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What is it Like to be Trapped in a Desert Jail For 20 Years? The Oufkir Family Story

Updated on May 11, 2017
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Mona writes a column for Enrich Magazine which is distributed in five countries. She is interested in learning as she writes.

Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir

Malika, her mother Fatima and four other siblings spent 20 years in a desert jail, including the youngest, Abdellatif, who was 3 years old
Malika, her mother Fatima and four other siblings spent 20 years in a desert jail, including the youngest, Abdellatif, who was 3 years old

When Morocco's General Mohamed Oufkir was assassinated, his family, including a 3 year old boy, lived in a desert jail for 20 years.

I read Stolen Lives twice. The first time, I couldn’t put it down because it was just shocking. The second time I read it, (for this review), I found new things to be shocked by. Talk about shock overload.

Malika Oufkir lived in the palace of the King of Morocco from age five to 10, before she returned to live with her own family. The Oufkirs were initially placed under house arrest from 1973 to 1977 in a faraway home that they didn't own. They were punished because of a failed coup d'etat, by their father. General Oufkir was killed. In prison, the family:

1. Was beaten and made to clean their own excrement 
2. Were poorly fed
3. Had no time nor space to exercise. 

Later, they were placed in a desert jail for 15 years, where:

1. They were kept in almost constant isolation.
2. The cells were seasonally infested with scorpions, 
mice, rats, cockroaches, and fleas. 
3. All their possessions were burned by the guards.
4. Malika's mother, Fatima, and her brother, Raouf, 
tried to commit suicide. 
5. Malika slit the wrists of her own sister, in a 
failed attempt to let her suffering cease. 

Over time, their weaknesses became a formidable force, leading them to plan and successfully escape. However, they were recaptured and placed under house arrest in 1987. They were released with three other political prisoners in 1991.

When they were first arrested (in 1972) , Malika was the eldest at 20 years old, followed by her brother Raouf, 18, younger sisters, 9, and Soukaina, 8. The youngest, Abdellatif, was 3 years old. Her mother, Fatima, was 35. Malika wrote Stolen Lives, published in 1999. Since then she has written a new book, Freedom. But it is largely agreed that to appreciate the second book, you have to read the first.

Malika's life before the family was arrested

Life in the Palace

1. Malika's father was the late 'General Mohammad 
Oufkir, the right- hand man of King Muhammad V of 
2. The King adopted Malika (upon order, not on request) 
when she was five, to be a playmate to his youngest 
daughter, Lalla Mina.
3. In the palace, Oufkir describes the King's slaves 
(and I thought they were gone with the American revolution).
The children of his slaves also could only be slaves.
4. Malika spent a lot of time with the women in the King's 
Harem. The women spent a lot of time dressing up, putting on
makeup, taking care of their skin, and fixing their hair.
5. The harem had the most beautiful women from the provinces 
of Morocco. Once they came to the palace, the older harem 
women had to teach them social graces.

Lalla Mina had every single toy she ever wanted in her and bedroom, which she shared with Malika. Lalla Mina also loved horses, and Malika, who hated them, was forced to learn to become an equestrian. It seemed to be a charmed life, but it was a cloistered life, almost like a prison.

Oufkir's second book is better appreciated if her first book is read beforehand.

Malika returns to her family at age 15

When King Muhammad V died, there was a suspicion that his son and heir, Hassan II, had a hand in it, The New York Times reported. Still, life remained the same for Lalla Mina (Hassan II’s youngest sister from another woman in the harem) and Malika.

Muhammad V’s harem remained, but Hassan II built a new complex in the Palace grounds for his own harem. Hassan II had nude parties in the pool with his entire harem. Malika, then nine years old, joined these swimming parties. She refused to take off her underwear, causing King Hassan II to tear it off her.

At age 15, Malika asked to return to her family. This is because the King had planned to either add her to his harem (which she didn’t want to do) or marry her to the son of a general. Since she went home, neither happened, and she finally experienced freedom and a life of sophistication far different from the cloistered Palace life.

Her mother often brought her to Paris to go shopping at the most expensive stores and she went to bars with her friends and met the crème de la crème. Everything changed when her father, General Mohammed Oufkir, attempted a failed coup d’etat. Oufkir was killed at the palace, and his family lived was jailed.

The Oufkir family in jail

L-R Abdellatif, Malika, Fatima (mother), Raouf, Miryam, and Soukaina
L-R Abdellatif, Malika, Fatima (mother), Raouf, Miryam, and Soukaina

From Failed Suicides to a Daring Escape

They lived in filthy surroundings, had very little food, often fell ill but were not given medical treatment. Miryam, the middle sister, was epileptic. Initially, they lived in a broken down, filthy home but they were together, had access to newspapers, books, and radios. They were also given medicine for Miryam.

But over time they were moved from prison to prison, each worse than the last, until their final one where they could not see each other and the rooms were locked. Fatima, the mother, shared her room with Abdellatif, the youngest son. Malika shared her room with Soukaina and Miryam. Raouf was alone in his room.

Their spirits were so low that they went on a hunger strike. When Raouf fell down in the garden on his daily walk time, he was left there in a half coma. He overheard the guards say that they were meant to die there. At that point, he forced himself up and back to his room.

The family had devised a communication method, through which Raouf revealed the police’ conversation that he overheard. They decided then to escape. They had a spoon and the cut top tin of a can of sardines and their hands. Raouf told them to dig down until they hit clay, then to dig horizontally.

Every day they had to hide their hole from the police who regularly checked their rooms and their things. Eventually, they managed to dig beyond the area of the prison, and Raouf, Malika, Soukaina and Adellatif escaped together.

More shocking stories followed. The very good friends of the Oufkirs refused to know them or to help them. A stranger, however, let them stay overnight and gave them food. When Malika took off her shoe it was stuck to her foot, and her dress was stuck to her leg. They were given new clothes.

The irony of the story of the Oufkirs, as I see it, is that despite all of the pains they went through in prison, including seasonal pests – frogs, scorpions, mice, rats, cockroaches that were so plentiful they just crawled on their faces – they all outlived their captor, King Hassan II, who died on July 23, 1999.

Where are the Oufkirs now?

And where are the Oufkirs now? What are they doing? Malika and her siblings have all converted to Catholicism while her mother remains a Muslim. Malika married Architect Eric Bordreuil in 1998. She also adopted the daughter of Myriam when the child was 2 1/2 years old. They now live in Miami, Florida, and have two children. Malika wrote a second book, Freedom.

The rest of the information that follows is dated and may have changed. From what I researched online, The Oufkirs attained refugee status in France in 1996. Fatima, the mother, spent her life trying to recover the family wealth in Morocco. She died in December 2013, in Casablanca, and never got to recover anything. Soukaina became an artist, singer, and author of the book, A Biography of General Oufkir. Abdellatif, according to a 2006 article, is very close to his mother. He wanted to be a pilot, but due to financial issues, could not finish his studies. He has a passion for football. Raouf works as a journalist in a Berber paper and travels between Paris and Rabat. He wrote the books, Life Before Me, The Guests: 20 Years in the Prisons of Hassan II, and Why Fundamentalism Threatens Us. He has a daughter. Myriam, according to a 2006 post, lives in Paris. She was, as of that year married with a child (who was later adopted by Malika); and was putting together a book for publication. She is also working on collecting photos that will accompany her poems. She has a bachelor's degree in psycho-pedagogy, and specializes in educating children in difficulty.

Soukaina, all grown up


Soukaina singing

I tried to find tapes of Malika being interviewed, but they weren't in English. However, I did find this video of Soukaina singing. I think she is really good.

I really learned a lot from this book, and have read it more than once. I think it's a good investment. You can buy it through this link, and I hope very much that you do.


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    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      Hi Hendrika, my sympathies are with you and the people in South Africa. Much of the continent is in distress and you wonder why they can't make something workable out of it. People will always choose peace, but factions is a different thing alttogether. Thanks for reading the book review.

    • Hendrika profile image


      4 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      It is awful what people can do to other human beings. It is actually scary because I live in South Africa and in Africa anything is possible. Regimes take over and murder. You always live in fear that it can happen to your country as well even though at the moment South Africa is a very good and prosperous country to live in.


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