Oufkir, Malika 1953-
Oufkir, Malika 1953-
Born 1953, in Rabat, Morocco; daughter of Muhammad Oufkir (chief of staff to the king of Morocco); married (husband an architect), c. 1997; children: two (adopted). Religion: Muslim.
Author and activist. Active in international human rights issues. Has appeared on numerous television programs, including Oprah, the Today Show, 60 Minutes, and the Rosie O'Donnell Show, as well as on the National Public Radio broadcast, Weekend Edition.
(With Michèle Fitoussi) La Prisonnière, Grasset (Paris, France), 1999, translation by Ros Schwartz published as Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, Talk Miramax (New York, NY), 2001.
L'étrangère, Grasset (Paris, France), 2006.
Freedom: The Story of My Second Life, Miramax (New York, NY), 2006.
Oufkir's work has been translated and published in nineteen languages.
Malika Oufkir had no intention of being a published author when she was a child. Adopted by King Muhammad V into the royal family of Morocco when she was just five years old, Oufkir was raised in affluence, given the best education, and wanted for nothing, her only duty being to act as a playmate to the king's daughter. The impulse for Oufkir's debut as a writer lay in the tragic turn her life took in the spring of 1972, when her father, General Muhammad Oufkir, a high-ranking military aide, led a military coup against Muhammad's successor, King Hassan II, hoping to dethrone the man who had established a virtual royal dictatorship after assuming the throne in 1961. The coup failed; the general lost his life; and his nineteen-year-old-daughter was taken from her comfortable home and, along with her mother, brothers, and sisters, thrown into a captivity that would last for twenty years. The horrors of that experience are recounted in Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, written with journalist Michèle Fitoussi.
Oufkir was born in 1953, the first daughter of the chief of staff of King Muhammad V of Morocco. When she was five, her parents acquiesced to the wishes of their king that Malika be taken to the palace, where she would serve as a companion to Princess Lalla Mina. Oufkir's life in the royal palace, where for over a decade she lived in relative seclusion from the outside world, is recounted in the first part of her autobiography, Stolen Lives. A bestseller in France, where it was first published in 1999, Stolen Lives sparked considerable interest upon its U.S. publication. Booklist contributor Marlene Chamberlain called the memoir "an extremely effective and graphic picture of what evil is like from the vantage point of its most innocent victims."
On the night of August 15, 1972, General Oufkir ordered three Moroccan fighter jets to bomb Hassan's own plane during a return flight from Barcelona, Spain. The king survived the attack and immediately had Oufkir arrested, convicted of treason, and executed, all in one day. After the traditional Muslim period of mourning for four months and ten days had passed, Oufkir, her two younger brothers, three younger sisters, and her mother were herded together and transported to a penal colony in the Moroccan desert. The irony of the situation was not lost on Time International reviewer Nicholas LeQuesne, who wrote: "The Oufkir family arrive at their squalid prison clutching Vuitton suitcases and are guarded by the same policemen who [once] watched over their family home in the smart quarter of [the Moroccan capital city of] Rabat."
After being held for five years in an abandoned fort, they were transferred to Bir-Jhid, a desert prison where their personal effects were taken from them and burned, and where the family was made to suffer through torture, starvation, and solitary confinement in cells with no windows to allow light from outside to enter. The Oufkir family remained there for a decade. As the years wore on, the realization that their captivity would extend until death finally prompted the children to dig— with teaspoons, a tin can, a knife handle—the tunnel that would eventually allow Oufkir and three of her siblings to escape.
On April 24, 1987, five days after exiting their tunnel and fleeing across the desert to Tangier, the four Oufkir children were recaptured by Moroccan soldiers and put under house arrest in a Marrakesh prison, but not before they had alerted the French media about their captivity. It took five years of political pressure from the French media to induce Hassan to release the Oufkirs. In 1996, the family was allowed permission to leave Morocco; most of them now live in France. Just moments before his death in July of 1999, King Hassan II publicly admitted remorse over the treatment of the Oufkir family.
The publicity generated by Stolen Lives after its initial French publication did much to bring increased attention to bear on the human rights abuses that occurred in Morocco during Hassan's rule, many under the order of General Oufkir himself, who was head of the country's secret police prior to his execution. Noting that Oufkir's decision to publicly describe her family's ordeal was uncharacteristic of many in politically repressed Muslim cultures, Human Rights Watch advocate Eric Goldstein was quoted in the Washington Post as noting that "Oufkir has made an important contribution to [Morocco's democratic future] by providing the terrible details of what the entire family endured in reprisal for the deed of her father." As Oufkir explained to Dominique Simonnet of L'Express, it took three years of living in freedom to muster the resources to tell her family's story; yet she was compelled to do so because "nothing is worse than being persecuted and feeling forgotten by the world." In addition to shocking readers with its "horrifying images," Stolen Lives "will fascinate readers with its singular tale of two kindly fathers, political struggles in a strict monarchy and a family's survival of cruel, prolonged deprivation," a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted.
In her follow-up book, Freedom: The Story of My Second Life, Oufkir recounts her experiences after she and her family finally escaped and returned to a free life. She found that certain small, everyday matters bothered her, such as the way modern society wastes food; technological marvels, such as ATMs or credit cards, were startling. She also has discovered that language has altered in the time she spent in captivity; the use of euphemisms has become all to prevalent for her tastes. Other topics covered within the book are more serious, including her thoughts on religion and her attitudes toward sexuality. A Kirkus Reviews writer praised Oufkir's honesty about her personal experiences and the details of ordinary life, but found other sections of the book weaker, and criticized Oufkir's skirting around the monetary amount of her reparations from Morocco, noting: "If she wanted to keep the details private, she should have cut the chapter; talking around the figure is simply distracting." However, Deidre Bray Root, writing for the Library Journal, remarked: "Ever charming and gracious, Oufkir is a delight to spend time with."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Oufkir, Malika, Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, Talk Miramax (New York, NY), 2001.
Oufkir, Malika, Freedom: The Story of My Second Life, Miramax (New York, NY), 2006.
Booklist, April 1, 2001, Marlene Chamberlain, review of Stolen Lives, p. 1434.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2006, review of Freedom, p. 771.
L'Express (Paris, France), May 18, 1999, Dominique Simonnet, "On ne guérit pas de ce que J'ai vécu" (interview with Malika Oufkir).
Library Journal, March 15, 2001, Frances Sandiford, review of Stolen Lives, p. 96; October 15, 2006, Deirdre Bray Root, review of Freedom, p. 70.
Publishers Weekly, January 29, 2001, review of Stolen Lives, p. 72.
Time International, March 29, 1999, Nicholas LeQuesne, "Palace Intrigues: Two New Books Recount a Family's Perilous Ties with Moroccan Royalty," p. 143.
Washington Post, April 20, 2001, Nora Boustany, "From Privilege to Prison in Morocco," p. A22.
Forum littéraire maghrébin,http://limag.lvnet-fr.com/ (September 25, 1999), Jeanne Fouet, review of La Prisonnière.