A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 3, 2012

Half Century Old Ben Barka Case Rears its Head During Olympics

Mehdi Ben Barka
Almost 47 years ago, on October 29, 1965, the Moroccan leftist intellectual and opposition figure Mehdi Ben Barka headed to the Brasserie Lipp on Paris' Boulevard St. Germain to a meeting he expected to be about making a film for an upcoming conference he was organizing in Havana on Third World liberation movements. He was bundled into a car and whisked away. He has not been seen since.

The ghost of Ben Barka resurfaces periodically, however, and has just done so again in connection with the London Olympics. A French judge has asked British police to arrest the head of the Moroccan Olympic Committee. Judge Patrick Ramael wants to question Housni Benslimane about the disappearance of Ben Barka. Ramael has been trying to question ex-Moroccan military types for years, with little success.

L'affaire Ben Barka has long been one of the intriguing cases in the shadowy world of Middle Eastern espionage. It is generally agreed that he was kidnapped at the instigation of the Moroccan government and was either assassinated or died during interrogation. From the beginning there were allegations of French collusion; French agents may have carried out the kidnapping. At various times the CIA and Mossad have also been alleged to have played some role, and some have claimed Ben Barka was in the pay of Czech intelligence. Several people who claimed to know the truth have told their stories, but one says the body was encased in cement and another says it was dissolved in acid, so the case is hardly marked closed.

Former Moroccan Interior Minister Mohamed Oufkir is said to have been behind the kidnapping; Oufkir was killed in 1972 after he attempted to topple King Hassan II. Once Oufkir was dead the Moroccan government was content to lay the blame on him, and discourage further investigations. French involvement remains a subject of controversy in France. For background you can start with the Wikipedia article, (though the French Wikipedia article offers a bit more), though as in any good espionage thriller, the more details you learn, the less certain you are of the truth.

But the ghost of Mehdi Ben Barka keeps showing up in unexpected places, and now it has shown itself at the Olympics.

No comments: