Fadoua Massat: Going Undercover for Change

Fadoua Massat is award-winning reporter who first rose to prominence in her Morocco for groundbreaking undercover reporting on the experiences of beggars, maids and trafficked women. Today she is the managing editor at MBN Digital, which includes Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa.

I was born in Ouazzane, Morocco. I decided at a young age that I would not live the same life as my mother and other women from this city who seemed to be clouded by white and perpetual sadness (white is the color of mourning in Morocco). I decided to not live a grey life, one that does not allow for color or happiness. In Ouazzane, this small, conservative and sad city, I realized a world that spanned beyond the metal covered windows of our house; bigger and wider than the rooms of the school I longed to go to.

I got my high school diploma from Abraham Al-Rodany in Rabat, Morocco, in 1998, and only then did I realize the meaning behind the smile on my math teacher’s face in elementary school when he would say: “I envy you because you are still young with nothing to worry about except your studies. You don’t have to think about how to support yourself or how you must buy shoes for your kids because their toes have started poking out of their current shoes. You don’t have to think about rent, only your books.”

Despite spending all those years in school, I hardly learned something useful. I forced myself to read books about the French Revolution and the European Renaissance to educate myself and learn about my rights and freedoms as a woman. My Islamic education teacher made me feel less than nothing every time I would debate with her some ambiguous Islamic texts demeaning to women and portraying them lesser than their male counterparts.

Journalism chose me when I successfully passed my exams at the School of Media and Communications in Rabat. I spent the following four years absorbing information and satisfying my thirst for knowledge. I was empowered to use my mind and not fold it away in my pockets like my Islamic studies teacher said I should do.

I learned that Moroccans are not all equal and are treated based on their last name and wealth. I learned every time you bow down and kiss the master’s hand, you move forward and get promoted. Submission was crucial to survival. I learned that you cannot discuss free ideas with your colleagues because they would accuse you of being an infidel or prostitute at best.

It pained me to see people selling the flesh of their mothers and daughters out of desperation to wealthy foreigners who would come to Morocco to satisfy their sexual needs. I decided to start an investigation by going undercover into the brothels that were right next to mosques, in the fanciest neighborhoods in Rabat. It wasn’t difficult for me to get connections because Moroccan universities, high schools and even elementary schools became hotbeds for rich males coming from the Gulf region and looking for young, virgin, beautiful, but desperately poor, prostitutes. I finished the investigation with a broken heart and every media outlet refused to publish it, until Assahifa Al Ousbouia’s managing editor accepted to do so in 2003.

When a close friend found out, he was shocked that I would not only put something like this out there, but that I actually requested to use my real name. I remember his angry words coming through the phone that day: “You are crazy, do you think you are in Sweden? We are in Morocco.” He added that people will think one of two things: either I am a prostitute myself for having extensive knowledge on the subject, or I am a liar. My friend was sadly correct. Within a few hours of publishing my report, journalists and colleagues started calling me and harassing me over the phone.

I was shocked by their reaction. I was sad and angry because everybody knew wealthy sheikhs from the Gulf sexually exploit young Moroccan girls all over the kingdom for money. This is known by everyone, but many Moroccans decide to live like ostriches, with their behinds in the air and their small heads stuck in the middle of the sand. That same year, I received an award by the Moroccan Writers Union for my book “Taste of Suffering.”

I moved to a different magazine, Telquel, where the managing editor gave me a chance to pursue my dreams. I specialized in investigating local community issues. I disguised myself as a maid to show inhumane treatment that borderlines modern day slavery. This time the article was published in French, and the reaction was powerful. I felt that I was giving a voice to the voiceless, and my hard work could make a difference.

After publishing my investigation report, I received a visa to study in the U.S. I had never felt as much hope in my life as I did that day. I was a student in my last year, and I was done suffering in silence.

I had to fight for myself and for all the women and girls I knew. Power, control, and misogyny defeated democracy and human rights. Injustice and hopelessness prevailed, and I knew that I had to leave. The only weapon and chance I had was to receive an education. I left Morocco to pursue my dreams without the fear of persecution or execution. I came to the United States, where I felt safe and empowered as a woman … A country where the sky is truly the limit.

In America, what counts is the intrinsic value of the individual. It’s freedom. In Morocco, I had to seize my own freedom. Here, it is given to me. I accomplished my dreams in America. I graduated from Georgetown University and earned a master’s degree in new media.  I received a promotion in my career, and I am now the managing editor of MBN Digital. I met the kindest and most generous man, and I married him. I had two daughters with him, and I wrote two books along the way. Now, I am ambitious to obtain my doctorate as I continuously seek growth and opportunities for aspiring digital journalists.

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