The uprisings in Morocco: Study case the February 20th Movement by Hajar SEKHER
The fall of Arab regimes began when a young Tunisian college graduate become itinerant fruit salesman to support his family, set himself on fire after the confiscation of his goods by the Tunisian police officers in December 2010. This tragedy has caused a spiral of explosions, shocks and upsets unimaginable a few months earlier - starting with a series of popular uprisings in Tunisia followed by the falling of the Tunisian dictator until the outbreak of a real changes and revolutions in the North of Africa and the Middle East that will show the limits of some prisms and Eurocentric prejudice that consider that Arab youth uneducated and non-politicized, could not play a decisive role in political change ... as such, it would be pretentious to assume the nature and opportunities they will experience in the near future.
The new political landscape and political developments that had known Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and the rest of MENA’s countries has affected Moroccan youth who turn out to demand "dignity, freedom and social justice", the state reacted by a kind of political openness in addition to a Royal Speech and the organization of early elections and a constitutional reform. Even thought that the movement was not satisfied and therefore refused to participate in the elections and in the referendum of the new constitution, the Moroccan political and social scene has known an important development and the protest extended as it is no longer the exclusive preserve of large urban centers, but concerns also, towns and rural areas.
The factors of social protest are rarely studied in Morocco, which make understanding difficult. Therefore, many gray areas remain about the motives of protesters, their profiles and the deployment contexts, organizational aspects and social dynamics of the protest and what promotes its expressions.
In Morocco, the relationship of young people in politics is to be deepened. Some surveys done before 2011 have shown an increase in abstention and declining youth membership in traditional political organizations.
To better understand the relationship between young people in politics and public affairs in Morocco, I have chosen to focus my work on the February 20th Movement as a movement of social protest which produced a political reforms more important than political parties, syndicates, researchers and civil society actors have been able to achieve 13 years ago.
Youth get involved in politics differently, the survey done by the professor Saloua Zerhouni on youth showed that 30 % of youth engaged in politics do not think they can change dramatically through voting or through membership in a political party, but they can change or influence the political decisions much through the demonstration or protest or by appropriating public space.
After the fall of the Berlin wall and the democratization of many parts of the globe: Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the MENA can continue to be an exception? How the fever has affected Morocco? How the Moroccan system reacted to the uprisings and February20th Movement’s demands? Can we speak about a political and social change in Morocco?
How the Moroccan system reacted to the uprisings and February20th Movement’s demands? Can we speak about a political and social change in Morocco?
In the two main parts of this paper, I will first situate the movement in time and space and describe how the movement could produce social and political change. Then I will talk about the reaction of the Moroccan King and Makhzen and them strategies to absorb popular fury and contain youth’s demands.
The February 20th movement took many by surprise. During the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings; several virtual conversations were taking place about bringing the Arab Spring to Morocco. The fall of both regimes triggered demands for protests on February 20th, 2011, the date that became the name of the movement. The calls first appeared on Youtube. The clip of the call started with Amina Boughalbi’s face and voice. Unknown to the public, Amina is a twenty-year-old journalism student and a founding member of February 20th. Initiated the call for protests stating: “I am Moroccan and I will march on February 20th because I want freedom and equality for all Moroccans.” She was followed by a young man who stated “because I want all Moroccans to be equal”. The faces of young men and women keep alternating, each one speaking in the first person stating her/his reason for marching.
The debate on the claims was transferred from the virtual world to the real world, according to the data available from the site Alexa specialist in the calculation of ratios access to websites, where facebookis the most visited site, immediately after "Google", while in Morocco the social networking site "Facebook" was ranked as the first and the most visited site, superior to all sites, including "Google."
On February 20th, several thousand rallied in the streets in more than 60 cities and towns in Morocco, they took to the streets to claim democracy, freedoms and dignity, though they did not seek to over throw the monarchy. The 2011 protests grew for several months, before contracting after that the king proposed limited reform. Starting from July 2011.
Since February 20th 2011, the movement has been staging weekly protests throughout the country. The widescope of demands encompasses social claims such as: access to housing and free education. Economic demands such as better wages and access to jobs. Cultural demands, notably the recognition of Tamazight as a national language and to give more attention to the specificities of the Moroccan identity language culture and history. Political claims including dissolving the Parliament and the government, organization of an early legislative elections, the election of a Constitutional Assembly in charge of preparing a new constitution, Prosecution of people involved in cases of corruption and human rights violations, the implementation of all the recommendations of the Equity and Reconciliation Instance, adoption of a democratic constitution which represents the true will of the people, release all political prisoners, create an independent board to ensure the election process, amendment of the law on political parties and the electoral code, to achieve the conditions of democratic competition and equality between political parties and development of legal mechanisms to ensure non-interference of the executive power in the elections. In a nutshell, the activists want to see truly representative institutions and a modern political regime in which the King reigns, but does not rule.
This marks the first time that the accumulation of political and economic power by the King and his entourage has become subject to wide protests in the streets. The King’s religious and temporal authority, protected by articles 19 and 23 of the constitution, is viewed as the main obstacle to the rise of truly democratic institutions and political accountability.
On February 20, the demonstrations took place in different cities of Morocco, which included approximately 53 districts or provinces, according to the Interior Ministry figures, and was attended by tens of thousands of citizens.
Since the rise of February 20th members of leftist political parties, labor unions and human rights organizations have constituted a National Council of Support (NCS) for the youth protest movement. The NCS is composed of a few high profile academics and journalists, 20 human rights organizations and three leftist parties, Al-Talia,Al-Nahj a-dimocrati, and the Unified Socialist Party. International organizations, such as Amnesty International and the Islamists of Justice and Spirituality, al-Adl wa-l-Ihsane, also comprise the Council’s membership. Composed of volunteers, the NCS provides logistical support and legal advice, and it takes part in the movements’ various activities and protests.
The King was aware that the political reform is able to strengthen his legitimacy and guarantee his immunity and continuity in power. As a reaction the King Mohammed VI addressed to the country on 9th March, 2011 a speech without once mentioning the protest movement, the king announced that an Advisory committee will be responsible for drafting the new constitution. He said the changes would give the prime minister greater power, decentralize power toward the regions, recognize the diverse components of Moroccan identity, including "Amazighité" (Berber identity), and implement the recommendations made in 2006 by the Equity and Reconciliation Commission.
Many protest participants were not satisfied becauset he king's reform project did not include a greater devolution of the monarch's power and they refused to join the advisory committee because of its nomination process and the fact that it was not elected by people, therefore the activists decided to boycott the referendum and the early elections and to continue their peaceful protests.
In Rabat on March 20, a few thousand people marched from Bab al-Had Square to Parliament on Mohammed V Avenue, where they chanted pro-reform slogans. Hundreds of people in Tangiers, Casablanca, Fez, Al-Hoceima, Guelmime, Beni Mellal, Kelaat Sraghna, Tetouan, and Agadir also demonstrated peacefully, following a call by "the February 20 Movement" to demand reforms beyond those that the king had embraced in his speech. The police struck the protesters with batons to disperse them. The police beat some of them as well (including a senior of a legal opposition party, Mohamed Sassi) and injured many protesters and arrested more than 100 in Casablanca, over the course of the day but they all were released later in the same day. On February 21, police in Rabat clubbed demonstrators in Bab el-Had square. Khadija Ryadi, the president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains, AMDH) was among those who went to the hospital after being beaten.
According to Human Rights Watch since Moroccans joined the protest movement sweeping the Arab world with marches in several Moroccan cities on February 20, The Mekhzen ordered the security forces to alternate between tolerating public rallies and forcibly dispersing. The decision on whether to allow or repress the demonstrators seems to rest more with political decisions by authorities than with the behavior of the demonstrators.
Morocco's February 20th Movement was increasingly marginalized after the victory of the PJD in the elections organized in 2012, and after the withdrew of Adl wa lIhssan from the movement after the November 2011 legislative elections that gave the Islamists of Justice and Development,already represented in Parliament, the majority of seats. But since then, a new constitution and government have been put in place, and the number of people affiliated with the movement has dwindled. The movement's influence was undermined to a large extent by the adoption of the constitution by anover whelming majority in the second half of 2011 - giving enhanced powers to the government -- and the historic victory for the Islamist Justice and Development Party. Sanae Metaich, a 20 February coordinator in Rabat, said that "after the adoption of the constitution we talked less about ourselves in the media and then we had a party that took power using our slogans" of anti-corruption and pro-democracy.
"The movement was also deprived from a large part of its troops," as Justice and Charity party, which is tolerated but officially banned for its opposition to the monarchy, withdrew from the demonstrations.
Samad Ayach, a 20 February co-ordinator, said: "The regime has played the card of the constitution and elections on one hand and repression on the other". About 70 activists were behind bars at the end of December, according to a coalition of Moroccan human rights groups. Metaich said there has also been a change in the methods of repression. "Before,they were arrested for participating in unauthorized demonstrations. Now it is for violence against law and order forces and drug trafficking". Heavy penalties have also sometimes been imposed on activists, with one in Al-Hoceima sentenced to 12 years in prison in October."Activists are not sacred people," said Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane when asked about such sentencing."The majority of reforms have been carried out" he said.
The politico-psychological factor was crucial to prevent the Moroccan masses to fellow the movement: The fear of political instability and anarchy and the law of the strongest was a decisive factor, the images of the civil war that erupted in Libya and the intervention of the NATO in its affairs and the troubles later Egypt and the economic regressions recorded in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and Syria aroused fear in Moroccan's hearts.
The Moroccan citizens wanted to live in peace and democracy. This is what explains the rejection of the slogans of the movement in addition to the rumors that have been circulated by the Makhzen and which made the movement appear as a pro-Polisario "the enemies of the country's territorial integrity" and atheists. That was effective and good enough to deprive the movement of a large popular support. Citizens wanted to preserve the gains of long struggles and did not go in search of the unknown because they do have a great fear of tomorrow.
While the regime may have bought time with cosmetic reforms and a newly elected parliament and governement members of the 20 February Movement are taking this time to regroup, reorganize, and restructure. Its members remain stead fast in their demands, pointing to the ongoing detainment of activists as just one of many reasons to continue mobilizing. The protesters affirm their commitment to return until change is achieved.
Despite of the disappointment and frustration of the young Moroccan activist, we can talk about a lot of positive points:
• The syndrome of fear has disappeared
• The idea of the supremacy and the sacredness of the king is gone
• The oriental image of north African youth in the eyes of the Western people has fundamentally changed
• The Medias and the social networks played a major role
In short, nothing will be as before. The history tells us that revolutions have never known linear evolution and are not made in a year or two, the decline is possible, but the process of change of all MENA’s countries almost irreversible in the direction of the establishment in these societies of more dignity, freedom and equity between citizens left for decades by the various authorities in marginality, poverty and non-engagement in politics.