Hirak Chronology (28 Oct 16 – 19 Jul 17)

Below is a gathering of news and analyses articles on al-Hirak written between the martyring of Mohasin Fikri on the 28th October 2016, and the enormous and enormously repressed protest in the same city, al-Hoceima, nearly nine months later, on the 20th July this year.

That the various forces arraigned in the Rif and Morocco have changed together over that time will be only more obvious after reading the first then the last article here – but what exactly those changes are, and what they might themselves change into, is still rather unclear. Of course: الحراك الشعبي, the Popular Movement, is still itself moving, having been begun in winter, then grown through spring and summer. It’s nearly a year now.

The post following this one will cover the period including and after the 20th of July, and will be shorter, and more relying on Facebook posts, Tweets, and photographs. This will be partly in the hope that the ‘social’ in ‘social media’ is roughly the same as the ‘social’ in ‘social history’, and partly since more repressive states appear to produce far better ‘citizen journalists’ than they do salaried ones.

Translating Arabic and asking permission to use Facebook posts and cropping photos takes a little time, and the more I’ve collected, the more that’s seemed missing.

Please report deadlinks, mis- or missing translations, and, more than those two, recommend articles, events, processes, et cetera, that I’ve missed.

Joe

Friday 28th October

– Mohasin Fikri (محسن فكري) killed by police in al-Hoceima

– See ‘An interview with an al-Hiral activist (Part One)’ on this blog for an explanation of the ‘two versions of his killing’ (June 18th, in English)

Saturday 29th October

Al-Yaoum’s report on the killing of Fikri and subsequent protests in al-Hoceima (in Arabic)

Sunday 30th October

Al-Araby’s report on the killing of Fikri and subsequent protests in Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier (in English)

– Official state news organisation MAP reports that ‘The Interior Minister informed Mouhcine Fikri’s family of the High Royal Instructions for conducting a careful and thorough investigation and bringing charges against whoever held responsible in this incident’ (in English)

New York Times’ report on the killing and protests (in English)

Monday 31st October

– Essay titled ‘”It could happen to any of us”: Why the revolution in Morocco has started’ in Middle East Eye (in English)

– Report from The Guardian mentioning recent elections and regional aspects of protests (in English)

Tuesday 1st November

– ‘Eleven people have been arrested in Morocco after a fish-seller was crushed to death in a refuse truck prompting days of large-scale protests. The public prosecutor said they were accused of involuntary manslaughter and forgery of public documents’ – BBC (in English)

– ‘And while events outside of Morocco have certainly curbed calls for radical change, without a royal commitment to a fundamental change in the kingdom’s operation, the monarch may unwittingly be making it the only option remaining’ (Middle East Eye, in English).

NPR’s report on the protests (in English)

November-December 2016

– Al-Hirak protests in al-Hoceima, with activists moving across Rif, speaking with people.

– ‘After Mohasin Fikri was martyred, we started the protests in al-Hoceima and Imzouren. For the first six weeks we did weekly marches (…) We continued our peaceful protests. The authorities kept watching us, and began trying to close public squares. So, we invented something called ‘chen-ten’; it’s Rifain Tamazight slang word for ‘sudden speed’ (…) (‘An Interview with Hirak activist Yassmin B’, this blog, in English, July 6th)

– ‘Nasser al-Zafzafi and his friends, other activists, went across the small towns, talking to people, discussing their problems’ (‘An interview with an al-Hirak activist [Part One]’, this blog, in English, June 18th)

Friday 2nd December

– ‘A month has passed since the incident, but protests are still ongoing in the city. While investigations seem to be at a standstill, protesters in al-Hoceima continued their action against the authorities, end of last week’ (Opendemocracy.net, in English)

Thursday 5th January

– A protest the night previous in al-Hoceima repressed by police, as the highly admirable Rif24 report (in Arabic)

Sunday 15th January

– A version of al-Hirak’s demands released by Rif24.com (in Arabic; translation into English of later version of demands coming)

Sunday 5th February

– Protest in al-Hoceima commemorating the 54th anniversary of Muhamad ‘abd al-Karim al-Khattabi’s (محمد عبد الكريم الخطابي)death is repressed by police; see ‘Morocco: the Rif, History of a Rebellious Region’, Jeune afrique, 9th February (in French)

 

Thursday 5th April

– King Mohammed VI names his 39-member government, with PJD number two Saad-Eddine al-Othmani having found a 240 majority (of 395 Representatives) from five parties, after his selection as Prime Minister on the 17th March 2017.

– Le monde judge that PJD were ‘marginalised’ by King’s selection (in French)

Thursday 18th May

– ‘An unprecedentedly big protest doubled with a general strike’ in al-Hoceima; Chowqui Lofti for France-based media part blog, 3rd of June (in French). A terrific article.

– Short article from al-Mounadil/a (Moroccan revolutionary socialist group [4th International]) on the Rif, al-Hirak, and the state’s ‘need to pay back a huge public debt by reinforcing austerity on social budgets, opening up profitable sectors of our country to foreign capital (…)’ (in English / French)

Monday 22nd May

– ‘Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit led a large government delegation on a visit to Al-Hoceima on Monday, the latest trip to the region to promise projects to boost the local economy.’ (Al-Jazeera, Saturday 27th May, [in English])

– ‘A truce of sorts had been negotiated in mid-May, when a ministerial delegation arrived in the city of Al Hoceima promising various development projects’; Hicham Aidi, July 13th, thenation.com (in English)

Tuesday 23rd May

– Le desk.ma’s short report on Monday’s delegation; it also reports on plans for a ‘une marche du million’ for the 21st July (in French) (see July 20th below)

  • ‘I think the demonstration scheduled for the 20th of July will be the biggest in the Rif. It was called before the arrests in late May. Now that the leaders are arrested, it’s the only way to fight against the injustice of their arrests’:  ‘Moving How? An interview with an al-Hirak activist: Part Two’, this blog, in English, June 26th)

Friday 26th May

– Nasser al-Zafzafi interrupts imam of the Mohamed V mosque in al-Hoceima whilst delivering a sermon titled ‘Security is a Blessing’; al-Zafzafi asked ‘what does fitna [‘chaos’] mean when our young people have little to eat?’ and ‘whom do mosques belong to? God or the government?’. ‘(T)he imam never completed his khutba. Zafzafi gave his own sermon to a crowd gathered outside the mosque’ (Hicham Aldi, The Nation, July 13th [in English])

  • Le desk.ma allege that the Minister of Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufiq ‘poured oil on the flames’ by having imams in al-Hoceima preach against the protest (in French)
  • No English or French translation of al-Zafzafi’s Arabic/Tarafit interruption available (video from Ariffino Net Nador here)
  • Arrest warrant issued against al-Zafzafi by King’s prosecutor in al-Hoceima for, amongst other charges, ‘obstructing freedom of religion’ (‘d’actes d’entrave à la liberté de religion’)
  • Photo of warrant in Arabic from Tel Quel (in French)
  • Minister of Islamic Affairs Ahmed Toufiq claims al-Zafzafi arrested. Video shared by le Desk of al-Zafzafi evading arrest on rooftop (since removed)

– See ­­al-Jazeera’s Saturday 27th report [in English]

– Youtube channel Rif Sat upload video of al-Zafzafi addressing crowd (in Arabic / Rifia; no French / English translation available).

Le 360 (pro-regime news site) compares al-Zafzafi to Aboubakr al-Baghdadi (In French)

– Reuter’s report (in English)

Saturday 27th May

– First day of Ramadan.

– Protests in al-Hoceima; water cannons used according to le 360 (in French)

le 360 report that the royal prosecutor (‘procureur général du roi’) claims that ‘the primary stages of the inquiry have revealed that the persons implicated in the affair have benefited from money transfers from abroad (…)’ (‘Les premiers élèments de l’enquête ont révélé que les personnes impliquées dans cette affaire ont bénéficié de transferts d’argent depuis l’étranger’[…]) (in French)

– Al-Jazeera writes that ‘Zefzafi’s whereabouts on Saturday were unclear’ (in English).

– ‘Why is the state arresting the activists of al-Hoceima?’: al-Mounadil/a article on the state’s use of mosques to ‘platform it’s speech and criminalise activists’ (in Arabic)

Sunday 28th May

–  ‘Morocco: Against the repression of the palace, the Rif promises to protest every night’; report from MiddleEastEye.net (in French) (Details disparity between official and activists’ count of arrests, and the ‘financement étranger’ controversy)

– Yabiladi.com report that Ali Belmedziane, president of the al-Hoceima section of Association marocaine des droits humains (AMDH, the largest non-co-opted human rights organisation in Morocco) claims the number of arrests as 37, against the official figure of 20 (in French)

Dalil-Rif.com allege that demonstrators use ‘القنينات الزجاجية’ (‘glass bottles’) (in Arabic); yabiladi.com allege the use of ‘Molotov cocktails’, seemingly misquoting the Dalil-Rif.com report.

– Solidarity protests in Sunday evening Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, Marrakech (France-based l’humanité, Tuesday 30th May [in French])

Monday 29th May

– Amongst others, Nasser Al-Zafzafi arrested

– Oujdacity.net describe Zafzafi as ‘un fervent adepte de DAESH’ (in French)

Tuesday 30th May

BBC report that ‘(a)ccording to AFP news agency, protesters chanting “We are all Zefzafi” filled streets in Al-Hoceima on Tuesday evening and riot police were deployed in a square to stop their advance’ (In English)

Le monde quote Faissal Aoussar, member of al-Hoceima section of AMDH (see above), saying that (l)e centre d’Al-Hoceima est bouclé par la police pour empêcher toute manifestation. Dans toute la région, des maisons sont fouillées, des jeunes militants kidnappés’ (in French).

Wednesday 31st May

– Article by France-based le express on the Rif and al-Hirak. Interesting for mentioning ‘the informal sector’, and for quote from Igancio Cembrere (Spanish journalist, well-known in Morocco) that ‘whilst conservative, the Rif is one of the least Islamist in the country’ (in French)

Thursday 1st June

– Le desk report a call by Nabil Ahamjik, ‘n°2 du hirak à Al Hoceima’ for three day strike across the Rif region (In French).

– Prominent activist Nawal Benaissa ( نوال بنعيسى ) ‘called in to the police station in al-Hoceima’ according to France 24’s 2nd June report (in English)

– Benaissa described as ‘the 36-year-old successor to leading activist, Nasser Zafzafi’ by Morocco World News on June 3rd (in English)

– France 24’s video ‘Morocco: the Rif is Rebelling’ gives sense of size of crowds (in French)

Friday 2nd June

– ‘This three-day strike is the result of what is happening here, the marginalisation of a region that is only asking for its daily bread’, report France 24 (in English)

– 17-minutes BBC Arabic video report on al-Hirak involving an interview with Nawal Benaissa, who emphasises the rights-based claims and pacifism of Hirak.  After dismissing the government through reference to the 22nd May delegation, Benaissa claims that ‘Rifians are waiting for the entry of the highest authority in the country’ (i.e., King Mohamed VI) (in Arabic).

– Report by le monde afrique on Nawal Benaissa (in French)

– Report by Amnesty International titled ‘Morocco: Rif protestors punished with wave of mass arrests’ (In English).

– ‘Between 26 and 31 May 2017, security forces arrested at least 71 people following protests in Al Hoceima and the neighbouring towns of Imzouren and Beni Bouayach.’

– ‘At least 33 people are now on trial after being charged by the Crown Prosecutor in Al Hoceima. The charges against them include assaulting and insulting public officers, stone-throwing, rebellion and unauthorized gathering.’

– Details of torture of detainees, extraction of false confessions, police’s failure to notify detainees’ families / lawyers of arrest.

– Short report by Reuter’s (in English)

Saturday 3rd June

– Report from Euronews.com: ‘Morocco: the contest in the Rif hasn’t weakened’ (‘ne faiblit pas’) (In French)

– Analysis (in French) by Chawqui Lofti for France-based media part on:

  • Hirak’s demands
  • The ‘massive rejection of traditional institutions’; ‘parties, unions, civil society, elected officials’ [élus]’
  • Hirak’s structures d’auto-organisation’ versus the regime’s ‘incapacité de vendre l’illusion d’un semblant d’auto-reforme’
  • ‘The next weeks will be determinative for the relaunch of revolutionary processes and confronation against the monarchy’ (‘Les prochaines semaines seront déterminantes pour la relance du processus révolutionnaire et l’affrontement avec la monarchie’)

– Analysis from almounadila.info on the political and political-economic history of the Rif; mentions the civil war between 1956-1958, the 1984 protests, the 2011 protests; the role of the IMF, public debt, and austerity; and the immanent importance of trade unions (In Arabic).

Sunday 4th June

– Opinion piece from Kenza Oumlil for al-Jazeera on the relations between the 2011-2012 ‘February 20th Movement’ and al-Hirak (in English)

  • On the state’s and political parties’ various reaction to al-Hirak

Defence of al-Zafzafi’s interruption (‘many believe that by stating that religion should not be used for political ends, Zefzafi was actually trying to protect the sanctity of the mosque as a place of worship.

– Criticism of al-Zafzafi’s gender politics (‘even using language that implies men’s “ownership” of women’)

– ‘The February 20th movement may have lost its momentum in recent years, but its legacy is still alive in terms of organising tactics and aspirations.’

Al-Jazeera report that ‘Moroccan authorities stifled a women’s protest in the coastal city of Al-Hoceima, campaigning for access to jobs, health services and infrastructure in the northern Rif region.’ (In English)

Monday 5th June

– Lakome2.com report on (in Arabic):

Head of government summoned parliamentarians of Rif province to meeting earlier that day.

– Sunday night demonstrations in Asfi, Luxor al-Kabir, and Rabat.

– Report on protests in al-Hoceima

Tel quel report the arrest of Nabil Ahamjik (see above) and Silya Ziani, singer and spokesperson for al-Hirak (in French)

– Ziana quoted as saying that, after the ‘mort’ (tl’s choice of word) of Mohasin Fikri, ‘I did not have the choice, it had to happen’ (‘il faut que ça marche’)

Tuesday 6th June

Tel quel report that Nasser al-Zafzafi, Fahim Ghattass, Ahmed Hezzar, Hannoudi El Habibi, Chakil Makhrouate, Mohamed El Mahdani and Mohamed Haki are charged with numerous crimes including (inter alia)‘attacking the internal security of the state (…)’(in French)

Thursday 8th June

– Le desk report that regime repression has meant ‘un sentiment de crainte a gagné les esprits’ ; repression has scared activists (in French).

Saturday 10th June

– El Mortada Iamrachen arrested, le desk report (in French)

– See le desk’s 21st June report for analysis (in French)

Sunday 11th June

– Huge protest in Rabat in support of Hirak. Radical left, liberal left, al-Adl wa-l-Ihsan (جماعة العدل و الإحسان), and Amazigh emancipation groups present.

– Report from Middle East Eye (in English)

–  Report from Reuter’s (‘Led by Islamists, thousands of Moroccans rally in support of northern protests’) (in English)

Analysis titled ‘The Kingdom is in Danger’ by Noureddine Miftah for Panorama Post (in French); good for a sense a sense of ‘sensible’ centre-right thought.

  • The problem is not socio-economic, but political
  • Tous les corps intermédiaires se sont jetés aux abris et il ne reste plus que le roi face à la rue’; all the intermediate bodies have taken cover, and there is no one left but the king facing the street’
  • ‘The particularity of the Rif is that those alive have an unconscious relationship with the dead (…) a kind of lost historical glory (‘gloire historique brisée’)
  • ‘The unity of Morocco within the fold (dans le cadre) of a democratic monarchy is a sacred idea’

Monday 12th June

– Report from le desk on previous day’s protest (in French)

– Silya Ziani claims mistreatment at opening of trial (rifonline.net, in French)

Tuesday 13th June

– Bloomberg report that investors ‘are ignoring the latest wave of anti-government protests in Morocco as they continue to pile into North Africa’s top-performing bonds this quarter’ (in English)

Wednesday 14th June

– During official visit to Morocco and after meeting King Mohamed VI,  President Macron says that the Rif region is ‘dear to him [M6]’ and that the King ‘considers the protests as legitimate’ (le point afrique, in French).

– The ‘Group of 25’ are sentenced in al-Hoceima court (le desk, in French)

– Tariq Ramadan makes short video intervention via his Facebook page (in French)

– ‘Sharp in the first half of June, [protests] got sharper after the first verdicts against activists were announced on the 14th, with protesters saying on the 15th ‘silmiya; c’est finis’ (‘pacificsm; it’s over’). In fact, protesters’ violence has since remained overwhelmingly defensive, unlike the state’s: speeding riot vans, baton charges, gas attacks, and so on became commonplace for thousands of people in al-Hoceima and Imzouren’ (analysis by Hassan Ashahbar, Thérèse Di Campo, and Joe Hayns for Novara Media, 19th July, in English)

Thursday 15th June

– Le desk report on increased anger following sentences (in French)

Friday 16th June

Le desk’s headline: ‘Al Hoceima: under fire from gas, “Pacifism, it’s over!”’ (in French)

Saturday 17th June

– Marina Albiol of the United Left (IU; Spain) asks the European Commission if any European intelligence service is investigating any pro-Hirak activists (in Spanish).

– President of Regional Council of Tangier-Tetouan-al-Hoceima and former General Secretary of ‘centre-left’, pro-Makhzan Parti authenticité et modernité (PAM; حزب الأصالة والمعاصرة) Ilyas El Omari calls civil society colloquium. Colloquium demands ‘the immediate liberation of all the detained (…)’ (le desk, in French)

– Morocco World News report that the Arab Reform Initiative ranked Morocco ‘Most democratic country in Arab world’ (in English)

– Le desk reports on mistreatment of Hirak detainees with quotes from defence lawyers, and on arrests of journalists (in French)

Sunday June 18th

Le desk report that ‘Washington offers its services to Morocco to ‘channel crowds’ (‘canaliser les foules’) (in French; paywalled)

– Al-Mounadil/a’s (see above) analysis on the Moroccan state’s use of discourse of ‘sedition’ (الفتنة) in context of a regional revolutionary period, and the claim that Hirak is ‘foreign-funded’; strong argument that post-2011 changes in Morocco are surface-only.

Wednesday June 21st

– Report from le desk on the protests in al-Hoceima, with focus on protests outside the centre (in French)

Thursday 22nd June

– France-based l’humanité publish article titled ‘the anger in the Rif makes the king of Morocco tremble’ (in French)

Friday 23th June

– Yabiladi.com publish short article on the relations between the 1958 protests in the Rif and Hirak (in French)

Sunday 25th June

– Le desk report that ‘a security source’ criticized a (then-forthcoming, presumably hacked / leaked) report by various para-official ‘N’GOs on police responses to Hirak (in French)

– Meeting between King and ministers; see le desk and le monde afrique’s  Monday 26th June reports

Monday June 26th

– Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadam. Assuredly the most important holiday of the year on the day itself and after.

– Day-time protest strongly repressed; le desk report that ‘al-Hoceima and its region are under a state of siege’ (in French)

– Rifonline.net allege that ‘close to 40 children are hospitalised’ (in French)

– ‘A day of bloody clashes on June 26, in what is now being called the Black Eid of 2017’ (Hisham Aidi for The Nation, July 13th, in English)

As transpired, 44 people were arrested (see le desk, 30th June [in French])

– Le desk reports that ‘Mohamed VI orders an inquiry into the al-Hoceima fiasco’ the day previous (in French)

– King met ministers in the Royal Palace in Casablanca on Sunday 25th to discuss the non-realisation of the ‘Lighthouse’ development project in al-Hoceima

– See also the final paragraph of le monde’s report on the meeting (in French)

Tuesday 27th June

– MAP (state-run news agency) claim 39 police injured on ‘Black Eid’

  • le desk’s report on MAP’s allegations here in French)

– Tel quel produce critical report on Monday’ protests (in French)

– Briefest of summary articles in le soir (Belgium) (in French)

Wednesday June 28th

– US-based Newsweek argues that there ‘has been a steady growth of systemic corruption under his [King Mohammed VI’s] rule’, and that he ‘he can no longer offer merely symbolic changes that preserve authoritarian rule’, since ‘Moroccans’ insistence on real change, and the dangers of violent upheaval if they are ignored, are growing. With them grows the danger that extreme and violent Islamist movements’ (‘Why Morocco’s Street Protests Are Growing More Dangerous’, in English).

– Reda Zaireg for Middleeasteye.net on the PJD’s (parti de la justice et du développement ; centre-right Islamist, largest party of governing coalition) internal divisions (in French)

– Tel quel repeat criticism of the prominent para-state human rights organisation the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) for it ‘silence in the fact of accusations of human rights abuses by Hirak militants’, and report that ‘a source’ has ‘assured’ Tel quel that CNDH’s initial findings of inquiry of ‘verbal violence and physical abuse before detention but not of torture’ (‘avant la détention et non de la torture’) (in French, with list of detainees questioned by CNDH in Arabic)

– Barlamane.com attacks CNDH for assessment / leaking of assessment of abuse of Hirak prisoners, as collected by those two CNDH-affiliated doctors on the 19th and 20th of June (in Arabic and French).

– New York Times publish opinion piece nodding to the history of the Rif, the power of the King, and claims that ‘it is a testament to Morocco’s relative openness, to the expectations of change it has nurtured, that protesters felt empowered to criticize the authorities.’ (in English)

– Opinion piece in US-based Morocco World News good for sense of ‘centrist’ pro-regime opinion (in English)

– France-based left-wing news-site Media part release short video introducing Hirak (in French)

– Facebook page ‘Rif OriGinal’ publish video of police attacking protestors with stones (see here)

– Facebook page ‘la république du Rif (1921_1927)’ publish video of protestors in Imzouren chanting ‘God, Nation, People’ (الله، الوطن ، الشعب) against the police’s ‘God, Nation, King’ ( الله، الوطن ، الملك ).

– From appearances, al-Zafzafi livestreams a phone-in from his prison cell. Available from RiffLand TV ريف لاند‎  Facebook group here

– Al-Mounadil/a publish short piece arguing that protestors should avoid direct conflict with the enormously more powerful security services and, instead of such face-offs, realise their power to persuade ‘those carrying the batons of repression’ (الذين يحملون هراوات القمع ) otherwise – this might sound unlikely, and it is, but far less so than a popular military victory against the police, much less the army (in Arabic)

– Readers might wonder why so much was published on this day – it was since Ramadan and then Eid were fully over; the second day after Eid is perhaps comparable to the 3rd or 4th of January in the U.K (including the hangovers).

Thursday 29th June

– Said Chaou arrested by Dutch police in Holland for extradition to Morocco; tel quel repeat insinutations that the alleged drug dealer helped finance Hirak (in French)

– First request for extradition made in June 2015. See Morocco World News’ report published on June 26th on Chaou (in French and English)

– Maghreb-intelligence.com write that Newsweek and The New York Times’ interest in Rif ‘has not passed unseen (inaperçu)’, and that ‘Rabat has chosen to treat the events in al-Hoceima as a strictly internal matter’ (in French)

– Facebook group of ‘the militant’ (‘جريدة المناضل-ة [in Arabic]) publish video of pro-Hirak demonstration in Marrakech (see here for video).

Friday 30th June

– Le desk report on presentation of 44 activists arrested on ‘Black Eid’ to bar in al-Hoceima; ‘Mohamed El Hilali et Abdelouahed Kammouni, respectivement journaliste et directeur du media numérique Rif Press’ are sentenced to five months (in French)

– Opinion piece in US-based Morocco World News claims that ‘Morocco’s official institutions are losing respect and reverence each day as the protests in the Rif continues and news of corruptions and mismanagement persist (…) (a) commission appointed by the King to investigate the situation in Al-Hoceima is the only way out of this political impasse.’ (in English)

– (Unsure of precise release date) Belgium-based solidarity / Hirak group release report titled ‘Morocco in the time of authoritarianism?’, listing five aspects of state repression (over-presence [surprésence] of policy and military; summonings and intimidation; physical violence against peaceful protests; arrests and sentences; criminalisation and torture) (in French)

Hespress.com report that imprisoned activist will begin hunger strike on the 10th July, and that the Movement’s core demands are an end to the militarization of the Rif, and the release of all political detainees (in Arabic)

Saturday 1st July

– Saad Eddine al-Othmani (سعد الدين العثماني), leader of the PJD (see above), and Prime Minister of coalition government since his royal appointment on 17th March, makes 1 ½ hour appearance on state TV channels.

  •   Al-Othamani criticizes previous official claims that Hirak are separatists
  • Lauds security forces, though adds that the CNDH (see above) are investigating abuses
  • Says that arrests and sentencing are a judicial matter
  • Promise of development via the ‘Lighthouse’ project
  • Reports from Morocco World News, July 2nd (in English); Tel quel, July 2nd (in French); entire interview from Shahid TV here (in Arabic)

– Somewhat curiously, al-Othmani’s double predecessor, former leader of the PJD and Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane. breaks his three-month silence to say ‘Morocco risks disappearing, and I’m at the end – expect the unexpected’, that the ‘state is gangrenous with corruption’, and, on the King, that Moroccans might ‘critiquer le gouvernement ou un conseiller, ce n’est pas un problème car les conseillers ne sont pas sacrés’.

Sunday July 2nd

– Due to police’s presence in al-Hoceima, al-Hirak protests on nearby beaches. Report from France 24 (in French)

– Le desk report on one thousand person-strong solidarity protest in Paris (in French)

Monday 3rd July

Yabliladi.com on women-led protests against political detention in Casablaca (in French)

– Respectmag.com publish article titled ‘What are the Rif’s Demands?’ (‘Quelles sont les revendications du Rif?’). Interesting especially for detail of Rifian diaspora’s organising in Paris (in French)

Badil.info’s straightforward report on release of the release of CNDH’s report on police repression (in Arabic)

– Moroccan historian Maati Monjib explains to l’humanité that ‘le Hirak, un mouvement populaire autonome, non séparatiste et prodémocratique’ (in French)

  • Le Desk’s report on the interview (5th June, in French)

France 24 report on beach-side protests outside al-Hoceima (in French)

Tuesday July 4th

– Le Monde afrique report that ‘the police retire from the centre of al-Hoceima (‘Le gouverneur de la province a annoncé un repli « progressif »’) (in French)

Le Matin asks: ‘Rif: Why are the police retreating from the centre of al-Hoceima?’ (in French)

– Le desk comments on the July 3rd article in Barlamane.com, which it describes as ‘a propaganda site owned by the security services’. Clearly tensions between security services and para-state human rights groups over repression.

Wednesday July 5th

– Le desk report on plans for ‘a huge women’s gathering’ in Casablanca for the then-coming Friday (in French)

– Statement from comrades at Attac Maroc against the police repression of their members (in Arabic)

– Zafzafi’s letter from his cell to ‘the sons of the Rif’ (alaoual.com, in Arabic)

Thursday 6th July

– An al-Hirak-sympathetic, longer, summary-style piece in bastamag.net (in French)

– ‘Morocco: Torture Officially Recognised’ – story in Liberté Algérie on fact that : Rabat (…) confirme l’existence d’un rapport contenant des expertises médicales établies pour le compte du Conseil national des droits de l’homme marocain, quant à la pratique de la torture sur les détenus du “Hirak” du Rif’ (in French)

Friday 7th July

– Women-led protest against detention / with al-Hirak in Casablanca (video, hespress.com, in Arabic)

  • Women-led anti-detention protest heavily repressed in Rabat (awaiting answer to request to share comrades’ account).

Huffington Post Maghreb’s report on organising against political detention (in French)

Euronews.com report that 176 are in detention (in French)

Le Desk reports of’ ‘un site de propagande policière’ sharing a video al-Zafzafi under obvious duress saying he hasn’t been the victim of violence (in French)

– Parti Socialiste (Belgium) representatives Nadia el Yousfi, Amet Gjanaj and Catherine Moureaux visit Morocco (a ‘mission) (lacapitale.be, in French)

– Profile of Inez Weski, Saïd Chaou’s (see above) barrister (in French)

Saturday 8th July

– ‘Morocco: a century after, mustard gas continues to haunt the Rif’ (Challenges.fr, in French)

The Economist on al-Hirak; especially interesting for its referencing of al-Hirak’s demands (in English)

Sunday 9th July

– ‘Female activists in Morocco say they will continue to press the government for justice’, al-Jazeera, in English.

Monday 10th July

– Beginning of al-Zafzafi’s trial, with risk of ‘decades’ in prison (le monde afrique, in French)

– ‘Today’s Hirak in the Moroccan Rif is a nightmare for the Algerian Military but a ray of hope for the Kabyle nationalists’ (Morocco World News, in English)

Hirak leader Mohamed Jelloul writes a letter to the movement from his cell in d’Okcacha prison (letter here, in French)

Monday 11th July

– Lina Charif, speaking at the European Parliament, Brussels, discusses al-Hirak (video in English)

Sunday 16th July

– Analysis/semi-autobiographical piece published in thenation.com by Hisham Aidi on the history of Rif/central state relations, Rifianness, and argument behind claim that ‘The Rif has become the epicenter and impetus for political protest in Morocco’ – probably the best piece of writing in English on Hirak.

Friday July 14th

– Analysis piece published in counterpunch.org by Nadir Bouhmouch and Elias Terras: ‘In this context of capitalist predation, the uprising in the Rif should be seen as a justified expression of the popular anger which has been boiling both, under and over the surface for decades (…) But the breadth and grassroots strength of the Hirak, makes it stand out as an extraordinary force, capable of shifting and revealing the contradictions within the seemingly stable grip of the Makhzen. The Makhzen knows this, which is why its response has been so brutal (…) Thus, cracks have begun to grow in the steel surface of the Makhzen’s pressure cooker.’ (In English)

Saturday 15th July

– On the local authorities’ banning of the 20th July protest, through law first used against Rifian protestors on 15th November 1958 (yabiladi.com, in French)

– On the same, Rifonline.net report ‘dans un communiqué, la préfecture d’Al-Hoceima a justifié l’interdiction de cette nouvelle sortie contestataire par la menace que pourrait constituer une telle manifestation pour la sécurité des citoyens’ (in French)

Monday 17th July

– Yabiladi report on support for 20th July protests, with focus on diaspora’s returning (in French)

Yabiladi report that local authorities ban the 20th July march (in French)

– ‘Despite the announced banning of protest, activists mobilise’ (riflonline.net, in French)

Tuesday 18th July

– ‘Who is Silya Ziani really?’ (Tel quel, in French)

– 25 detainees’ sentences reduced in the al-Hoceima court of appeal (H2info.ma, in French)

– ‘In Morocco, no place for independent journalists’ (In French, from Orient XXI)

– ‘There will never be peace in the Rif until our demands are met’; essay on women-led demonstrations in Casablanca from Maroc-leaks.com (in French)

Wednesday 19th July

– ‘Mohamed VI opts for confrontation’, according to Liberté Algérie, who also provide an accurate-seeming appraisal of the various parties’ attitudes to the 20th (in French)

 

 

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The Republic of the Rif and the French Communist Party (Part I/?)

The following post is part of an effort to understand the Europe-based left’s relations, actual and potential, with the Popular Movement in the Rif (see the two-part ‘Moving How?’ interview here for a sense ‘al-Hirak’, or the Movement), and is largely based on two types of English-language essays, being those that see the Rif only as refracted through the history of the French Communist Party, and those that, oppositely, only mention the PCF and the wider Europe-based left in their relationship with their primary focus, the Republic of the Rif. That the figures, flags, dates and words of the Republic are being, in some changed form, re-staged by al-Hirak activists in the Rif currently is what led me to read both types of essay together.

I’ll add to these stylised notes as I find more material, periodically – please do let me know if can think of anything worth reading, or have disagreements with what’s beneath.

Under the Arc de Triomphe, July 14th 1926, one sultan and two of fascism’s future leaders were hosted by a left-wing government, pleased with the guests since, fighting together, the forces of Moulay Youssef, Philippe Pétain, and Miguel Primo de Rivera had destroyed what had been North Africa’s only independent state, جمهورية الريف: The Republic of the Rif.[1]

Just under two years earlier, on September 11th 1924, l’humanité published a telegram sent the day previous by Pierre Sémard, General Secretary of the Parti communiste français (PCF) and Jacques Doriot, leader of the Federation des jeunesses communistes, to the leader of the Republic, Muhammad bin ‘abd al-Karim al-Khattabi. It read:

‘We hope that after the definitive victory over Spanish imperialism, it [the Republic] will continue, with the French and European proletariat, the struggle against all imperialists, including the French [français y compris], until the complete liberation of Morocco’s soil.’[2]

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L’humanité’s cover, September 11th 1924.

The north-easterly Rif region wasn’t controlled by the French. Morocco had been divided into three administrative areas in November 1912 through the Franco-Spanish Treaty, with Spanish authority formalised less because of any substantial power (there was some Spanish-controlled capital owned a little there, with some forts along the coast), than due to official Britain’s worries of an over-powerful France, so near Gibraltar. Hence, it was after establishment of French suzerainty over Morocco with the Treaty of Fes that Spain was ceded the mountainous lands along the northeastern littoral – and also, far to the south, what would become Western Sahara (Tangiers was made an ‘international’ zone). With only a patina of Sultanic authority, France ‘protected’ everywhere else, 90% of the country, including all the major cities.[3] 

Despite the Republic being only an anti-Spanish force at the time of the telegram, the promise of ‘français y compris’ – something like, ‘(as perhaps you wouldn’t expect), French imperialists too’ – was hardly empty. ‘Abd al-Karim’s forces’ near-destroying of a 30,000-strong Spanish force in the early summer of 1921 was followed by more victories, military and civil, with the Republic’s ‘state-ness’ established by early 1923.

It took took two years after that first win for the danger of the Republic to France’s Morocco (France’s Algeria, France’s Tunisia) to go from ‘symbolic’ to ‘practical’. By September 1924, the French protectorate were already privately strategizing against the Republic, with provocations against its southern border and an economic blockade only months away – ‘the Riffians were goaded into launching an attack, and thus in April 1925, the tiny republic, with a population of 750,000 found itself at war with the world’s predominant land military power’.[4]

The PCF came from division, with Marxists, socialists, and anarcho-syndicalists leaving the pro-war Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO) in 1920 for the Third International. Named in October 1921, all of the PCF had lived through the war and, presumably, all knew people who hadn’t. Still, in the case of the party’s support for the Republic of the Rif and opposition to French imperialism generally, the pluperfect wasn’t enough. Whipcracking the PCF on the 2nd December 1922, days before the end the fourth World Congress, Trotsky wrote that:

‘Congress invites the French party and its Central Committee to pay far more attention and allot far greater forces and resources than it has up till now to the colonial question and to propaganda in the colonies.’[5]

With Comintern’s insistence – they would send an agent to supervise the party’s anti-imperialism – ideological support for ‘bourgeois nationalism’ did grow in and through the party over the next two years, with the PCF’s line at the outbreak of hostilities being:

‘Fraternisation between French soldiers; not a man or woman in France for the war in Morocco; peace in the Rif; total evacuation of France from Morocco.’

Working with the Confédération générale du Travail unitaire (CGTU), the PCF organised a 15,000-strong protest against the war on May 16th in Paris, and over the spring and early summer of 1925 encouraged the crews of half a dozen cruisers to mutiny (100 sailors were court martialled in late July). Between May and October there were over 250 meetings against the war across France, all building towards the 12th October 24-hour strike, involving 500,000 workers, albeit few of those involved in day-to-day mechanics of war. 

Prominent in Ajdir, with its vista over al-Hoceima’s bay, ‘abd al-Karim’s judge father would sometimes lead Friday prayers in the town’s mosque, and served the German firm Mannesmann before 1918, and a Bilbao-based capitalist after it; as a local asset of international capital, and endowed spiritually and officially, the family were first-pick ‘moros amigos de Espana’, with the boy ‘abd al-Karim near-fated to be, as he became for a while, ‘a high-profile Spanish agent’, as Maria Rosa De Madaringa put it.

His brother studied in Malaga, then for a degree in mining engineering in Madrid. Muhammad though left the Rif to learn Qur’anic exegesis at the Qarawiyyin mosque, Fes. He returned, more prestige now, to Ajdir in 1906, perhaps 25 years old (his exact date of birth isn’t clear); in 1909 he moved further east, to Melilla, where he edited the Arabic supplement of El Telegrama del Rif and, after, took a bureaucratic role in the Central Office of Native Affairs, ‘whose director, Col. Gabriel Morales de Mendigutia, soon became a close friend’. In 1914, he became   قاضي القضات, the judge of the judges, with jurisdiction across the eastern Rif.

In August 1915, he published arguments in el Telegrama against any increase of Spanish dominion, and for a Rifian government; he was imprisoned, escaped, and – probably a sign of his power – was reinstated in 1917. But, commitments changed, by 1919 both sons had returned to Ajdir, their father having become a ‘leading spirit’ for those tribal forces against the incessant, low-level Spanish militarism in the region. By April 1921, his father dead, ‘abd al-Khattabi led a 300-strong group to negotiate with an encroaching Spanish force – then, insults, confusions, and a Spanish garrison killed, and ‘the qadi of Ajdir had become a mujahid’, as Hart put it.

A month of quiet, then on the 21st of July – the day marked recently in al-Hoceima – a huge Spanish force was near-totally destroyed at Anwal by a combined Aith Waryaghar-Thimsaman grouping, as led by ‘abd al-Karim, who sent his friend Colonel Morales’ body back to Melilla, where the combined force would itself arrive less than a month later. Over 13,000 Spanish soldiers were killed that summer, by forces that never came to more than 3000: ‘it was unquestionably the worst single disaster that any colonial army had suffered in any colonial or “bush-fire” war anywhere up to that time’, as David Hart reckons).

From mujahid to state-maker, in January 1923 the Republic was proclaimed, with a battery of laws for which neither ‘salafi’ nor ‘liberal’ seem the correct term (but what else?) [6] ; pursuing vendettas was made a capital crime and collective oaths were abolished, with the whole tendency being to replace customary law with (something like) neo-orthodox decretums.

It appears that ‘abd al-Karim first appreciated salafi thought first in Fes, as developed through reading and correspondence in Melilla, where it came together with proto-nationalism from around 1915 onwards.[7] In 1926, after the war and exiled in Cairo, ‘abd al-Karim explained in an interview with the Egyptian journal المنار, The Lighthouse, that ‘religious fanaticism (…) was the greatest cause of my failure’:

‘I wanted my people to know that they had a nation (watan) as well as a religion (din). But the tribal identity was stronger Unfortunately I was understood by only a few individuals who could be counted on the fingers of both hands. On the contrary, even my most faithful supporters, and those of the greatest knowledge and intelligence believed that after the victory had been won, I would allow each tribe to return to complete freedom despite their realisation that this would return the country to the worst conditions of anarchy.’

By ‘fanaticism’, ‘abd al-Karim meant the heteroclite, rural Islam – Islams, really – of the various tribes across the Rif, as against the two-steps-back, one-step-forward Salafi world-view through which he and his most immediate coterie understood their anti-imperialism (Pennell judged that ‘he was in advance of the people he was leading’).

Even by the middle of May, 1925, there were at least 100,00 French troops arraigned against the Republic and, by September, an even larger Spanish force was moving south from the coast, having burned Ajdir. Pincered between as many as 500,000 French and Spanish soldiers – civilians shelled, crops burned, with chemicals, still causing cancer, used against people – ‘abd al-Karim had surrendered by the early spring of 1926, with the leaders of the combined force were celebrated in Paris that summer.

After his break from the PCF, the Marxist Orientalist Maxine Rodinson wrote that:

‘Concerning the Arab world, the French Communist Party followed the [Comintern’s] general directives; it courageously supported the Rif Revolt in North Africa in 1924-25 and the Uprising in Syria in 1925-26, both national movements against French imperialism. That was enough. Their structure and internal motivations hardly mattered; indeed the French communist Party knew as little about them as all the other French parties.’ (Italics mine)

‘That was enough’: was it?

During the period, the CGTU began attempts to organise Maghrebian workers (who had the ‘lowest paid, least secure, most dangerous jobs of all the migrant’); the October strike involved 100s of 1000s of workers organised not against ‘war’, but French imperialism – and that after l’humanité had published compromising details of French forces, the party had organised mutinies, and PCF deputies used the Chamber to reveal details of Lyautey’s campaign planning (and the Radical’s furtive conniving with it). Still, it appears that even the most dedicatedly anti-imperialist tendency understood imperialism better than they did ‘abd al-Karim, the Republic, or Morocco. At a CGTU meeting in Lyon on the 12th June, 1925, participants agreed on the necessity of undertaking:

‘An intensive propaganda campaign in order to attract the support of the proletariat and to make peace with a people who has no other desire but to live in the land of their ancestors.’

But, if we take ‘land’ as having more than a simple geographic meaning, at least the leadership layer of the Republic wanted to do far more only remain as they’d been.[8]  More pointedly, in July of the same year, leader of the Black Sea revolt and PCF central committee member André Marty saw a ‘tendency of the PCF rank and file to equate Abd el-Krim with Lyautey and to see the war as a contest between feudalists and imperialists’.[9]

The 10th telegram was for the 11th September newspaper – the PCF never had any direct communication with the Republic, and ’Abd al-Karim and the Republic appear to have been understood as either ‘bourgeois nationalists’ by his anti-imperialist supporters (the Jeunesse ‘Westernized’ and ‘laicized’, David Slavin has argued) or, by social chauvinists, as an ‘un aventurier féodal transposé dans les temps modernes’, as one wrote in response to the PCF-friendly journal Clarté’s June 1925 editorial.[10] Would an appreciation of ‘abd al-Karim’s actual politics, and their awkward relationship to Republic’s ‘base’, have made much difference? A straightforward ‘yes’, and mere ideas would seem too important. Putting the question in terms of class and institutions helps; should the PCF have followed not only Moscow (which meant, then, anti-imperialist principle, too), but also al-Hoceima, perhaps via the ever-growing Maghrebian proletariat in the bigger cities? This might have effected those (in fact) crucial ‘internal motivations’, at least.

Reading them now, the politics and the numbers of the PCF’s support for the Republic of the Rif reading are astounding. But, the party was birthed against patriotism, with a strongly anti-imperial Comintern nursing it, with the great war of inter-imperialist rivalry, understood even by 1917 as having ‘African Roots’, fomenting, in this period, a revolution in Russia, a revolutionary situation in Germany, the biggest strikes in British history, and ‘the first great national liberation movements in India and China’.[11] Amongst all this, the PCF stood against the Spanish and French war in the Rif, but appear to have barely impacted the state’s waging of it – and, some time later, the same party and some of the same personalities would hardly support the FLN in the way they did the Rif: was it because of the way they had?

[1] Romain Ducoulombie’s online review of Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse and Nicolas Marmié’s La guerre du Rif. Maroc 1921-1926 for more detail on this scene, incuding videos.

[2] Drake, David (2006) The PCF, the Surrealists, Clarté and the Rif War. French Cultural Studies. 17 (2): 173-188.

[3] De Madaringa, Maria Rosa (2014) Confrontation in the Spanish zone (1945-56): Franco, the nationalists, and the post-war politics of decolonisation. The Journal of North African Studies. 19 (4): 490-500.

[4] Slavin, David H. (1991) The French Left and the Rif War, 1924-25: Racism and the Limits of Internationalism. Journal of Contemporary History. 26 (1): 5-32.

[5] In Trotsky’s The First Five Years of the Communist International (Vol. II), available here.

[6] As Mourad Suleiman patiently explains in The Mosaic of Islam (2016, Verso):

‘The term Salafi, which indicates attachment to the predecessors, has always been there (…) it is a classic designation evoking the envy later Muslims felt towards the earliest Muslim generation who had had the privilege of accompanying and learning from Muhammad and his companions (…) In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there developed in the Muslim world several movements with conceptions more like those of Rennaisance in Europe – that there had been a Dark Age which is responsible for the state of weakness and ignorance, and to emerge from it we must recover the light of Islam’s golden age, that of the salaf.’

[8] Kharchich, Mohammad (1997) Left Wing Politics in Lyons and the Rif War. Journal of North African Studies. 2 (3): 34-45.

[9] Slavin, David H. (1991) The French Left and the Rif War, 1924-25: Racism and the Limits of Internationalism. Journal of Contemporary History. 26 (1): 5-32.

[10] Drake, David (2006) The PCF, the Surrealists, Clarté and the Rif War. French Cultural Studies. 17 (2): 173-188.

[11] Harman, Chris (1982) The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923. Bookmarks: London.

 

‘Our demand as teachers is to go back to our jobs’: the trainee teachers’ fight in Morocco (interview)

The following interview is with an activist from the ‘National Coordination of Trainee Teachers’ (NCTT), who have been fighting since autumn 2015 against the state’s efforts to dramatically worsen their conditions in training, and to end the guarantee of work after it.

The state has used straightforward violence against the NCTT, perhaps most brutally on January 7th 2016 (‘medical records provided by activists indicate that several protesters suffered trauma, including spinal injuries, fractures, and injuries to the face and head’, as Human Rights Watch reported). However, it was forced to sign an agreement with the NCTT that spring.

However, after not fully honouring the agreement in the latter half of 2016, the state took ‘revenge’ against NCTT activists, including my interlocutor, in January this year.

How did your co-ordination start?

Our coordination started in in October 2015, when the Ministry of National Education (MoNE) announced two decrees. Two decrees: one that said that the scholarship, or grant, that is given to trainee teachers will be reduced by more than half.  Teacher trainees used to get about 2,450 dirhams per month [€245, approximately]

You could live on that, with friends?

Yes, with friends. But, the decree said that it would be reduced to 1,400 dirhams [€140] ! How is it possible to live with this and cover the needs of the training? It’s not possible for a trainee teacher.

The second decree was even more difficult. It had a greater, a worse impact on us. It separated training and recruitment. Trainee teachers used to, after their training and their accreditation, get a job directly. If you want this accreditation, you have to pass many tests.  And of almost 120,000 people apply to be a trainee teacher each year, but only 10,000 are accepted this year.

The lowering of payment and the need to sit an employment exam were introduced after we began: neither was mentioned to us until after we began our training. It is a violation by the state (see here for an Arabic article making the case that the decrees were contrary to 2011 constitution).

In two ways, they changed the deal. Why? Are there more teachers and teaching jobs in Morocco?

Actually, Morocco needs more teachers. We needed more than 20,0000 teachers last year, and we were only 10,000. It’s a bad policy; we still need teachers. You can find classrooms with three students per table. Some classrooms have 60 or 70 students in.

Is this part of a broader problem in Morocco, and indeed beyond? That the provision of ‘public’ education is increasingly more a means to make money than to educate people.

Absolutely. That’s what I see; that’s the main goal, privatizing the sector.

There are private schools, too. Training is different; you do the training, and then only perhaps you are accepted. What is important in the private sector is experience. But, salaries are very low. In primary education, you can find teachers working for 2000 dirhams per month, or less.

There was a major dispute between junior doctors and the Conservative government last year in the UK. I was told that medical students in Morocco are also organizing against recent, negative to changes to their contract.

Yes, actually, but they started before us. Their problem is that – and I don’t know a great deal about this – their problem is that they [the government] changed the system of training. They wanted to implement compulsory service. The new policy is that they have to work for two years in a rural area – hard work, hard living, et cetera – but this isn’t the problem. The problem is that they won’t be paid for that training.

What the first steps of organizing? How did you develop?

It started at the Regional Centers for Education and Training, the centres. There are 42 in the country. I still remember, in Marrakech, it started spontaneously. Two, three, four people agreed ‘this is not fair, we need to stop this policy’.

There were elected representatives from each centre. Two per centre, usually, and they came to Rabat, and brought with them the ideas and suggestions of the other teachers. They came here, and discussed the ideas from the centre. They stayed together, and discussed, and planned actions. They then went back to their centers.

We organised different events in different places. All of it was peaceful, all of them were peaceful, all the protests [but the police … ?] Of course! We suffered a lot. We suffered a lot from the violence of the police. We still have some people, some trainee teachers are still suffering the consequences. Some broken arms, some broken … yes. It’s usual.

We organised many marches in Rabat last year. On November 12th and December 17th in 2015; on January 24th and March 20th in 2016; and the last one was after the dismissal of 150 teachers on January 29th, 2017.

There are around 10,000 trainee teachers, as I’ve said, but a much larger number of people participated in these marches; they were party people. About 40,000 or 50,000 people were involved in some marches. It was well publicized.

Trade unions, have they helped at all?

Yes, but they’re not primarily responsible for it. We make our decisions. Other groups – unions, some parties – have helped. There are six main unions, and they showed some support. They showed solidarity.

This emerged because of the decrees. We weren’t that organised in the beginning; we’re not recognised [by the state]. We’re not a union. It’s a coordination which emerged under pressure, under these conditions.

Which parties were involved? The AWI* [extra-parliamentary group], or radical left groups?

Not all parties since, of course, some of them are in government.

Also, the AWI aren’t a party within the government for sure. They say we should not be a political party, because in Morocco, parties do nothing. PJD are a different story. The AWI and the PJD have an Islamic background, but when it comes to politics they have different views.

The PJD says we should work within the institutional arrangements of the country. But, the AWI says change needs to happen differently. The AWI asks, ‘should I be involved with a piece of theatre’?

Our coordination and movement involved different people, having different ideologies. This is not a problem.

And the AWI is relatively popular?

Yes, even in Europe, they are popular among people, because of the clarity of what they say. Everything is there, in their books. And they say ‘no’ to violence, they never use violence, et cetera. That’s the reason, I think.

But, such things didn’t matter for us. Decisions are made from the centres; politicking is not a problem. What’s important is the centres. If you belong to a party, OK, but you should leave that out. Teachers show respect to each other, even if we belong to different parties. What’s important are the objectives behind the movement.

You said your efforts were well publicized. Which newspapers, websites, journalists, and so on, have been supportive? Le Desk [leftwing news website]? Lakome [a radical left analysis website]? And the bigger newspapers? Al-Sabah [a regime-friendly daily]?

Yes, a lot. Local and international press were supportive, as our demands were legitimate. Do you know al-Shahid, the AWI’s web-based television program? They helped. ‘Shahid’ means ‘witness’. Lakome, al-‘umq,  Badil, and so many others too. Internationally: France24, and some other TV channels and websites.

Oh, al-Sabah! It was against, of course. Who else? Al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya. It was against. Well, maybe from time-to-time, they wrote something in order to ‘grasp’ the population but, yes, against. Despite this the public supported us. The government did not.

As the months went by, the government were forced to listen, to negotiate. Could you explain the ‘April 13th Agreement’ of 2016?

At first, they neglected us. As teachers, we believed in our issue, we struggled, we didn’t submit. In April 2016, the government produced – not because it wanted to, but because of pressure – what’s become known as ‘April 13thagreement’. The main point of the agreement was that all of our group would be accepted, would be employed in the public sector, directly after training.

The agreement was written and signed by the current Minister of Interior, trainee teachers’ representatives, representatives of the six main trade unions, and some representatives of a civil initiative, which worked as a mediator.

Part of the ‘April 13th Agreement’ was that a ‘tracking committee’, involving people from those groups, would follow the implementation of the Agreement, and hold a meeting when something was not going right. Unfortunately, nothing happened. The government neglected all calls from the trainee teachers and trade unions.  Of course, we had to stop our protest and resume our training as a condition of the government. We did.

We abided by the Agreement, but unfortunately the government broke its word. Neither did the tracking committee hold its meetings, nor was the Agreement implemented.

Is that why things were fairly quiet in the second half of 2016?

Yes. Since the agreement was with the government, which should normally be responsible, we were expecting that it would implement and abide by the agreement.

I thought the government would not break its word. We thought, this time … This was not expected by anyone. The government took revenge on those who used to be activists within the coordination by telling us that ‘your names are not among the successful teachers’, last January.

Many inspectors and juries in charge of examining the trainees admitted that those of us who were dismissed– it’s about 150 – are well-qualified, that we all showed professionalism, and so on. Among these 150 were coordinators, representatives. Four of them were part of the team that negotiated with the government.

When baccalaureate students, for example, ask to get their grades, they’re given a report. It’s a normal procedure. That is why we say to the ministry ‘if we did not pass, show us our marks, show us the report. It’s normal’. But, the government did not, because they know we’re qualified, and they are taking revenge.

You know the state: it did not want any repetition of the activism. It wants to muzzle any criticism and subdue anyone who says ‘I do not want to submit’. It was a counter-measure, it took revenge.

What was your response to this victimization?

 

A hunger strike is the most serious of tactics. It began on May 23rd this year.

We did it for eight days. I was in charge of organisation, of taking people to hospital. There were twenty-two people on hunger strike. After eight days, there was an initiative organised by some figures in Morocco, about sixty well-known people and organisations, and they raised a call for us to stop this step, because it is dangerous for our health, and so on.

They tried to solve this problem. They sent letters to the government. They addressed the MoNE, and other parts of the state. But, again, no answer. This initiative is still on-going.

Finally, how does your group relate with The Popular Movement, al-Hirak al-Sh’abi, do you think?

Al-Hirak is about peoples’ daily needs; reducing costs, having good conditions of life, and asking for good services, in education and health. Since the demands of al-Hirak in al-Hoceima, in the northeast, come from the needs and demands of daily life – people are in need of the same things as people in al-Hoceima – it will spread.

They have legitimate demands. We do. Our demand as teachers is to go back to our jobs. To give us a back our rights, to be appointed as teachers.

* I have settled on the acronym AWI for العدل والإحسان. The ‘AWL’ acronym that I’ve heard – not read, I should say – from English-speakers is less incorrect than aggravatingly weird. The ‘L’ refers to is the second letter of the definite article before ‘إحسان’; it’s as if we were to use the ‘T’ of ‘The’ in acronyms, and arbitrarily, too. A-W-I are the most natural English equivalents of the ‘ع’, ‘و’, and ‘إ’, I believe.

 

 

An interview with Hirak activist Yassmin B

Wrists crossed above her head, a Hirak activist signs 'silmiyya' ('pacifism').

 

The following interview is with a twenty-something woman, Yassmin B., who has been actively involved in The Popular Movement (al-Hirak) since October, in al-Hoceima and elsewhere.

Al-Hirak involves women at the leadership and base levels, who have organised with and, on occasions, ‘besides’ their male comrades. There was a substantial Hirak demonstration on International Women’s Day (March 8th), and a women-led protest on June 4th. As al-Jazeera reported:

“Police encircled hundreds of female protesters in a public park late on Saturday, impeding others from joining, as the women chanted ‘freedom, dignity and social justice’”

And, on June 19th, three girls were temporarily detained in al-Hoceima for having shared a video calling for another women’s protest: as with religion, the state must appear as the font of ‘proper’ feminism and so, as with religious dissent, must block – repress, neglect, or co-opt – any feminist effort independent of it.

A group of Casablanca-based activists, Moroccan Women Against Political Arrests, are working to build international, women-led solidarity with al-Hirak throughout July. You can read about them here (in French) and contact them here (in Arabic, French, and English).

How did you become involved in the Movement?

Our generation inherited a long history of pain, of damaged dignity, and pride. The massacre of 1958 and 1959, for example, which we cannot forget, even today.* Of course, they do not teach us these things in school, but we know it through our grandparents, who were victims and witnesses.

This common history in the Rif made us much closer to each other when it comes to facing the system, with all its injustices and oppressions. The killing of our brother Mohasin Fikri was not only ‘a tragedy’. The authority’s saying ‘grind his mother’ summarised the situation.

Nasser al-Zafzafi and his comrades took action that night. When I protested the following night, I immediately knew from peoples’ faces that it would be a long protest, and that it was my duty to be present at every protest march afterwards. It is all people talk about in schools, at work, at the dining table, in the streets, on Facebook, and so on.

There has been a lot of national and international media interest in al-Hirak since late March, when al-Zafzafi and many others were arrested. But, the first months of the al-Hirak are barely mentioned. Could you give your sense of them?

After Mohasin Fikri was martyred, we started the protests in al-Hoceima and Imzouren. For the first six weeks we did weekly marches. We mainly called for justice for the death of Mohasin Fikri, not only from those directly responsible, but from those who are responsible for this corrupted system.

We continued our peaceful protests. The authorities kept watching us, and began trying to close public squares. So, we invented something called ‘chen-ten’; it’s Rifain Tamazight slang word for ‘sudden speed’. Al-Zafzafi used the term to describe gathering people quickly – in about half hour – through his live videos.

Chen-ten: I consider it as a contemporary development on the guerrilla tactics that our grandfathers excelled at against Spanish colonisation between 1921 to 1926. The method of surprise suits people in this region.

Al-Zafzafi succeeded. Everyone left whatever they were doing for the streets, to start the protest march: Men and women, including housewives and old people; the young; rich or poor; educated and illiterate, practicing Muslims and non-practicing Muslims, and people of different ideologies. It is a people’s voice, al-hirak, the Movement, or Anhezzi, as it’s called in our language.

Al-Zafzafi is widely understood as the most important of the leadership level of al-Hirak. Have there been any disagreements with him?

After al-Zafzafi appeared as a leader of al-Hirak, some of his comrades did not accept it. But, they were very few. To be honest Nasser’s rhetoric attracted and convinced ordinary people from different backgrounds. He is bold: he names things by their real names.

He can speak to people that didn’t go to university, like him, and even people that didn’t go to high-school, and people that are illiterate. He speaks with them in their native language, and helps them understand. The people chose him for his charisma, and call his name, and wait for his live videos. The continuation of the movement became directly related to Nasser al-Zafzafi.

Several leftwing Moroccan friends, all men, have told me that the Rif is one of the most conservative regions in Morocco in regards women’s roles and women’s rights. I don’t know if this is true.

We are not conservatives in in terms of letting women study or work; actually, we are encouraged to finish our university studies, a lot. But, the Rif is a conservative region for things like smoking publicly; for local women it’s not normal. Nobody would say something to her, but it’s not normal. The same for the mini skirts, et cetera, but it’s changing now

[Trigger warning for sexual harassment]

Al-Zafzafi is in prison, like most of the ‘October generation’ of leaders, including Silya Ziani, one of the most prominent women leaders.

Could you speak a little about the importance of women at the ‘base’ of al-Hirak? What different roles have women played? Is there are a ‘women’s movement within al-Hirak’, do you think?

Generally speaking, the women of the Rif are known in Morocco as conservatives, playing a secondary, supportive role for their men. Even my generation – we are educated and graduated from universities – still are overly protected by our families,

With the beginning of the Movement, we witnessed the descent of women to the street, just like men, and we called for the same popular demands. The singer and the activist Silya Ziani is only the most-known arrested woman from Hirak, But, there are other women who went through hours of questioning and investigations. Some of them are still being subjected to provocations and indeed prosecutions. Some of them are still minors!

On Eid, we heard about a girl who was sexually harassed by a policeman. But, she couldn’t complain, because she was afraid to lose her good reputation. Maybe this incident was intended by the police to spread fear among girls.

My sister was detained for an hour. They tried to convince her that Rifain girls should be gentle, shy and obedient, and that we must stay at home like our mothers used to, and that the demonstration does not suit them. Their aim was to weaken the presence of women in the protests.

Women are good for Hirak because they bring their brothers, men, and kids; we are encouraging men. And, Hirak is good for women, because it made them be present in the street, just like the men, rather than playing a secondary role: it is a revolutionary change in our society.

* See Miriyiam Auoragh’s recent essay in Historical Materialism for a greater sense of the 1958/9 insurrection.

Moving How? An interview with an al-Hirak activist (Part Two)

This is the second half of an interview with a leftwing activist in the The Popular Movement (al-Hirak al-Sh’abi ; The Movement, or al-Hirak). In the first half, we talked about the genesis of al-Hirak, its demands, and its social composition. Here, we talk about separatism, about religion and political parties, and the Moroccan state.

Since the publication of that first part, people in al-Hoceima and across the urban Rif have continued protesting each night.

One friend told me that they watched from a café as a teenager was chased by seven plainclothed police officers across the four-lane road into town; they caught him in an alley, and together dragged him to the riot vans they arrived in. Another told me they were part of a 50-strong crowd of that surrounded two riot-armoured police, terrified at having been separated from their unit (two vans arrived within a minute). And so on, with al-Hoceima near-enough occupied now.

Could you give a sense of developments over the past two weeks? The state has been making conciliatory gestures through the press, at the same time as increasing police presence in al-Hoceima and Imzouren, with the first rank of leaders and many other activists all in prison.

It is the carrot and stick approach. The state did not anticipate the resilience of al-Hirak and the wave of solidarity with the arrested leaders. The strategy of ‘decapitating’ the movement did not work, because as soon as a leader is arrested, a new one emerges. The Makhzan can’t keep throwing people in prisons. And the protesters are well aware of this. We often hear the slogan ‘ghir shedduna kamalin, kulluna munadhilin’ (‘just arrest us all, we are all activists’). The conciliatory gestures are signs that the Makhzan is feeling the futility of the arrests and trials.

Could we speak more about al-Hirak’s demands. They include ‘matalib ijitimai’a’ (‘social demands’) but not ‘matalib siasia’ (‘political demands’), if we take ‘political’ as referring strictly to state matters.

Social demands are what matters most to individuals, because they feel the lack of social services in their daily lives. Most people will understand why we need a university or a modern hospital but only a few appreciate the necessity of political reform, and we needed as many people as possible on board. Political demands will come after the implementation of the social platform. The shortcomings of the Moroccan administration, especially the lack of accountability, will be exposed.

To this day, the Makhzan has avoided negotiation with al-Zafzafi. When the ministers came to al-Hoceima on May 22nd, they did not show a willingness to negotiate with him. Instead, they invited the ‘political shops’, to use Zafzafi’s term for the Makhzani extensions that serve as parties and civil society groups. In a way, the Makhzan was negotiating with itself.

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Photo by JC

You’ve said that Rifian republicanism would not be tolerated by al-Makhzan. Still, isn’t the absence of such ‘political demands’ strange, in a region with a living tradition of separatist politics, and a diaspora living across several more decentralized European countries?

Republicanism is alive and well in the Rif. The heavier the repression the more people turn to Rifian republicanism. However, showing republican symbols in public is a risky adventure. Mohamed Jallul, one of the top leaders of The Movement, spent 5 years in prison for advocating the right to self-determination of the Rif. He was released in April 2017, only to be arrested again 2 months later.

Besides the heavy price of challenging the Makhzan politically, the republicans have to stick to the social platform that was adopted. But Rifian immigrants in Europe are not subject to the same constraints as the protesters in the Rif. The Rifian diaspora is more politically-minded, and voice their support for political reforms more openly. Many solidarity demonstrations happen in places with a history of separatism Barcelona, Bilbao, Brussels, Antwerp; all of these cities have a relatively large Rifian diaspora that have had a taste of the benefits of decentralization.

The Movement has its internal differences. What about its relations with other groups? The Reuter’s headline for their story on the 11th June march on Rabat said it was ‘led by Islamists’.

No, no, I think this is wrong. There were many organisations that attended the demonstration. The Islamists were a faction amongst many others.

That kind of propaganda will help the regime a lot. When the Makhzan explains its raison d’etre to the West, they say ‘we are fighting for your security’. People in Europe should take this with a grain of salt, and question what the official and mainstream media say about the situation in North Africa and the Middle East, especially concerning Islamism and terrorism. The state inflates the Islamist threat.

Take Elmortada Iamrachen for example. He was an Islamist – a salafi – in his early years, but he changed his politics. He’s now a moderate Islamist, against all forms of violence. He condemns terrorism, tolerates gay people and supports secularism, including the freedom of expression of atheists. He was an activist with al-Hirak. He had some differences with al-Zafzafi, but they were not ideologically related. They took him, though, and they are prosecuting him with terrorism offences. He was the first to speak against calls to armed rebellion.

When al-Zafzafi was arrested, most of the media close to the Makhzan, especially le360.ma, accused him of terrorism and drew comparisons between him and daesh leader al-Baghdadi. The news website le360.ma is known to be operated by the King’s private secretary, Mounir al-Majidi.

By ‘Islamists’, Reuter’s were referring to al-‘adl wa-l-Ihsan (AWL), the semi-tolerated salafi-sufi group that, beginning under that name in the late 1980s, have consistently opposed the regime. Could you give a sense of their strength now?

The group is not that big, although their powerful demonstrations make them appear so. But what they lack in numbers, they make up for in organization and commitment. Their size is estimated at 50,000 adherents, and every one of them is committed, with ‘committed’ underlined.  With such an organization, if you call a protest, you will see 50,000 in the street. But they are not a major player in politics. Is there is a dangerous aspect to them? I don’t think so.

The group does not promote violence. Their politics, they say, will be spread with peaceful means. Abdasallam Yassin [the group’s founder and leader, who died in 2013] sent Hassan II an open letter in which he asked him to give up his power and share his wealth. Hassan II put him in psychiatric hospital.

But, Abdassalam Yassin was against the cultural rights of the Amazigh people, and this lost him the support of the Amazigh community. He had a long correspondence with Mohamed Chafik in the 1990s. In the letters they exchanged, Chafik explained to him why cultural rights are important for any community, that people need to learn their own language, and so on. But Yassin, while acknowledging his own Amazigh ancestry – his ‘Amazigh microbe’, as he called it – was impervious to change. He also rejected secularism, as we should expect from people with his politics.

His project was the establishment of a caliphate, though not an al-Baghdadi-style caliphate. He looked back to the prophet as a model for administration, which he called ‘minhaj al-Nubuwa’, ‘The Prophet’s Way’.

It has taken me some time to realise that Islam, like any faith, can and does blend with other, outwardly incompatible forces, including Marxism and socialism. This is true ‘philosophically’ and also ‘practically’.

How do you think Amazigh and leftist groups should relate with the two Islamist groups, the AWL and the largest parliamentary group, the PJD [as developed by the Makhzan in the 1990s as a counterweight to the AWL. An austerian, right religious party that led two coalition governments between 2012-2016]?

Marxism/socialism and Islamism may look compatible, but the reality is complicated. They both oppose the regime but each from a different perspective, and their political projects are based on different principles.

AWL for example does not believe in democracy, if that entails un-Islamic phenomena entering the Muslim’s life. In AWI’s imagined caliphate, democracy would be limited to legislating inside the Islamic framework. We cannot expect such a framework to protect the rights of minorities, especially ones that are not recognized in Islam as full members of society. Atheists, Christians, gays and even Shiite Muslims will be persecuted or reduced to second-class citizens, at best. Some members of AWI say today that their group supports a secular state, but those are not the ideas of Abdessalam Yassin, and the AWI is built around Yassin’s personality, like other sufi orders. The PJD represents itself as Islamic but, contrary to the AWL, does not advocate a Caliphate. It merely suggests injecting today’s politics with a shot of Islamic tradition. Some analysts compare the party to the Christian Democrats of Europe.

There was a noticeable shift in rhetoric after the party came into government. For example, the party stopped its criticism of the TGV project, which it had previously described as a waste of money. Such a reversal reinforces its picture as a party too weak to stand up to pressure from the palace, the TGV being a gift from the King to a French company.

But the main question that people ask is how would the party behave if it had the ability to form a government alone, or a coalition of like-minded parties? This is a tough question, and the experience of other countries in the region suggest a painful outcome. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood adopted democracy as a means to an end. Once in power they took steps to make their stay permanent. Instead of dealing with Egypt’s most concerning issues, they started filling key positions in the state’s institutions with members of the party.

These moves alarmed the Egyptian people who called on the military to intervene. Now Egypt is back to square one.  I do not think it is wise to unite with Islamists.

That word ‘unite’ may be the issue. In a near- or immediately revolutionary situation, when the state is unstable, the left and the Islamists have a common enemy; they don’t need to unite, so much as be against the same thing, for a time.

This is what the people thought in Iran during the revolution. The unpopular and foreign-supported regime was the common enemy that both leftwing and Islamists wanted gone. But the Islamists and their leadership hijacked the revolution. Now, the Iranians are stuck with a theocracy.

In the UK, there is a wide sense that different political parties do to some extent reflect different interests, especially after Corbyn’s ‘internal insurgency’ against the Labour Party centre and right. There is a sense that Corbyn’s Labour represents labour, and that in government it would have some power to affect the socio-economy. 

In Morocco, nobody thinks that any of the political parties either represent them, or have any real power, except as camouflage for al-Makhzan. There are now two serious extra- and indeed anti-parliamentary forces in the country, al-Hirak and the AWL. Is the post-alternance political system , that began in 1999 with King Mohamed VI’s inauguration, now in crisis?

I think it is. When the activists ignored the ministers that day in al-Hoceima, it was a very powerful sign, that the traditional means of social control adopted by the Makkzan, are methods that are failing. One journalist from Spain said ‘the king is naked behind his shield’. I think he’s right about that.

The people in the king’s inner circle are not able to serve him as they did before. Both the Makhzan elites and the opposition are in disarray. The USFP had a legitimate base during the ‘Years of Lead’ – the authoritarian years of Hassan II’s reign – and carried the hope of the working-class in Morocco. The party was weakened by the alternance experience [the process of apparent political liberalisation that King Mohamed VI initiated during his 1999 ascension], and sold out in a laughable way when they signed that statement against The Movement’s ‘seperatism’. Now there are no mediators, only ‘political shops’. The crisis put a spotlight on the King, alone.

Gilbert Achcar seems to perfectly describe al-Makhzan when he writes of ‘patrimonial’ states as ‘constituted by interlocking pinnacles of the military apparatus, the political institutions and a politically determined capitalist class’, provided we include the media and the church as ‘political institutions’.

Such states may have their internal disputes – capital wants this, others wants that, and they compromise – and it has to admit new members, groups, forces, etc., as the cost of co-optation.  But it seems unlikely that the Makhzan will be anything but a solid unit against a working-class or broader-based revolt; less Tunisia or Egypt, more Syria. Could you give a sense of why the state (in the broad sense, including the government, the army, the church, the media, etc.) at least appears to be so unified?

The political landscape in Morocco is carefully constructed and monitored from the top. The King and his men intervene in all aspect of politics. To create a political party, you must accept ‘al-thawabit al-wataniyya’  (‘national pillars’): monarchy, Islam, and territorial integrity. A legal party can never support the Sahrawi’s right to self-determination; never question the monarchy, or religion. Once a party has given those up, it has given up on genuine reform and becomes another tool for the Makhzan to reproduce itself.

The King relies a lot on his title as amir al-Mu’aminin (‘Command of the Believers / Faithful’). As such he is the alpha and omega of religion and he decides what is right or wrong. This monopolistic use of religion was being challenged by the AWL and to a lesser extent by the PJD. But al-Zafzafi’s interruption of the Friday sermon – like all of them, a script written by the state propaganda machine – was unexpected and sent the regime into a frenzy. The next Friday, people boycotted mosques and prayed in the streets . This meant only one thing, that this propaganda machine was collapsing. The Rifians are turning off the television.

It’s hard to do business in Morocco without taking part in some form of corruption. Regime supporters are rewarded with leniency and more opportunities to grow their business, while dissidents are scrutinized. For example Aziz Akhannouch, the Minister of Agriculture, comes from a family with a long history of serving the Makhzan. His father was close to Hassan II and he was rewarded with an exclusive contract to import and distribute oil and gas products in Morocco. The son, Aziz, played an essential role in weakening the PJD after the 2016 elections.

Regime stability is due partly to French and American support. These two powers shield it from exterior shocks. Take the MINURSO, for example [the UN mission to the Western Sahara]. The mission is 26 years old, and the ‘R’ in its acronym stands for ‘referendum’.  Thanks to French support, the regime obstructed the implementation of the referendum for 26 years. The connections between the regime and France are so strong that Morocco looks hardly independent. In fact, the document that ended the French ‘protectorate’ mentions ‘interdependence’, which makes the King more of a viceroy than a sovereign.

The army is the only apparatus that is loyal to the King and still effective. The high ranking officers are loyal to the regime and they enjoy a lavish lifestyle thanks to the generous gifts and permits (‘lagrima’) from the King. As you said, we cannot expect a Moroccan Rachid Ammar [most senior officer to join the Tunisian revolution] to save the day.

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Photo by JC

What do you expect in the short term, over the coming summer?

I think the demonstration scheduled for the 20th of July will be the biggest in the Rif. It was called before the arrests in late May. Now that the leaders are arrested, it’s the only way to fight against the injustice of their arrests.

Like everything al-Hirak does, the date has symbolic meaning . It’s the date of the first victory of Abdelkrim’s anti-colonial war against the Spanish. It happened in Anwal, near Temsaman. That date used to be celebrated, on a small scale; people used to go there, but only in the hundreds. This time it will be big. There is also a high probability it will be repressed.

Moving How? An interview with an al-Hirak activist (Part One)

With 32 activists given ‘shameful’ sentences in al-Hoceima last Tuesday, with only more arrested and more tried since, the nightly riots in al-Hoceima – from 10pm to 12pm, after the final adhan, before the police’s curfew – have gotten more intense, with rock-marked riots vans moving together, fast, through the working-class districts of Sidi Abed and Marmoucha.

Visiting the country on Wednesday, Emmanuel Macron assured the Moroccan people that King Moahmed VI appreciates their constitutional right to protest; but, anger at the prison sentences – and that the King appears to speaks to le president first, before the Rif – has brought protestors in al-Hoceima saying, for the first time, silmiyya, c’est fini’ – ‘peacefulness, it’s over’.

I was somewhere near al-Hoceima, the urban hub of the northeastly Rif region, when I spoke with a left-wing activist from the region about The Popular Movement and the King, the Rif and Morocco, and the possible trajectories of political change here. This is part one of two, with the second out next Sunday.

Could you explain how The Popular Movement developed?

The Movement began in October last year, with the killing of Mohasin Fikri. He was a fish merchant, with a relatively large amount of off-season fish.

There are two versions of his killing. The first and more-repeated by the press is that the police asked him for a bribe that he refused, and so they put his fish in a rubbish truck. He tried to get in, and one police officer said ‘tahan mu’ (‘crush his mother’).

The other version, which I think is more credible, is that Fikri went into the refuse truck before the fish, as if to say ‘I need this to live, this is my livelihood, you must go through me’. He was resisting.

Tahan mu’ enraged people; it’s like people of authority don’t care at all about citizens. They can crush us at will, kill anyone they like. In addition, it was said in a foreign language, in Arabic; people are particularly sensitive to abuses of power by Moroccan officials.

Mohasin Fikri was called on Friday evening, and there were protests in al-Hoceima immediately after. The funeral procession was on the Saturday. On the Sunday, there were protests in Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech. It seemed to me – maybe I’m mistaken – that protests stopped soon after though. 

There was solidarity from other parts of the Morocco. But soon, except in the Rif, all cities ceased their demonstrations. And there were small protests in the Rif but, after them, it was more of a mobilisation. Nasser al-Zafzafi and his friends, other activists, went across the small towns, talking to people, discussing their problems. For the first time, people found someone they can talk to; someone they feel with whom there is two-way commuinication, someone that can understand them. That it was the al-Makhzan fears, and what it can’t do; it can’t attract people to it. Al-Zafzafi did. You know, every town to which al-Zafzafi went is now staging protests every day, asking for his release.

Demands were developed: how?

There was a long debate in towns, on the internet, so everyone could contribute, so they can discuss in their own town a solution to their own problem. There were ‘brainstorming’ sessions. There was a release of preliminary demands in Novemebr, and anyone who had any additions, or modifications, were able to contact organizers.

The list was to be adopted at a public demonstration on February 5th, but it was very heavily repressed. The demands were released a month later, on March 5th. February 5th was a symbolic date, the date that ‘abd al-Karim al-Kitabi passed away in Cairo.  There was a lot of symbolism. Everything the state does, they respond with something from the past, from history.

Ministers were ignored when they visited al-Hoceima on May 22nd. It was only a week after they accused The Movement of seperatism – a statement produced by the al-Makhzan. When they issued the 14th of May statement, actvists responded with a question from al-Kitabi who, in response to the mass executions and arrests in 1958, asked ‘are you a government or a mafia?’

In October the protests were against al-Hugra (‘official abuse’). But, after a period of discussion, protest, and repression, it’s no longer just ‘official abuse’ people are against; people are demanding what we tend to call ‘social services’ in the UK; health care, schooling, and so on.

Yes. People are keeping away from political demands, they are asking for hospitals and schools. Some of those demands, the government say, are already being delivered by a project called ‘Hoceima, Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’. That projectwas started in 2015, but we haven’t seen anything from it.

But the Rifian separatists’ claim – they call themselves republicans, and I share some of their ideas  – is that there is something rotten in the Moroccan state that you cannot change with a budget; it has to change politically. The Movement is not making political demands. I hope it will evolve in time to demand something like home-rule, or federalism; money can’t change the Moroccan state.

Al-Hirak hasn’t made explicitly constitutional or territorial demands. They are demanding very serious changes to how people live, though. What struck me about their social claims was that they both spoke to the Rif, but also to people across the whole country. They were both specific and general. This seemed sound, strategically.

They are, as you say, thinking strategically. They say: ‘what we are asking for are basics, basics for any democratic country’. If they started with political demands like home-rule, or federalism, or some form power-sharing, that would have frightened the government. The crackdown would have begun immediately, the same day Mohasin was killed. It was a strategy to make time for mobilisations.

There are places in Morocco worse than the Rif; some places are living as if in the Stone Age, with no aspect of modern life. They need those services even more than us. This is what al-Zafzafi’s idea was.

I think the most important step that The Movement has taken is to allow every political group and union onto demonstrations, whilst preventing them from influencing the leadership. At demos, you see Islamists, far-left, from every political group, but they are there as individuals.

How does The Movement formally relate to other political groups? I heard there no are formal relations with other groups, not even democratic forces?

After Mohasin’s death, al-Zafzafi said we should not work with other parties. He called them ‘dakakin siasia’ (‘political shops’); he wanted this movement to be completely independent from anything to do with the state.

You see, this obsession with organisational independence is because the Rif was cheated, was deceived, many times through history. People have pretended to defend the interests’ of the population, but they were just seeking their own interests.

After the 2004 earthquake, local notables formed a committee to oversee reconstruction. The committee presented itself as an independent body, motivated only by the common good. They had the approval of the government. But the reconstruction process was plagued with irregularities and embezzlements. Later, an association was formed to hold the committee accountable. The association was presided over by a radical, a communist, who had the support of the population, but he eventually sold out. These and other similar disappointments made the Rifian population skeptical of individuals or groups pretending to serve the common good.

The Movement has called for similar grassroots organisations to appear in every part of the country. They can formulate their own demands, depending on what they need. For example, in the Rif, we need cancer hospitals, and also a seismology institute, because this area is prone to earthquakes. It was that idea; that Morocco would see many al-Hirak-like movements in all of Moroco, with localised demands.

Women and demands for women’s rights have been vital to the growth of al-Hirak. Could you explain a little?

Rifian society is a little conservative: women don’t usually take part in politics. It has been a message, a very strong message, that women have demanded the same rights as men. Some of the strongest and most influential in the leaderdership are women. Nawal Ben Aissa, for example, who before the movement was helping women with cancer, especially women from rural areas. She was an activist, even before the movement.

I didn’t expect women to participate in this strong way. It was really surprising.  I mean, women do take part in smaller aspects of politics, but not like this, in such a strong way. It’s like there’s a change in society.

(At this point, I show my friend a photo of a group of women imploring young men to stop throwing stones at police, taken that Wednesday.)

Yes, of course. They know it’s them that police will hurt first.

Al-Hirak’s leadership layer are all working-class. Al-Zafzafi was a taxi driver, and so on. Al-Sh’abab (‘The Youth’), those protestsing every night, are poor working-class, almost all young, underemployed or unemployed men. Al-Makhzani patrimonialism inevitably excludes or hampers some capital. Are there any Rifian capitalist who support the movement?

You’re wrong. There is no substantial part of the capialist class that isn’t loyal to the regime. During the 20th February Movement, one multi-millionaire, Karim Tazi, was helping the movement, with money for printing and so on. So they came to him with a fiscal audit, and he was found to owe millions to the state. Everyone with any business in Morocco is breaking some law; if you’re with The Movement, the state will come for you.

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Photo by Theres di Campo

In Part Two, we discuss the relationship between ‘Islamist’ and the Amazigh rights movements in Morocco, ‘Moroccan exceptionalism’, and the political uses of democracy.

 

How Rifian are the Rifian Protests?

‘Are they Moroccans, or what?’

Analysts have used different metaphors to explain the relationship between the alleged murder of Mohasin Fikri – allegedly killed by police last October in al-Hoceima, in the Rif region, after refusing to pay a bribe – and The Popular Movement (‘al-Hirak al-Sh’abi’; al-Hirak), the grouping that is now doing what the Moroccan state fears above all: spreading beyond al-Hoceima, beyond the Rif, and across Morocco.

From the most used images, ‘spark’ is better than ‘trigger’, the second too suggesting a series of things already finished (a gun, bullet, a hand); for sure, the Popular Movement has its base, cadres, and leadership, arguing together now for a series of crystalline and enormous social demands. But in its relationship to other groups, especially, al-Hirak is still fledgling, a moving movement amongst others.

There were protests in October across the country, then, apparently, quiet. Only apparently: al-Hirak was growing, and in the last three weeks, after a huge demonstration in the al-Hoceima on the 23rd of March, things have shifted rapidly. There have been nightly protests in the town and its hinterland since then – three weeks and people still out each night – and most of the bigger cities and several smaller towns across the country have seen repeated solidarity protests. Last Sunday’s pan-opposition demonstration, easily the biggest in Morocco since the 2011 protests, marched from the Rabat Old Town to the parliament, people there from across the county: is al-Hirak no longer ‘Rifian’?

At a pro-al-Hirak protest in Rabat the previous Sunday (4th June), organised by the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one passer-by asked with disgust, ‘wach huma magharaba, ula ashnu?’ (‘are they Moroccans, or what?’).

To give a chauvinist more than their due, the relationship between the Rif and Morocco, and between Rifian-ness and Moroccan-ness, is exactly what is being decided now. His question needs reversing, though: will Moroccans become huma, ‘them’, part of the Popular Movement, or not? The 150,000 people in Rabat last Sunday made it seem possible. Who are ‘them’?

A Republic, a King, and the IMF

After beating a Spanish colonial army in 1920, the movement around Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Karim proclaimed The Rifian Republic, which then fought for six years until defeat by the French and Moroccan state armies, 15 miles from Fez. In 1958, two years after formal independence from France, four-fifths of the Moroccan army was deployed against Rifian separatists. Led by Crown Prince Hassan, later King Hassan II, the uprising ‘ended in a sea of blood’, as historian Susan Gilson Miller wrote last November.

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Muhammad Ibn ‘Abd al-Karim

Anti-imperialist nationalism morphed into anti-central state politics in the Rif, with the antipathy fully returned. The entire region was then and still is militarised, though the demands of the IMF and the World Bank from the mid-1970s onwards – privatize services, open boarders to capital, and later, close them to working-class Moroccans – meant almost-inevitable protests, in 1981, 1984, and 1991: ‘the people of the North have previously known the violence of the crown prince; it will be best for them not to know that of the king’s’, Hassan II said in 1984.

There have been pictures of ‘Abd el-Karim at al-Hirak demonstrations, the print-outs of his face blurring ‘then’ and ‘now’; even The Popular Movement’s demands for better healthcare bring a Rifian past and a Rifian present together (the Spanish state’s use of chemical weapons leaving the place itself carcinogenic, and the oncology unit barely functioning). And, that demand, like all the others, are made in Rifian-accented Arabic and indeed in Rifia, one of three Amazigh or ‘Berber’ languages spoken in Morocco (‘Berber’ is the more recognised word, but considered insulting).

History, current conditions, ‘culture’: All of these are present together, and appear to mark out the Rif from the rest of Morocco, being the appearance that led Moroccan political scientist Abdselam Maghraoui invoked to al-Jazeera: ‘the Rif has been structurally and symbolically severed from the rest of other regions in Morocco’. With perhaps 150,000 at Sunday’s Rabat protest, ‘severed’ seems strong now.

Against more than al-Hugra

20,000 people marched from al-Hoceima to Mohasin Fikri’s hometown the day after his being killed, and there were solidarity demonstrations across the country the night after that. Then, people were against the murder as an instance of ‘­al-Hugra’ (‘official abuse’; against repression and corruption). About the protests, radicals used the word ‘revolution’.

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Mohasin Fikri’s funeral procession

With the quiet after though, this seemed premature. Mohasin Fikri and al-Hoceima stopped making press, and the solidarity protests with the big cities stopped, too. Al-Makhzan, connoting the ‘corrupt’, ‘deep’ state, had left the protests relatively unrepressed. King Mohamed VI, Hassan’s son, sent his condolences; some lower-level officers and officials were dismissed.

One Rabat-based trade unionist said:

After the martying of Mohasin Fikri, everyone was talking about it. But then the King went across Africa making investments, and the news about the African Union. No one cared about the Rif. But, now everyone knows about The Movement.

But it was then that al-Hirak began growing in al-Hoceima and the surrounding towns (‘in some ways, more radical than al-Hoceima’, a leftist activist said to me), and that Nasser al-Zafzafi – the unemployed leader and orator, now in prison, like scores of al-Hirak activists – rose to prominence, first in al-Hoceima and the Rif, then beyond. Demands were developed through ‘participatory’, ‘open’, and ‘direct’ debates in al-Hoceima; in December they were made public, as addressed to the ‘popular masses’ (see here for them in full, in Arabic).

Those that struck most: full investigations into the killing of Mohasin Fikri and the five killed during the 20th February protests, 2011; the ending of the militarisation of the province surrounding al-Hoceima, and recognition of it instead as a ‘disaster area’ (this, since the deaths and damage of earthquake there in 2004 were largely ignored); an improved school system, with especial attention to girls’ and womens’ marginalisation; improved health provision including a working cancer hospital, with urgency; a restructuring of the fishing, agricultural, tourism, craft, and banking industries; an end to the expropriation of public lands without fair compensation; price controls on imports.

There is a regional framing of the demands that shouldn’t be dismissed. But, there is something unignorably general about them. One example: demanding price controls is to ask that international agreements – not least with the EU, via the socially destructive, security-obsessed Barcelona Agreement – be not so much revised as rejected, as contrary to ‘sh’abi’ (‘populaire’; ‘working-class’) needs. The demands aren’t so much against the grain as beyond it: beyond what seemed possible, much less ‘reasonable’, even six months ago.

A serious demonstration in al-Hoceima on International Women’s Day barely surprised activists in Morocco (‘women’s organisations are relatively strong across the country since the 1980s’, one student radical said). Then, on the 18th of May, the largest demonstration in al-Hoceima yet, resulting in gear-shift for state repression.

Friday May 26th, emboldened, al-Zafzafi interrupts the imam in the Hassan II mosque, the biggest in al-Hoceima, with the line ‘These of mosques of God, not of the Makhzan’ (video here). There is much more to say on the relationship between the church and the state in Morocco; two things now.

First, al-Makhzan uses the church for politicking in the most direct sense, with the Minister for Islamic Affairs, Ahmed Taoufik, having ‘demanded of imams in the al-Hoceima province, all of whom get their salaries from the ministry, to deliver a sermon reproaching the young rebels for promoting fitna”, or division amongst Muslims’, as Le Desk reported on the 28th.

Second is that popular progressive opposition to this relationship – al-Zafzaf’s rupture – is ‘historically unprecedented’, as one leftwing activist told me; ‘they’re using religion against the government’, said another.

Especially France-based analysts have described al-Zafzafi as having a ‘a conservative discourse, punctuated with references to the Korahn’ (le express, on the 31st); there’s seemed some unease at an Aristide-like figure being a Muslim, and readers were ‘assured’ the Rif is ‘one of the least Islamist’ regions. There’s certainly unease from the Moroccan state, with the most lurid claim from the compliant media – that al-Zafzafi is a Rifian al-Baghdadi – so ridiculous as to be self-defeating, at least for the moment.

‘You are well known’

The public prosecutor issued a warrant for al-Zafzafi immediately, for obstructing others’ freedom to worship (the warrant in Arabic is here); al-Zafafi escaped arrest the Friday and Saturday – that night, at least twenty other activists were detained; water cannons and gas against crowds in al-Hoceima – but, on Sunday, al-Zafzafi was caught.

The high drama of al-Zalzafi’s escaping the police that Friday demanded an equal, opposite spectacle, and so his arrest – a black helicopter, a black hood, a Casablancan prison – was filmed, too (the authorities has since denied the latter video is real). Over that weekend 70 or-so were arrested, and since then the number of Popular Movement activists in prison has grown to over 100.

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‘Freedom to the Grandchildren of ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khattabi’, at the Sunday 11th protest in Rabat.

Activists have explained that al-Hirak, democratically organised and able to cadre members, has produced not only a leader, but a layer of leaders able to replace those in prison. After al-Zafzafi, the most prominent of these is Nawal Ben Aissa, one of several front-rank women activists, who joined al-Harak to help women with breast cancer. She too is a forceful speaker – ‘they can arrest all the militants, youth, and women they want: we will not give up’ [‘baisser les bras’] – and, so, also now in prison.

‘You are all well known’ (‘rakum ma’arufin’) as Mohamed Hassad, then Minister of the Interior, said to protestors in October. Part threat, part unintended prophesy, the state’s aggression has produced at least martyr, and several immense-appearing personalities. It is still able to judiciously use – to choose to not use – physical violence, with the Rabat protests yesterday barely policed, barring a thin line of soldiers (of course there were ‘al-Hanash‘snakes’, or plainclothes police – in the crowd and, waiting somewhere, groups of 50 dirham bullies). At least outside the Rif, where less-lethal arms are a nightly standard, authority can still control itself.

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The minute pro-regime, anti-Movement group, in Rabat last Sunday

 

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Popular Movement activists, protecting that same pro-regime group

Whether the regime can maintain its self-control will be crucial. Two Moroccan men, hearing the news of the Catalunyan independence referendum on the radio, agreed that ‘if we had Hassan II again, there’d be no problem’ (later, ‘maybe the government will be able to saubhum[clean them up]’) They’re lucky, though, to have an eagle’s son, a fox, as a King, with Mohamed VI’s regime able brilliantly to mix repression with conciliation, neglect with attention, and the appearance of change with the reality of anti-sh’ab normalcy.

The gutsier press have criticized the regime’s more recent reactions to The Popular Movement, and even the parliamentary-Islamic, full-tilt neoliberal party, le parti de la justice et du développement (PJD), have called for dialogue. Whatever their motives, the state knows that it cannot only use ‘repression, arrests, and defamation campaigns’ against al-Hirak. The spectacle of the scaffold works, until it doesn’t, with a report that on al-Zafzafi’s entering the Casablancan prison, his new co-domiciles chanted ‘Guards Watch Out, We Are All al-Zafzafi’.

This isn’t to say that The Popular Movement is ‘Moroccan’, yet, but the tendency since the murder of Fikri and the building of al-Hirak has been towards a deepening and a widening of solidarity and, increasingly, a fuller identification with the movement far beyond the northeast.

This move towards national generalization might end, for sure, though several aspects of al-Hirak – its generating circumstances and response to them – suggest both traction and broad purchase. Traction, since there is now an organisation and a series of demands in the Rif that are fully against the social conditions of not only the Rif but the country, being conditions that are deep, ‘structural’. The demands are, in substance, against the broader forces, institutions, and relations in the country that, together, constitute what Miriyam Aouragh recently called ‘hyper-capitalism with a crown’. One of al-Hirak’s chants – al-Sh’ab yurid isqat al-Fasad!’ (‘the people demand the downfall of the corrupt!’) – only sounds reformist if ‘corruption’, defined broadly or not, is considered accidental to patrimonial neo-liberalism: it isn’t.

Purchase, since those conditions are recognizable and indeed familiar to the Moroccan working-class at large. The fact that the demands are both against police repression and for something like social democracy, in a country that appears by dint of its positioning in the world economy, and the reciprocal effect that this has on facts and politics of distribution and redistribution there, makes them both broadly attractive and almost transitional-like: it is an extraordinary document.

Rifian-ness and Amazigh-ness are clearly features of The Popular Movement, and will play a role in its political dynamics. But, to paraphrase CLR James, to make those ‘identities’ singularly important is as big a mistake as to ignore them.

‘Political dynamics’: similarity and difference, recognition and misrecognition, are not so much ‘cultural’ – which, like ‘race’ has come to mean ‘essential’ – as political phenomenon, with the ‘identity’ of The Popular Movement being, like any progressive social movement, potentially greatly more capacious than the politics of their antagonists; in Morocco, everything is being brought together and pushed apart, rapidly.