Morocco: The Rif protest movement spreads

August 5, 2017
An anti-government protest in Al Hoceima.

Popular mobilisation in the Rif region in Morocco’s north have continued and spread to several of the North African country’s towns, despite repression by security forces and the regime's attempts to discredit the movement.

Meanwhile, several thousand police officers have been sent to Al Hoceima to stop the demonstrations.

On June 2, a general strike was launched in town of Al Hoceima at the initiative of al-Hirak al-Shaabi (the Popular Movement) against the authoritarian policies of the government. Strikers called for the release of jailed activists, in particular Nasser Zefzafi, a popular leader arrested on May 29 under the pretext that he had interrupted the imam’s sermon in the mosque relaying the regime’s propaganda accusing the demonstrators of sowing discord.

Since then, demonstrators have boycotted prayers in the pro-regime mosques. The strike day was marked by confrontations between demonstrators and the repressive forces of the state.

On June 5, two leading members of al-Hirak were arrested: Nabil Ahamjik, considered to be the movement’s number two, and Silya Ziani, one of the new figures involved in the demonstrations. Nawal Ben Aissa, a high profile figure in the movement, was also questioned by the police on June 7. Another leader, El Mortada Amrachaa, was arrested in Al Hoceima on the evening of June 10, before being released on bail on June 23.

Several journalists have been arrested. Some of the detainees have launched a limited hunger strike.

These arrests only fed the anger of the several thousand demonstrators who meet every night in Al Hoceima and the surrounding area. There have been more than 120 arrests since the beginning of the protests. Sentences of up to 18 months imprisonment have been handed down against 40 detainees and 18 others have been released on bail.

An intervention by dozens of police in riot gear on the beaches of Al Hoceima to dissuade bathers from chanting slogans in favour of al-Hirak has gone viral on social networks.

The movement of popular protest has spread to several other cities, including Rabat, Casablanca and Tangiers. Demonstrations and strikes have been organised to denounce social and economic marginalisation after the appeal of some political parties, trade unions and human rights groups.

Demonstrations in solidarity with the popular movement in the Rif and its demands have also subsequently been organised in Rabat and other big cities. An appeal for an initiative centralised in Rabat has been launched in this context with the slogan “We are one country, one people, all against the Hogra” (a term that refers to the regime’s contempt for the people).

This initiative has been supported by a broad spectrum of political forces from the activist sectors of the social movements, the non-governmental left, radical left forces, the independent Islamist opposition, human rights groups and local groups in support of the Rif and Amazigh movements.

The objective was to counteract the propaganda of the regime against the accusations of separatism of the movement in the Rif. It aimed to centre the struggle on the themes of “Hogra” and social questions, solidarity with the popular mobilisation in the Rif and demanding the release of the political prisoners and the end of repression.

The chance to build a movement on a national scale was also on the agenda. The demonstration organised by the committee of detainee’s families was a real success with between 100,000 and 150,000 people taking part. Women played a huge role in the mobilisations.

The revolt is far from over, and the determination of the demonstrators in the Rif persists. Solidarity is developing throughout the country, despite attempts by the Moroccan monarchy to prevent a snowball effect in the country. Extending the struggle is the key to the success and survival of the movement.

It is in this climate of continuing popular mobilisations that the forces of order have begun a “progressive” withdrawal from symbolic public places in Al Hoceima and Imzouren — interpreted as a sign of a softening by the authorities.

[Reprinted from International Viewpoint.]

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