Ordinary people in Morocco have again taken to the streets, as the protest movement which started last October spreads. Last month, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the country’s capital, Rabat, after activists were arrested as part of a crackdown on opposition.
The protest movement began in the country’s northern Rif region. It was originally sparked by the brutal police murder of a young fishmonger, Mohsin Fikri, from the city of al-Hoceima last October. He was crushed to death as he tried to retrieve his wares from a garbage truck, after they were confiscated by local authorities.
For many in Morocco, the murder was symbolic of widespread social injustice and the corruption of state officials. Protesters organised around demands including an end to inequality and repression, and the right to protest.
In Rif in particular, where unemployment is high and economic opportunities non-existent, demonstrators took aim at the regime’s crony capitalism, which has seen state funding diverted into the business ventures of a wealthy elite connected to King Muhammad VI, while most people are denied vital services.
The Rif region, in the north of the country, has historically been marginalised and economically neglected by the central government.
Protesters have faced intense repression from the regime, as the military poured into the Rif.
But demonstrations in the Rif have continued unbroken since October, often under the slogans of ending state repression.
In May, authorities arrested dozens of activists. This led to mass popular demonstrations across Morocco on 11 June, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in major cities in what Moroccan activist Mehdi Rafiq described as, “the largest political mobilisation since the 20 February movements in 2011, at the time of the Arab revolutions.”
In 2011 mass uprisings shook the Arab world. Masses of people took to the streets, often for the first time in a generation, to challenge repressive rule, demand political rights and an end to corrupt regimes. Dictatorships toppled in Tunisia and Egypt, and the Assad family’s 40-year rule in Syria was challenged. In Morocco, thousands organised around these same calls for rights and dignity, facing brutal repression from a regime deeply afraid of a mass challenge from below.
The latest protests have linked up with student struggles and mobilised broader layers of people through new local organising committees.
The past few years have seen dictatorships reimposed and strengthened in countries like Egypt, Syria and Bahrain. But the poverty, corruption and authoritarian controls that ignited the Arab revolutions in 2011 remain as real as ever.
Popular movements like that in Morocco can re-emerge to challenge regimes just as they did in the Arab Spring.
By Jasper Bell