Browsing the Bookshelf
Twenty Years in a Desert Jail
Debbie W. Wilson
Most little girls dream of being a princess. For Malika Oufkir, the dream came true. But the dream turned into a nightmare.
In Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail (New York: Hyperion, 1999, 289 pages, $24.00), Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi describe the ordeal of the Oufkir family following her father's attempted coup d'etat of King Hassan II of Morocco.
King Hassan II's father, King Muhammad V adopted Malika, the oldest of the Oufkir children, at the age of five to serve as a companion for his youngest daughter, Princess Amina. Such arrangements were common and honored the families. When King Muhammad V died, King Hassan continued the arrangement.
Malika grew up pampered, spoiled and protected in the harem life of the court. Mischievous and lively, she was a favorite among the wives and concubines of the king but missed her own family, especially her mother.
At sixteen Malika returned home to a family of near strangers. For the next three years she enjoyed the life of a daughter of fashion and power, visiting foreign countries, dreaming of becoming a movie star, even riding motorcycles with Steve McQueen. King Hassan II made her father the Minister of Interior.
Then her father tried to assassinate the king. Hassan II brought the situation under control and executed General Muhammad Oufkir. He placed the family, with the six children between nineteen and three years old, and two loyal women in prison in the desert. Those who spoke of the family suffered interrogations and threats.
From 1972-1987 they suffered imprisonment. The guards in the first prison treated them kindly, but during the ten years at Bir-Jdid prison, they suffered isolation, starvation, malnutrition, cold, beatings, illness. Myriam, the second daughter, received no medication for her frequent epileptic attacks. Perhaps the hardest part of their ordeal was the loss of their dreams as they saw their youths pass: no love, no marriage, no schooling, no careers, no hope.
Their closeness as a family helped them survive. Malika told them stories through a creative telephone system during the nights when the guards slept. They talked over every facet of their dreams.
In desperation, Malika, Raouf, Maria and Abdellatif, who remembered nothing of the world that he had left at three, escaped. They contacted French officials and people they had known. The French publicized their escape worldwide to prevent the king's revenge when they were recaptured.
Even after release they bear the scars of their imprisonment.
The book is important to anyone interested in the courage of the human spirit or human rights. At times it is deeply sorrowful, but it encourages us to look beyond our shallowness to the deeper matters of life and the fate of others. It also raises political questions: At what point does justice end and revenge begin? How can we ignore the plight of suffering innocent people?
It also points out the depth of love that a family can experience.
Stolen Years provides an important, thought-provoking and inspiring reading experience.