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Morocco's rebel rapper released from prison

Friday - 3/29/2013, 5:45pm  ET

Mouad Belghouat known as el-Haqed or "the Enraged," poses with flowers received from activists after a press conference at the old slaughterhouse in Casablanca, Friday March 29, 2013. The Moroccan rapper, known for his social activism and protest songs, said he will concentrate on his music and studies after being released from prison for insulting police. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

PAUL SCHEMM
Associated Press

CASABLANCA, Morocco (AP) -- A Moroccan rapper known for his protest songs said Friday after completing a yearlong prison sentence that he will be concentrating on his studies and improving his music and is unsure about further activism.

Mouad Belghouat's angry rap songs excoriating the gaps between rich and poor in Morocco provided the soundtrack to the North African kingdom's Arab Spring protest movement in 2011 that called for social justice and greater democracy.

But while Belghouat, known as El-Haqed or "the enraged," was in prison, the February 20 movement, as it was known, faded away as popular ire with the state was defused by a string of reforms promulgated by the king.

"I will concentrate more on my studies -- I have my high school exams to pass in June," said a pale, subdued 26-year-old Belghouat to journalists and activists, showing only occasional flashes of his trademark irreverent sense of humor. "I played around a lot before, and in prison I discovered the importance of reading more."

The rapper appeared in glasses, which supporters say he now needs because of how his health deteriorated in prison where he said he experienced harassment and even went on hunger strike at one point to protest conditions.

Belghouat was convicted in May for insulting a public official over his song "Dogs of the State," which was addressed to the police. An online video accompanying the song portrayed a police officer with a donkey's head prompting the lawsuit by authorities.

"You are paid to protect the citizens, not to steal their money," said one lyric. The song then asks the police to arrest the wealthy businessmen who have divided the country up for themselves.

Morocco, a popular tourist destination for Europeans, has one of the highest discrepancies between rich and poor in the Arab world, according to international development agencies.

"It was a huge relief when he was released," said Abdullah Abaakil, an activist with the February 20 movement that introduced the rapper at the news conference. He emphasized that Belghouat was key for the movement to reach out to young people, especially in the country's myriad slums. "He suffered for all of us... he more than did his part."

As the protests died away, dozens of activists from the February 20 movement have been arrested and imprisoned. A statement by 18 local non-governmental organizations in December said at least 58 activists were in prison.

Belghouat, who described in an Associated Press interview last year how he would go to poor neighborhoods to raise people's awareness about the injustices in the country, was noncommittal about his future as an activist.

"I am just out of prison, and I'm still tired, so I need a bit of time to answer this question about how I will assess the situation of the February 20 in the country," he said, though he didn't rule out staying involved. "And if tomorrow there was a demonstration for February 20, I might well join, why not?"

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Associated Press reporter Smail Bellaoualli contributed to this report.


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