Claims of Morocco's exceptionalism during the Arab Spring now ring hollow as protests spread in the face of elite policies that deny dignity to the majority
On Friday, 28 October 2016, a tragic fatal incident happened in Al Hoceima city in northeastern Morocco when a state official seized wares from Mohsin Fikri, a fish vendor, and had it thrown into a garbage truck. When the vendor desperately climbed into the truck to reclaim his fish, “a local police officer ordered the garbage truck driver to start the compactor and 'grind him," according to activists and witnesses. The truck horrifically ground up Fikri, killing him.
This tragedy and the protests that followed were reminiscent of the wave of demonstrations that Morocco witnessed with the onset of the 20th February Movement in 2011 during the so-called Arab Spring. They provided an impetus for Moroccans to continue their fight for dignity, freedom and social justice and have shown that the process of real transformation in Morocco – and more broadly across North Africa and West Asia – is not finished yet.
Rather, the desire for change has been thwarted by rulers and elites since it began. These elites wanted that “spring” to be a passing one which quickly turned to autumn, dashing the hopes of everyone who took to the streets calling for their inalienable right for dignity and freedom.
“We were only at the beginning of a long-term revolutionary process that will go on for years and decades,” Gilbert Achcar, professor of development studies and international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), said last year. “As in every such historical process, there will be ups and downs, revolutions and counter-revolutions, upsurges and backlashes.”
Mourners carry the coffin of Fikri in the northern town of Hoceima on 30 October (Reuters)
With the connivance of most of the political and intellectual elite, the rulers hastened to promote the so-called Moroccan exception to the rule. Nonetheless, this claim of stability has been contradicted by these recent incidents and the rapid and major mobilisation that took place in more than 40 cities in Morocco in recent months.
This mass mobilisation brought activists into the streets, voicing their rejection of contempt and humiliation collectively referred to in Morocco as hogra and to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. Actions such as this attest to the latent power of the masses which will undoubtedly undo the forces of oppression and colonialism which have been crushing our free will since our so-called independence in 1956.