Moroccan-based Curzio has long been a prominent cartoonist among the pro-democracy camp in Morocco. His cartoons do not shy away from bold political statements and his signature depiction of King Mohammed VI has gained notoriety. His method also comes with a great risk since criticizing the king is still a punishable crime, one that several Moroccans have served and continue to serve jail sentences for, such as Abdessamad Hiddour and Walid Bahomane. I asked Curzio a few brief questions over Facebook chat, below are his responses.
Samia Errazzouki (SE): Are you based in Morocco ?
Curzio ©: Yep.
SE : Have you ever faced any issues with your cartoons ?
C : I can’t answer that.
SE : Ok, I understand. So when did you start drawing ?
C : About two years now.
SE : What prompted you to begin drawing ?
C : I first began using computer tools with my ex-girlfriend, who was a graphic designer herself, and I was self-taught for the rest.
SE : No relation with the 20 February protests that began in 2011 ?
C: I’ll take that back, I have trouble being serious.
SE : It’s all good !
C: Well the biggest motivator was the response I was getting from viewers. As long as my work pleased, bothered folks, or raised critical issues, it motivated me more.
SE : So do you share your work primarily on Facebook ?
C : Not just that, but I also collaborate with various online and print publications.
SE : Like ?
SE : So for the most part, Moroccan press, yeah ? How did you feel that there was a demand for such a critical perspective ?
C : I don’t draw the same way I do for pleasure as I do for what is requested.
SE : But I imagine you have to face risks, no ?
C : Of course, in Morocco there are always risks. “Don’t do this…be afraid…”
SE : And how do you overcome these risks ?
C : By using a pseudonym for example.
SE : Other things ?
C: Not posting personal photos, not giving out personal details.
SE : I noticed sometimes you post a political cartoon, then minutes later, it’s deleted. Do you delete them ?
C: No, Facebook deletes them, most likely because they are offensive.