Filmmaker: Mostafa Bouazzaoui

For almost his whole political career, Abraham Serfaty was a thorn on the side of authorities in Rabat, both during the days of French rule and later, under the reign of King Hassan II.

Described by his closest supporters as "the Moroccan Mandela", Serfaty endured 17 years of imprisonment, torture and 13 years of exile for his political views, including his opposition to Morocco's position on Western Sahara.

Conveying the image of a democratic Israel is a fantasy. You cannot be a democrat while oppressing another people. Zionism goes against democracy. I was 10 in 1936 when my father told me at the synagogue that 'Zionism goes against our religion'.

Abraham Serfaty, political activist

Part of the minority Jewish population in Morocco, he never embraced Zionism. After the 1967 war, he distanced himself from Israel and became a vocal advocate for the Palestinian resistance movement, a burning issue that dominated discussion on Arab streets at the time.

Serfaty once famously told the media: "Conveying the image of a democratic Israel is a fantasy. You cannot be a democrat while oppressing another people. Zionism goes against democracy. I was 10 in 1936, when my father told me at the synagogue that 'Zionism goes against our religion.'"

His unique identity allowed him to break taboos and inspire others, according to those who met him. "He established a new concept of the Arab Jew who didn't renounce any element of his origins as a Moroccan and an Arab Jew," explains university teacher Michelle Fay. "One can be a hundred percent Jewish and a hundred percent anti-Zionist."

Together with Abdellatif Laabi, Serfaty developed an artistic journal called "Souffles", meaning "Breaths". Printed in Arabic and French, it was a creative space for political expression that its authors felt had been silenced for so long by politicians and the monarchy.

"It gave a new orientation to both journalism and creativity in an era that was giving birth to new ideas in Morocco, Palestine and the world," says Noureddine Saoudi, a former prisoner and teacher.

As a champion of universal human rights and democratic principles, Serfaty sits alongside the likes of Che Guevara, Martin Luther King and Patrice Lumumba. A product of his environment, he belonged to the freethinking era of the 1960s and 70s; and of the post-independence period when many Arab countries were freed from colonial rule. There was a global movement to end authoritarian rule, war, poverty, racism and the nuclear threat in which primarily young people inspired by left-wing Marxist ideology, saw spreading political awareness as a duty.

It's ironical, on reflection, that several figures who wrestled their countries away from foreign influence later used oppressive styles of government against their own people - like Hafez al-Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

Years after Abraham Serfaty's death in 2010, the Arab Middle East is still grappling with many of the major issues that preoccupied him - searching for forms of government acceptable to people and politicians, free from outside influence, without media restrictions or powerful instruments of state.

Do you know about Morocco's Mandela?

Source: Al Jazeera