Facebook friends rally in
Morocco By Ilhem Rachidi
"The people want a new constitution."
"We want social justice, liberty,
RABAT, Morocco - Slogans
like these have been shouted throughout the week
in Morocco in a series of protests led by a group
of youngsters who met on Facebook and call
themselves the "Feb 20 movement for change".
Followed by supporters from different
political persuasions, they want constitutional
reform, with a limitation on the power of the
king, the dissolution of parliament, the
resignation of the
government, the release of
all political prisoners, as well as official
recognition of the Berber Tamazight language.
What they don't want is a revolution.
"Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt [where
long-standing rulers have been forced out], these
youngsters are demanding reform of the regime
[through a democratic constitution], not a change
of the existing regime," says political science
professor Mohamed Darif.
If the political
climate in Morocco is not the same as in Egypt and
Tunisia, the social one is similar, according to
members of the movement.
"We will be a
part of this Arab spring," says 23-year-old
Abdallah Aballagh, a leader of the Feb 20 movement
who was a member of a left-wing political party
for four years before quitting. "I am confident
Morocco after Feb 20 is different from Morocco
before Feb 20."
"I believe in radical
change," says Yacine Falah, a long-time militant
who joined the group. "But it's going to be
extremely hard and will take a lot of time."
Morocco is viewed by many observers as
immune to major political disturbance and
therefore as an exception in the Arab world. But
although King Mohamed VI remains very popular,
Morocco's political leaders are highly
discredited. The main power is in the hands of the
king and his close advisers. The parliament,
elected with a record low 37% turnout in 2007, is
far from representative.
recent years has increased, disparities between
rich and poor remain, and as in Tunisia and Egypt,
the unemployment rate is high, especially among
According to Oxford University
professor Michael Willis, Morocco needs to rapidly
initiate new reforms to stave off further
discontent. "After what has happened in the last
two months, anything could happen anywhere. It is
less likely in Morocco, but all the ingredients
are there," he says.
"There is the head of
state who has been here for a shorter period of
time. There is the feeling that in Morocco things
have changed, unlike in other countries in the
last decade. There is a memory than things have
changed," Willis says. " However, the pace has
slowed during the last five or six years and
probably stopped. If the reform process doesn't
start moving again, Morocco will build up problems
Morocco's Feb 20 movement was
born on Facebook about a month ago. The revolution
in Tunisia prompted these youngsters who had never
met to organize a march calling for profound
change in the kingdom. They agreed on a day to
march across the country: February 20.
Left-wing militants, youngsters from
various political parties, as well as Islamists
united for peaceful marches in large cities
including the capital Rabat, Casablanca,
Marrakesh, Agadir, Tangiers, as well as smaller
ones like Sefrou, Larache and Al Hoceima. Tens of
thousands of people took part.
local groups have now spread to all major cities.
In Rabat, though the group originally numbered only around 20, its name is on everyone's
The Internet permitted them to meet
and to reach out to tens of thousands of people
with a now famous video in which 14 Moroccans of
different origins explained why they planned to
attend the march. The video cost about 50 dirhams
(about US$7), Aballagh now jokes. They also
exchanged thoughts online with fellow Tunisian
militants before January's revolution.
helped them. We gave them advice to get round
censorship, to spread information," says Falah.
"Now Tunisians and Egyptians give us advice to
avoid violence during demonstrations," adds
Aballagh, in a discussion following a sit-in in
A week after the march, protests
were still taking place across the country. On
Sunday, in the last of a series of sit-ins,
hundreds of people showed up early at Bab el Had
in Rabat, while dozens stopped just to get a
glimpse of the event. About 400 militants chanted
slogans against the media and police repression
and urging other Moroccans to join them for real
change in Morocco. State television was booed when
its cameraman approached to film the event.
Feb 20 leaders announced on Sunday that
weekly protests were planned for March. They
insisted they should keep the momentum and, in the
context of events in the wider region, had an
historical opportunity for change that could not
This week will be a test for
the movement, which has been highly criticized and
at times repressed. Several militants from the
movement and supporting human-rights organizations
were hit and wounded by police forces during
similar sit-ins last week.
In Rabat, many
were skeptical that the movement could initiate
major change in politics and argued that
authorities should not have let these
"troublemakers" protest more than once. Critics
also falsely accused the movement of being led by
"unknown", "atheist", "anti-monarchy" youngsters
who will quickly be deterred from pursuing their
Members of the group say they
will not be deterred from continuing their
struggle. They say they feel they are attracting
increasing interest from local politicians.
Political party leaders, who were at first against
the march, are slowly starting to court the
protesters by initiating dialogue.
According to the Feb 20 movement leaders,
about 60 organizations now back the movement,
including the Moroccan Association for Human
Rights, the anti-globalization non-governmental
organization Attac in Morocco, a few small
left-wing political parties and trade unions.
However, no major political party has yet
publicly declared its support, although a few seem
to be eager to benefit from the success of the Feb
"The march was civilized,"
said a member of the national bureau of Morocco's
socialist party, who called on its members not to
take part. "Protests have become a normal thing in
Morocco. We didn't march simply because we didn't
know who was behind this movement."
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