What the TV pundits didn't explain

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The Independent Online
RESPECT. Admiration. Tribute. A king dies in the Middle East and history is rewritten. Hassan II, it now turns out, "opened his country to democracy" (BBC TV). "He did not put his head on the pillow at night without being assured of Morocco's safety... he wanted a Morocco where justice prevailed" (Moroccan TV). "The man who modernised this north African nation and was praised by world leaders for building bridges between Arab nations and the rest of the world" (Associated Press). "The Middle East has lost one of its greatest peacemakers" (President Bill Clinton).

So goodbye to the king who imprisoned his opponents for two decades without trial. Goodbye to the man who "disappeared" his most ruthless rivals. Goodbye to the king whose principal opponent, Ben Barka, was mysteriously kidnapped in Paris by the Moroccan secret service - and possibly the French secret service as well - and never seen again. Goodbye to the king who seized the Spanish Sahara and doomed hundreds of his soldiers to rot in prison camps for more than 10 years. Goodbye to the king who lost a border war with Algeria along with thousands of kilometres of territory.

Satellite television contained everything in paragraph one, nothing in paragraph two. And so history was air-brushed away yesterday to leave Hassan II, Commander of the Faithful, in the grave with the world remembering only his help in the cold peace between Egypt and Israel, his assistance in the deeply flawed Oslo Palestinian-Israeli accord, his late-in-the- day democratisation and release of political prisoners. Only a lone French television channel commented cruelly that Morocco's largest source of income came from drugs.

Drugs? The scourge of Western society so often condemned by Mr Clinton? Nine years ago, Gilles Perrault wrote a book that redefined King Hassan's relationship with France. The French, he said, had covered up Morocco's drug trafficking and human rights abuses. Perrault's book was called Our Friend the King and was, of course, immediately banned in Morocco. The book talked about Mr Barka, whose "disappearance" has never been explained.

So we were left with the whitewash and the pictures. The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, wept. The crowds fainted in the heat. President Hafez al-Assad of Syria stayed away. He did not want to meet the new Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, reporters claimed. No one mentioned Mr Assad's suspicions that King Hassan may have supported, in 1983, a possible coup against him.

Hassan was not a bad man as Middle East leaders go. He did not bend to threats. He protected his Jewish community and maintained those secret links with Israel when the "Zionist entity" was an unmentionable state after the 1967 Middle East war. He was rich (partly courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency, so Arab diplomats have always believed). But he was also humble; much eloquence, a true student of the Koran, far too many cigarettes. No serious criticism of the monarchy was allowed in Morocco, of course. And our television boys went along with that yesterday.