Ben Barka The Moroccan Equation (2009 – Simone Bitton)

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Title: Ben Barka: The Moroccan Equation
Year: 2001
Runtime: 84 min
Director: Simone Bitton
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Plot: In 1956 Morocco, which had been a French colony for many years, finally achieved its independence. This was thanks in large part to the efforts of Medhi Ben Barka, a leader of the Istiqlal (Freedom) Party. Ben Barka's three goals for Morocco were freedom from French influence, the democratization of its institutions, and its rapid economic development. These goals, and the "radical" means he proposed to achieve them, brought him into conflict with his country's post-independence rulers. This conflict would lead to his abduction from a Paris street corner and assassination, in 1965. This film is the story of his life and work, and also of the Moroccan people's struggle to wrestle both freedom and economic security from their rulers. Ben Barka was born several years after his country had become a French colony. France exploited the country economically, and denied its people any participation in government. Morocco still had its own ruler, Sultan Mohammed V, but he was little more than a French puppet. Most Moroccans lived in poverty, and any resistance to the status quo was brutally put down by the colonial authorities. Ben Barka's family was also poor, but he was exceptionally bright, so he managed to secure a spot in a colonial school usually reserved for the tiny, French educated, Moroccan bourgeoisie. After graduation he became a teacher at the palace school of the Sultan, and secretly a liaison between Mohammed V and the nationalist movement. The Sultan covertly supported the nationalists, who wished to return him to power. Ben Barka and his compatriots founded the nationalist Istiqlal Party in the years immediately following World War II, and then worked tirelessly for an independent Morocco. They were repeatedly imprisoned, exiled and/or tortured by the French for their efforts. Eventually however, violent pro-independence demonstrations and terrorist attacks, as well as conflicts in their other colonies (chiefly Algeria), brought the French to the negotiating table. They made a deal with Istiqlal to relinquish power to Mohammed V. Ben Barka was a Monarchist as well as a Nationalist, so he worked for the Sultan's government, but he become increasingly dissatisfied with the new regime. He wanted to encourage the rapid economic development of his country, but the Sultan's government proved to be corrupt and unconcerned with the plight of the people. Eventually Ben Barka would help to start a new party, the National Union of Popular Forces (UNFP). They advocated democracy and free elections, and an economic and social restructuring of the society. Not long after it’s founding, party members were accused of treason and arrested. Ben Barka again went into exile, this time in France. So began a long period of conflict between himself and the UNFP on the one side, and the monarchy on the other. This conflict continued after the death of Mohammed V in 1961, and the succession of his son, Hassan II. In fact, it intensified. Many UNFP members were imprisoned, and Ben Barka was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. In these years Ben Barka was increasingly influenced by revolutionary philosophies and policies from around the world, and worked to promote these in Algeria, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia. He became ever more critical of the United States and the former European colonial powers. He hoped to bridge the differences between the Soviets, Chinese and Cubans, by working to organize the First Tricontinental Conference. This was a meeting in which the three countries would attempt to combine forces to support liberation struggles around the world. In 1965, while the conference was being planned, riots demanding reform broke out in Casablanca. These were put down with great violence, and over 1000 people were killed. This violence, and the incredibly negative publicity it generated, unnerved Hassan II. He decided to extend a fig leaf to the opposition, and invited Ben Barka to return to Morocco to help solve the nation’s problems. Ben Barka said he would, but only after certain constitutional and social reforms were instituted, and the Tricontinental was completed. Instead of instituting these reforms, Hassan II declared a state of emergency, and clamped down on the opposition. Members of his government then hatched a plot to dispose of Ben Barka. This would lead to the infamous “Ben Barka Affair”, in which he was abducted and murdered in 1965. His death caused a great scandal in both France and Morocco, because agents of the French police were directly involved in the plot. Although there was a trial in France which convicted General Oufkir, the Moroccan Minister of the Interior, for instigating the murder, he was never extradited from Morocco or punished for his crime. Though more than 30 years have passed since this event, the exact details of Mehdi Ben Barka’s death are still unknown. Every year, his friends and supporters gather at the very spot of his disappearance to remember him. He has become a symbol to many Moroccans of freedom, and a martyr to those who want to replace, or at least drastically reform, the repressive monarchy that still controls that country. His association with communist movements, such as those in China and Vietnam, will doubtless be troubling to many. Nevertheless, to many of his people he represents the struggle for change and development in Morocco. A very intense struggle, which continues to this day! This film well represents Ben Barka’s life, as well as the political situation in Morocco in the last several decades. Its picture and sound qualities are good, and it moves at a crisp pace that will engage the viewer. An informative narration is provided in English. The bulk of the film is interviews with Ben Barka’s associates, and photos and newsreels from that time period. The languages spoken in most of these cases are either French or Arabic, but English subtitles are provided in those instances.
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