Sunday, April 02, 2006

La Prisonniere


Malika Oufkir, political prisoner, author of the memoir La Prisonniere: Twenty Years in a Desert Gaol (known as Stolen Lives in the U.S.) (2000), was born on this day in 1953 in Morocco.

The daughter of General Muhammad Oufkir, a close advisor to kings of Morocco Muhammad V and Hassan II, Oufkir was "adopted" by Muhammad V to grow up in the royal palace and keep Muhammad's favorite daughter company. Later, after General Oufkir participated in an attempted coup against Hassan II and was executed in 1972, Hassan imprisoned 19-year old Oufkir, her mother, her two brothers and three sisters in horrifying conditions in desert jails for 15 years, for no other reason than that they were the family of the slain traitor.

Oufkir kept her family together by telling chapters of a story of her own creation, a soap opera set in 19th century Russia, every evening for the last 10 years of their desert captivity -- "like a modern Scheherazade." After the plight of the Oufkirs made the headlines following Malika's daring, improbable escape and subsequent recapture with brothers Raouf and Abdellatif and sister Maria in 1987, the family was placed under house arrest in more comfortable surroundings until 1991. Upon their "release," they were subjected to further surveillance and were refused permission to leave Morocco until Malika's sister Maria escaped to Spain in 1996, whereupon international outcry forced the Moroccan government to issue passports to the rest of the family.

Oufkir's memoir, as much as it fills the reader with outrage over the tragedy of lost years of youth, is remarkably affirming and even charming, beguiling us with examples of the spirit and resourcefulness of the prisoners amid the barbarity. In 1996, Oufkir moved to Paris and 2 years later, at the age of 45, married French architect Eric Bordreuil. At the end of the 20th century, Amnesty International estimated that there were still hundreds of political prisoners in Moroccan jails.

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