Ryan Mallett-Outtrim & Laura Gilbie
The self-immolation of five activists in January briefly brought international attention to growing unrest in Morocco, evidenced by the mass demonstrations that began a year ago.
It is in the capital, however, where political rallies have become something of a permanent fixture.
Three times a week, the well-tended boulevards of the Moroccan capital are overrun with dissatisfied tertiary graduates, demanding jobs.
The rallies can last for up to six hours.
Marching down Rabat’s main arteries, they bring traffic to a standstill for entire afternoons.
Afterwards, participants congregate on lawns not far from parliament house.
Despite drawing considerable attention from authorities, their demands have not been met.
One protester claiming to hold a masters degree was bold enough to speak to a foreign journalist, but refused to give her name or other personal details, fearing police action.
However, she was happy to discuss the demonstrations, in which she has taken part for several months.
“We want jobs,” she said.
“There is a ministry decree that everyone with a masters degree will get a public sector job. But, when we get our degrees we find this is not true.
“Almost 1500 people show up to these protests, because the government promised us public sector jobs ... but you have to be from the elite to get a job in the public sector because there is bribery.”
She some most protesters are unemployed, but some have low paid jobs for which they are overqualified.
“They told us not to worry, we are going to solve your problems.”
However, she has no faith in the ruling Justice and Development Party, which is yet to make good on its key election promise of better jobs.
“There is nothing new since the  elections ... we are still suffering from our unemployment.”
As some police passed, she grew worried, but continued the interview.
She explained that the protests draw little media attention in Morocco.
“They don’t want to show a negative image of Morocco, so they don’t show this on TV. They don’t show the truth — Morocco has problems.”
When asked if these peaceful rallies had drawn any response from the police, she said: “Yes, of course.”
“Sometimes they hit us ... sometimes they imprison us.”
As the police drew closer, she finished by saying that the authorities have the “right to hit us ... because for them we make trouble”.
Like this particular activist, many protesters are unwilling to give their names or personal details to strangers.
Dozens of political activists have been imprisoned, and many more have accused the police of using excessive force against peaceful demonstrations.
Radical socialist Momley Eliatifi is all too familiar with the risks of voicing opposition to the regime.
Shaking off an assassination attempt in 2010, Eliatifi is now a leading figure of the reform movement, called February 20.
Eliatifi said capitalist “globalisation and imperialism are [the] causes of poverty”, but he sees democracy as the “answer to economic ... and social problems”.
“Personally I am Communist ... [but] it is too soon to talk about a socialist movement in Morocco.”
However, he acknowledged that “what we do now is very important for destroying capitalism”.
Eliatifi blamed the monarchy and “imperialist forces” for impeding social progress in Morocco.
Germany, Britain, France and the US all “have interests in” making sure countries like Morocco do not develop democracy, he explained.
He labelled these countries as “imperialist”, and said the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation are all “imperialist institutions”, which serve the interests of developed Western nations, “against the people [of the developing world]”.
“The king doesn’t work for the interests of the nation, but it is the [Moroccan] bourgeoisie that works for the interests of imperialist countries.
“For their own interests, not for the interests of Morocco.”
However, not everyone supports change. At a meeting on New Year's Eve, a group of Leftist and Liberal February 20 supporters discussed a fatwa issued against them.
In a Rabati apartment, this small collection of radicals laughed at the death threat.
These particular activists take accusations of heresy and promises of retaliation in their stride.
Yet in a country where citizens were arrested and interrogated for planning a picnic during Ramadan in 2010, drawing the ire of religious leaders evidently can have serious repercussions.
The following day, more cautious activists at a rally in nearby Sale were critical of reactionary religious institutions.
Mostly home to workers who commute daily to Rabat, Sale also hosts sprawling shanty towns of poor rural migrants — many of whom are unemployed.
Fatima (a pseudonym) is another socialist.
She took part in the New Year's Day rally to demand better conditions for the working class, and improvements to child care and education.
However, she expressed concern that many religious Moroccans believe that “Islam is against socialism”.
This was despite the presence of one Islamist party in the reform movement. It joined other February 20 supporters in boycotting last year’s elections.
“The majority of Moroccans are Muslim,” said Fatima. “They are uneducated, they think that socialism is against Islam, so they will never accept it.”
Her brother Mohamed agreed, but claimed violence instigated by police continues to be the main source of fear among protesters.
“We have to be on guard, you know,” he said, pointing to a man who had been assaulted just a few minutes earlier by unidentified assailants.
Mohamed and Fatima said thugs sometimes turn out to harass and assault secular and Islamist protesters.
This, combined with the presence of plain clothed police, keeps many in a state of fear.
Nonetheless, Mohamed and Fatima agreed that it is easier to protest now than in previous years.
After a nationwide crackdown on dissent drew international criticism in May 2010, the Moroccan regime rolled back its zero tolerance approach.
Eliatifi agreed that the situation had improved, but said only heavy international pressure is keeping the regime in line.
“The fact that ... it is easier [to protest] doesn’t mean that now Morocco is a ... democracy.”
It seems unlikely that the regime’s cosmetic reforms will be able to stave off revolution.
This point was made evident by the self-immolation of five activists during a confrontation with
Rabati police last month.
As Mohamed said: “This is the real Morocco ... and the real Morocco is not happy.”
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