“Challenging regimes with their bodies”: an eyewitness account of the Morocco uprisings

18 Mar

Riccardo Fano, 29 year old student discusses his first hand experience in the Morocco protests.
By Marco Alfieri
Edited by Dominique j. Tibbs

What is your relation to Morocco?

In 2005 I started studying about Morocco and from that year I made several trips there to do research of the social changes and political transition from King Hassan II to the early reign of Mohammed VI. My recent research is on the evolution of Moroccan civil social activism with a focus on the defense and promotion of human rights.

Have you noticed any changes in Morocco? What do you think are the causes of this change?

The Moroccan monarchy has not been able to tackle the huge unrest and discontent that is growing among the population over the years. In Morocco, we find two basic elements that can trigger a process of great change: On one hand, a monarchy that reigns with strong business and financial support, on the other a vital civil society deep-rooted in the country. The success of the events of February 20th showed us how much the political system is fragile and unable to redistribute wealth and ensure democratic reforms.

Similar to other countries around Mediterranean area, in Morocco the protest rose through an appeal launched on FaceBook. It was created by two young boys (19 and 22). In a very short time thousand of people joined the online event. Soon after, the Moroccan Association for human rights extended their support to them. Political parties were left out. The events were fully autonomous and self-organized. “People want change,” was the slogan that unified 300,000 people in 53 different cities of the country. It is too early to say however that Morocco will be invested by the domino effect [of protest affecting countries of North Africa and countries of the Mediterranean region].

What did you observe during the protest in Morocco? What were the protesters demands?

During the days I was involved in the protest in Rabat and Casablanca. Many important international and national media were there, especially from Spain and France, as well as numerous bloggers and independent journalists. Despite the young age of the boys who launched the protest, they were able to respond properly to several pressing questions and rigorously defended the key points of the protest. These points included 1) constitutional reform to make the people the only source of legitimacy and sovereignty; 2) an establishment of a democratic parliamentary system based on a true separation of powers; and 3) a respect of civil liberties and individual, improvement of social and economical conditions. The protesters targeted buildings of local public authority known for its corruption and inequity as well as banks and multinational chains. There was an atmosphere of deep sympathy, encouragement and discussion.

What was the reaction of security forces? Were there incidents or arrests?

I along with my friend was detained by police. Our arrest was one of many preventive arrest made by the security forces against international observers and activist in the country. [During our arrest] we had been questioned for more than five hours and finally released without any charges.

In the cities of Tangiers to Layounne, there have been numerous clashes between officers and demonstrators. The Rif region in northern Morocco was the most affected region, with at least 5 people killed in Al Hoceima. Hundreds of people were arrested but it is still difficult to provide exact numbers. When the international attention lowered, aggression from the state increased targeting organizers and grassroots activists. There was recently a brutal attack on the local manager of AMDH (Association marocaine des droits humains) in Serfrou (documented by a video on YouTube).

Like other countries in the area, Morocco’s protest seems to have developed through the Internet and social networking. What role do new technologies play in designing and coordinating events?

The protest in Morocco was launched through FaceBook and many bloggers and small independent press courageously raised awareness of the protest in the nation. It was impossible to censor it.

New technologies play two roles. In the first phase, they help in launching the protest and creating a platform of discussion in which a shared imagery grows and where people can recognize and identify new points of view that break the isolation caused by propaganda and repression. The main ideas of the Moroccan protest did not remain closed within a circle, but got enriched by the contributions of all the participants.

In a more advanced stage of the uprising, new technologies play an important role in the coordination of the protest and in giving evidence to possible abuses. It is especially at this stage that government repression can lead to new forms of censure and unjustified identification and arrest of political opponents. Despite the important role new technologies had, we must always keep in mind that the revolution was made by men and women, who have decided to challenge regimes with their bodies. It is misleading and simplistic to consider what is happening in the Maghreb area simply as “FaceBook revolution”.

Do you think there will be a new wave of protestors? Or will the promises of imminent structural reforms made by King Mohammed VI calm the situation?

The protest that is sprawling in the Maghreb region confirm that it is difficult to be optimistic about the situation, but we can try to understand some trends in Morocco. The political system is structurally set to the centrality of the monarchy and hasn’t given any sign of weaknesses in its prerogatives. This system was capable of renovation over the years, however, was not followed by openness in terms of rights and democratic reforms. Because of Mohammed VI’s young age, his recent rise to power was interpreted by many as a break with the authoritarian power of Hassan II. His commitment in the recognition of the victims of “years of lead” (1965 to 1990) and his support for the dissemination of the Amazigh culture were signs in this direction. Mohammed VI was able to present itself internationally as an enlightened and democratic king, receiving in exchange support and businesses. However, the repeated claims of democratic, economic and social reforms haven’t been followed by concrete acts. The parliament is not sovereign and political parties, to be recognized, must unconditionally accept the rules imposed by the monarchy. This gives up any aspirations of democratic opposition. The political control also extends into the economy. The economic groups linked to the royal family are an influential part of the country’s GDP, and every new initiative must deal with a market totally dominated by this weight.
In conclusion, I am very skeptical about the true extent of the reforms proposed by Mohammed VI, which seemed to be only propaganda. People want a real change, even if this does not necessarily mean abandoning the monarchical system. If changes are not made the Moroccan people have promised to be determined to achieve them. Ultimately, it’s hard to believe that the monarchy will spontaneously choose to abandon its powers.

Read also: Moroccan philosopher Mohamed Sabila’s discussion of the Maghreb revolts.

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