Miriyam Aouragh interviewed about Rabat protests in Morocco for The World Weekly
The following article first appeared on theworldweekly.com and contains comments from Miriyam Aouragh on the current situation in Morocco.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Rabat, Morocco’s capital, this weekend to protest corruption and abuse of power. Despite the scorching midday heat during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, demonstrators filled Avenue Mohamed VI.
Government estimates put crowd numbers between 10,000-15,000, while civil society groups claimed one million people turned out. Whatever the true figure, a wide spectrum of society was present: mothers with babies in pushchairs, old people and students, Islamists and moderate Muslims. The protest was one of the largest of its kind in several years.
The demonstration was the culmination of growing unrest in Rif, a mountainous region in the northeast of the country. Protests erupted there last November after Mouhcine Fikri, a 31-year old fishmonger, was crushed to death inside a rubbish truck after police threw away his produce. As a student once told this author in Morocco, “someone has to die before they listen”.
Following the fishmonger’s death, unrest has been grewing in al-Hoceima, a small town on the northeastern Mediterranean coast. Protesters are demanding jobs, education and affordable healthcare. Earlier this month leaders of the protest movement, known as al-Hirak, were arrested.
Many commentators have read the demonstrations as a strictly regional issue. Since independence in 1956, Rif, a poor region inhabited predominantly by Amazigh, also known as Berbers, have had a challenging relationship with the Makhzan (Moroccan state). Long marginalised by the state, they have endured racial discrimination and police brutality, as well as political and economic stigmatisation.
Miriyam Aouragh, media anthropologist at the University of Westminster, told The World Weekly that these protests are not “ethnic conflicts or demands for autonomy and separation”, but rather “social and economic struggles that have a very political expression”.
According to Dr. Aouragh the success of the Hirak protests are helped by the innovative use of digital platforms, “calls for protest happen simultaneously in Morocco and Europe” where much of the diaspora lives.
Protesters in Rabat held signs reading “No to the Rif’s militarisation”, while some waved the green, blue and yellow flag of the Amazigh. The demands of those in the northeast “are the same across the country”, Dr. Aouragh says.
Morocco was one of the few North African countries not to undergo regime change during the Arab Spring of 2010-11. In a country where protest is rarely tolerated, al-Hirak seem to have shattered people’s barrier of fear.