Morocco: Explaining the Protests

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.

Yesterday marked what many called Morocco's “Day of Dignity.”  Asking for constitutional reform and an end to corruption, rather than an overthrow of the monarchy, protesters were relatively well-received by the government and police which sought to contain the protests.  The protests took place in a number of cities across the country–most notably Casablanca, Fes, Rabat, and Tangier–and were largely peaceful, save for some destruction of property in Marrakech and Larache, two cities with a strong sense of economic inequality.

Blogger Ibn Kafka, a Moroccan who lives abroad, explains why the protests are taking place:

What is moving the protesters? Well, it’s not as though Moroccans lack cause for protests against their ruler(s). While the UNDP’s human development index has improved slightly (Morocco ranks a lowly 114th, up though from 124th in 2005) ,Morocco’s achievements are still abysmal. On the political front, the initial moves towards deepening liberalisation taken under King Mohammed VI’s first few years on the throne have now long stalled, and the régime is in full reverse gear. The Palace’s smothering control of the political and parliamentarian scene has made partisan politics irrelevant, while the cronyism of close associates to the King (Fouad Ali el Himma, de facto leader of  upwardly mobile Parti authenticité et modernité (PAM) a.k.a. « the King’s shadow« , or Mounir Majidi, in charge of the Palace’s ever increasing economic and financial interests) fuels cynicism, disillusion and anger. The absolute fraud that is Morocco’s judiciary merely compounds the twin problems of corruption and repression that have beset Morocco since independence.

Quoting NPR, The View From Fez sums up the government's view toward the protests:

There was no violence because “the government was well-prepared for these demonstrations. And what they did is, they tried to contain them rather than press them. I mean, they've been saying all along, look, we're accustomed to demonstrations in Morocco. We believe in the right to peaceful dissent. They went out of their way to maintain a very low police presence.

The blogger also notes:

At the end of the day, the Moroccan people made a point and the government will certainly have taken notice. Analysts around the globe maintain that because of the advances made here, that “revolution” is not the agenda, but evolution. Many Moroccans would agree.

Twitter user @mariammaslouhi adds a note about the destruction of property:

After the peacuful demonstration of the youth of 20th Feb #feb20 Soccerhooligans attacked buildings in the city of Tanger.

Writer Laila Lalami, blogging for The Nation, shares details on the sentiment of the protests:

Today, the peaceful protests that took place throughout the kingdom put the lie to all the accusations that the pro-government forces had been spreading. No one held signs demanding the ouster of the king or offering support to the Polisario Front or any other foreign entity. Instead, protesters denounced corruption and oppression, and demanded democracy and freedom: “Yes to a parliamentary democracy.” “In favor of a democratic constitution.” “Accountability for thieves / of money and dignity.” “The king reigns, but doesn’t govern.” My personal favorite was the multicolored banner that quoted the famed lines of the Algerian poet Tahar Djaout: “If you speak, you die. If you stay silent, you die. So speak, and die.” (You can view some of the signs here.)

Photo from Rabat protests by Omar El Hyani

Bill Day of the blog the a la menthe used to live in Morocco and still follows its politics from afar. He writes:

For the present, news reports suggest that that the focus of the protests in Morocco is reform not revolution. So it appears that Mohammed VI is facing a Louis XVI moment. Confronted with popular demands for reform after the storming of the Bastille and the establishment of the National Assembly, Louis elected instead to attempt to flee France in search of Austrian support to reassert his absolute authority. From the moment he was captured and forced to return to Paris under a humiliating guard, the tide of history turned against him, leading to his ultimate execution.

Mohammed VI may still have an opportunity to be Morocco's greatest monarch, the one who let his people go and guided them to a true democracy, even if in the guise of a constitutional monarchy. But to keep his position, he must give up his power. This would be a great gift to the Moroccan people. The only question is whether Mohammed VI is wiser than Louis XVI.

This post is part of our special coverage Morocco Protests 2011.


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