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Morocco: Pro-Democracy Movement Faces State Repression

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

When earlier this year a small group of Moroccan activists launched a Facebook campaign asking people to demonstrate on February 20, 2011, no one could predict that the call would drive a nationwide movement for change. Three months and a dozen marches, sit-ins and rallies later, the Moroccan blogosphere is asking where should the movement go from here and what new strategies to adopt in face of mounting police repression.

For many, the movement has achieved what political parties have failed to do in several decades: breathe new life into the political system in Morocco and force the monarchy to concede reforms. But as the movement vows to keep up pressure on the regime by calling for weekly, nonviolent demonstrations across the country, the authorities seem increasingly determined to repress protests in the streets, while at the same time launch a campaign to discredit the movement.

Casablanca Protests – Pictures published on Flickr under a CC BY 2.0 licence

Some bloggers are suggesting the “February 20″ youth movement should consider a strategic turn. Others are warning that the repressive attitude adopted by the regime could ultimately lead to a radicalization of a protest movement that has so far been careful not to attack the regime head on.

Blogger Mullionel believes that the escalation in police violence could radicalize the protesters and lead to a situation where authorities could lose control. He writes:

There is an ever increasing danger of serious slippage with the current policy of repression. It may provide a fortuitous spark to radicalize the majority of protesters who are, so far, calling for democratic reforms and not an end to the regime as in Libya and Syria.
Last week's reports have shown officers clubbing a woman holding a child. Such scenes showcase how easy it is for events to go out of control and for a seminal and powerful scene to happen and to be instantly transmitted for everyone, which will lead to an increased radicalization, and a larger dissent among the public.
Recent development in neighbouring countries has shown that increased repression often leads to bigger opposition because the wall of fear has crumbled across the region.

Chana Nawfel is concerned about the polarization of opinions around the pro-democracy movement, especially, he says, after the violent police crackdown of last Sunday's (May 29) protests. He writes [fr]:

On parle de plus en plus de radicalisation de la rue après les effusions de sang du dimanche dernier. Ce n’est pas faux, mais la radicalisation est bipartite : Il y a une partie des manifestants qui souhaite désormais élever le seuil des revendications et commence à pointer du doigt la monarchie, mais il y a une autre radicalisation tout aussi grave : une partie des citoyens, non hostile au changement à la base, se radicalise en refusant désormais d’y contribuer, à cause de certains préjugés sur le mouvement du 20 février ou quelques un de ses membres. Les deux radicalisations se nourrissent l’une de l’autre : la surenchère des revendications irrite les conservateurs, et la sclérose des royalistes enrage les progressistes; et chacun campe dans son ghetto. Cela ne fait que fragiliser la cohésion sociale, indispensable à la création d’un contre-pouvoir, seul garant d’une réelle avancée démocratique.

We hear more and more about the radicalization of the street after the bloodshed of last Sunday. This isn't untrue, but the radicalization is two-way: There are protesters who are now ready to raise the level of demands and start pointing the finger at the monarchy, and then there is another, equally serious radicalization, of some citizens, not fundamentally opposed to change but who refuse to take part because of certain misconceptions about the “February 20″ movement or some of its members. Both feed the radicalization of one another: the escalating demands irritate conservatives while the royalists’ inflexibility enrages progressives, and everyone is camping in its own ghetto. This only undermines social cohesion, which is indispensable to the creation of a power balance, the only guarantee of real progress towards democracy.

Ahmed T.B. warns that if the repressive approach adopted by the Moroccan police continues, the worst may yet to come. He writes:

The more the government uses violence to suppress demonstrations, the more the people will take to the streets to voice their dissatisfaction. We are not far from the day when young demonstrators will stop running, and instead clench their fists on the throats of those uniformed brutes and their walkie-talkie totting commanders. The odds for a peaceful transition are slim. I fear the worst is yet to come.

Nadir Bouhmouch is a Moroccan filmmaker and activist. He fears the repressive attitude of the state is plunging the “February 20″ movement into a monotonous stalemate. He believes the image projected by the movement is just as important as the message it intends to convey. He writes:

Recently, the state upped it's efforts to block the people from protesting by utilizing violence. Consequently, the people themselves have begun to take a different, less coherent and sometimes more belligerent approach. This change in attitudes is perceptible: the aesthetic appeal of the protests has been significantly compromised. We no longer see the poetry circles and freeze flash mobs, we no longer see a significant number of women, we barely even see any banners or flags! A protest without something to visually designate it's message is a failed protest. The aesthetic appeal of a protest is what makes it attractive to the media. The revolution in Egypt, for example, provided the cameras of the world with spectacular images of diversity in the crowd, creative banners and innumerable flags. It had an appeal.

Nadir goes on suggesting a few steps which, he says, could add some color to the movement:

1. Women must be encouraged to join.
2. Carry a banner or a flag.
3. Create an art piece; sing, dance, write, film or paint for the movement.
4. Hold an independent film screening.
5. Hold an art show.

Younes Benmoumen writing on Capdéma shares his fears about the crisis he thinks the Moroccan society is now embroiled in. He writes:

J’ai peur de ce peuple que notre gouvernement est en train de nous forger. Il est fait de trop de serveurs, de femmes de chambres et de désœuvrés débrouillards. Voila pour leurs conditions économiques. Il est fait de trop de soumis et de trop de révoltés. Voila pour leurs conditions politiques. Ces deux ensembles préparent un avenir inquiétant. Ce n’est pas là une société pacifiée que je vois, mais un ensemble décousu, où une part que l’on voudra toujours majoritaire, sera satisfaite par peur du pire, et l’autre révoltée parce que le vivant.

I am afraid of the kind people our government is forging for us. Too many waiters, housekeepers and idle unemployed people. So much for their economic conditions. Too many resigned and too may rebellious. So much for their political conditions. Both groups are building a worrying future for this country. This is not a peaceful society that I see, but a disjointed set, where one part, that we always wish it was the majority, will be satisfied out of fear of the worst, and the other one revolted because it is living through that same worst.

Younes continue saying:

A ces inconscients qui ordonnent la matraque : vous transformez le besoin de réformes en envie de révolution. Les humiliations peuvent être ravalées, mais point trop n’en faut. Elles se vomissent aussi.

At these unconscious people who order the beating of protesters by truncheons, you are transforming the desire to reform into a desire for revolution. Humiliations can be swallowed for some time, but there comes a moment when all is spewed out.

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

  • Anaruz

    You didn’t mention the ( at least known ) 8 martyrdoms from the movement, the 8th one being Kamal Al-Amari from Safi who passed away yesterday in Mohammed V hospital.

  • Thank you for pointing that out Anaruz. I think you’re right, I ought to talk about it as it is a horrific development. Hopefully the last of its kind. As a matter of fact, I came across the news of the death of Kamal pretty late yesterday. Unfortunately I has already sent my draft. Thank you again.

  • From the comments, it seems like many in Morocco are divided on whether they would like a dismantling of the regime or just a series of reforms. Is this divide occurring in any specific cleavages of society? Does it have to do with class? Urban vs. Rural? Youth vs. establishment?

  • @Jamila
    That’s a good question Jamila.
    If there is a divide I would say it is between those who want a reform now, and those who buy into the regime’s claims that it is conducting genuine reforms in the country. There’s a generational divide for sure, but I don’t think it is strictly linked to age, class or even the urban/rural divide. Something I’m pretty much sure about is that access to information is a significant factor: the more informed, more connected you are, the less likely you are to get lured by the government’s propaganda. I would of course exclude from that category all those who benefit from the current status quo.

  • DHH

    This is actually propaganda by the Feb Movement to make themselves more important than they are.

    The reality on the ground is rather different.

    First of all, there is really no protest movement except by the Islamists and the self-declared Feb movement that never had any steam – or in fact agenda. There were more people on the streets celebrating the King’s declaration of having a referendum than any protests afterwords. The outside media chose to listen to the Feb movement for two reasons, none logical – because they use social media and thus incorrectly assume that the Arab Spring is responsible for change here – when it is not. Secondly, there were some violent anarchists damaging shops and throwing objects at the police to provoke a response and hope the media films it.

    The reality is that bot the Feb movement and the Islamists have been ignored and I noticed the items here by the Feb Movement have forgotten the one thing that ironically is important in the Arab Spring in neighbouring countries that they like to talk about so much – the people. The forgot to mention that here the people have supported thoroughly and with happily the processes of change. In other words, the Feb movement has been ignored and somehow is trying to ignore or even hide that simple clear fact.

    DHH
    a security analyst and resident for 9 years
    Marrakech

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