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Morocco: Fadoua Laroui, our own Mohamed Bouazizi

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

When young Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the town of Sidi Bouzid, he couldn't have imagined the chain of events his act would set off. Self-immolation as an act of protest and despair quickly spread across the region, with at least ten cases reported from Mauritania to Egypt in the weeks following.

In mid-February, Fadoua Laroui, a young Moroccan single mother, set herself on fire in front of the town hall in Souq Sebt where she lived. Moroccan author Laila Lalami writes in the Nation:

According to newspaper reports, the local government destroyed the shack in which she lived with her children and later denied her access to replacement social housing because she was a single mother. She died in a Casablanca hospital two days later.

Fadoua Laroui

This image, from the blog Moroccans for Change, reads: "Fadoua Laroui, everyone burns with their silence"

According to one blog, Laroui's last words before committing suicide were “Stop injustice, corruption and tyranny!” Though many say she was not of any particular political bent, Laroui's actions and words have nonetheless inspired a new wave of protest in Morocco. One blogger, Mouad, laments the society that engendered such actions:

Peut être que si la vie était moins dure pour elle où elle aurait pu bénéficier d'un milieu clément pour étudier, travailler et s'épanouir au milieu d'une société égalitaire et sans hypocrisie l'aura sauvé la vie.

Maybe if life had not been so hard for her and she could have enjoyed an amenable environment for study, work and if she could have thrived in the midst of an egalitarian society without hypocrisy, it would have saved her life.

On the blog Moroccans for Change, one author sees Laroui's suicide as a call to action:

What kind of change are we looking for?

The change that makes a positive difference in every Moroccan’s life. The kind of change that would have allowed Fadoua Laroui to feed and shelter her children. Change that would have earned Fadoua people’s respect for being a hard working single mom, rather than their despise for being unlucky. We seek the kind of change that puts food on Fadoua’s two children’s plate and a roof over their heads. The change that allows every Moroccan child to grow up loved, nurtured, and educated, and every hard working woman and mother to feel safe and appreciated. The change that says no to indifference, yes to responsibility and accountability.

Change is desperately needed.

Laroui's funeral brought hundreds to the streets and was captured on video. A Facebook page has also been set up to memorialize Laroui.

While some see Laroui's act as heroic, others discuss the societal and psychological conditions that led to her action. Roumana, not one to mince words, writes on Kobida of the psychology behind Laroui's choice:

Moroccans are wondering, why? After all, she isn’t the only poor and homeless shantytown woman in the country. The status of single mothers , highly stigmatized, still leaves a lot to be desired. Although the status-quo apologists will respond by claiming that the Moudawana, Morocco’s latest family code, already grants women “too many” rights. Didnt she fear Allah? Some said while regurgitating a Hadith or two condemning suicide victims to hell. But the thing is, those standing still on the sidewalk wondering in their confusion and watching Fadoua as her flesh burns will never understand why she ignited the match, for they have never felt the real flames she felt, way before she doused herself in Gas.

He continues:

While Fadoua decided to end her pain by taking the leap, other Bouazizis are diluting the overly grim reality by resorting to the ever-alluring escapism. Now, I am in a no position to judge anyone who prefers the company of anti-depressants, hallucinogens or a bottle of cheap wine to numb the pain. Lord knows I need it sometimes. What I despise however is our alarming indifference to other Moroccans’ plight or even worse, some pathetic attempts to trivialize those unfortunate and inhumane conditions. Maybe this apathy is yet another escapist defense mechanism, who knows.

Blogger Son of Words sees society as the trigger, and discusses why Laroui's actions are indeed political:

D’aucuns ne verront dans le geste de Fadoua qu’une détresse psychologique qui se manifeste de manière extrême. D'autres, avec beaucoup moins de scrupules et une totale absence d'empathie, n'y verront que l'acte d'une femme dont les mœurs ne lui font mériter la moindre sympathie. Mais le geste de Fadoua est une action éminemment politique, et c'est en cela qu'il appelle une action collective tout aussi politique. Elle aurait en effet pu se résigner à son triste sort qu'elle partage avec tant d'autres, mais elle a refusé. Elle a cru au système et emprunté ses multiples labyrinthes pour en être brutalement éjectée. Elle aurait pu exprimer sa détresse autrement, mais choisit de confronter par son arme ultime, son corps, ce système injuste et ce devant sa manifestation la plus inhumaine et la plus kafkaïenne

Some will see in Fadoua's gesture a psychological distress that manifested itself in extreme ways. For others, with far fewer scruples and a total lack of empathy, this was the act of a woman whose morals do not deserve any sympathy. But Fadoua's gesture is a highly political one, and that's why the calls for collective action are just as political. She could indeed have resigned to her fate she shares with many others, but she refused. She believed in the system and burrowed its multiple labyrinths, only to be suddenly ejected. She could express her distress differently, but chose to confront its ultimate weapon, her body, and this unjust system in its most inhuman and most Kafkaesque form.

On the semi-satirical blog C.J.D.M., Aboulahab writes of the mundanity of Laroui's life and its resemblance to the lives of so many Moroccans:

Fadoua n’était pas une héroïne, elle n’a rien fait dans sa vie qui mérite d’être rapporté. Car Fadoua a mené ce genre de vie banalement misérable, qui aurait pu se prolonger pour ressembler à celles de millions d’autres, pour s’éteindre un jour, victime du manque de lits ou de personnel médical dans un hôpital public.

Fadoua was not a heroine, she has done nothing in her life that deserves to be reported. For Fadoua conducted this kind of banal, miserable life which would have continued to resemble those of millions more, to die one day, a victim of lack of beds or medical personnel in a public hospital.

The blogger concludes:

Un jour viendra, où ça sera au tour du Makhzen se consumer dans les flammes de notre volonté de changement. La situation des Fadoua n'en sera pas améliorée du jour au lendemain, je le concède. Mais la responsabilité ne sera plus celle d'un corps politique abstrait et ubique qui n'oeuvre que pour sa propre survie, mais celle de toute la société, de tous les individus, de tous les sujets désormais citoyens. Et je crois sincèrement qu'une fois leur destinée entre leurs propres mains, les Hommes en font le meilleur usage possible.

A day will come when it will be the turn of the Makhzen* be consumed in the flames of our desire for change. The situation of all the Fadouas will not be improved overnight, I concede. But the responsibility will no longer be that of this abstract political body that only fights for its own survival, but that of the whole society, all individuals, all subjects who will become citizens. And I truly believe that once their destiny is in their own hands, men make the best use of it.

*Makhzen is a term used to refer to Morocco's ruling elite.

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

The number one cause for suicide is untreated depression. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable. You can get help from confidential support lines for the suicidal and those in emotional crisis. Please visit www.befrienders.org to find a suicide prevention helpline in your country.

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