North Africa's chief satirist battles to keep residency permit

The journalist and satirist behind North Africa's answer to Charlie Hebdo, Ali Lmrabet, has been told by Moroccan authorities that he cannot renew his residency permit or national ID, which expires in a few days' time.

Without legal ID, Lmrabet will not be able to launch his latest venture: a satirical magazine to continue where he left off a decade ago, when he was banned from journalism for "insulting the king".

"This is real satire," chuckles Lmrabet, who spent six months in jail in 2003 after an article in his satirical weekly Demain revealed plans to sell one of King Mohammed VI's numerous palaces. "They want to make me the first Moroccan who cannot get an ID card. Under the dictatorship of Hassan II people might have been denied a passport or a visa, but never this."

Demain was banned, while Lmrabet got an early release from his three-year sentence in January 2004. Then, in 2005, he was prohibited from practising his profession in Morocco for 10 years, after he was quoted saying that the people living in camps run by the Polisario – the force fighting for Western Sahara's independence from Morocco – were "refugees" and not the victims of a mass kidnapping, as the official line had it.

After the ban expired in April this year, Lmrabet returned from Spain to team up with his old cartoonist colleague Khalid Gueddar and Ahmed Snoussi, alias 'Bziz', a popular humourist. When the provincial administration refused to renew his residency permit, Lmrabet went to the local police, who granted the permit, which he then had photocopied. The next day, he says, the police commissioner called him in and begged him to return the paper. "He said he was a few years from retirement, that he was a diabetic and had hypertension. I gave it to him out of pity."

Both the provincial administration and the police are overseen by the interior ministry, directly controlled by Morocco's king. The Moroccan interior ministry declined to comment.

"The orders come from Rabat. We have no liberties, but the state has the liberty to do as it pleases," says Lmrabet, who adds that he will wait to see if the authorities reconsider their attitude before calling an international press conference. "I will tell everyone that five months after Charlie Hebdo the government not only will not let me have a magazine, but they also want to eliminate me altogether."

Morocco, the satirists notes, sent official condolences to Paris over January's attack by Islamist terrorists at Charlie Hebdo. "We live through satirical situations but we don't understand satire. As there isn't a real opposition, the regime thinks that we are the opposition. That isn't our role. This means there is something wrong with the system."