Feb 20th Movement
In many academic and even news circles about the Arab Spring you hear about Morocco in terms of the “Moroccan Exception.” The Arab Spring, loosely ( this is not me making a poli sci claim) were revolutions and uprisings that occurred across the Arab, and the non-Arab world, following the 2010 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor. As their neighbors in the region revolted and toppled political leaders, Morocco, when referred to as the exception, did not have the same kind of mass mobilization. Where this statement is true in general terms, as with any pattern, let alone political/revolutionary, the nuances are extracted and missed. Following the unrest in the region, Morocco had its own set of massive uprisings, and though it did not de-throne King Mohammed VI, what is known as the February 20th Movement still holds consequences today. My program had the opportunity to meet and talk with Omar Radi (@OmarRADI), a journalist and one of the leaders of the youth movement and to watch a documentary about the youth-led February 20th Movement.
- Watch the documentary My Makhzen and Me by Nadir Bouhmouch.
- Some important context before watching: Morocco has a king, an incredibly wealthy and connected king. Makhzen refers to the king and royal family, but more so to the whole structure/institution of the royal government apparatus. The country faces incredible inequality and uneven “development” in urban versus rural areas. There is state-controlled media and censorship. This documentary was filmed without official sanction, in what the filmmaker calls “an act of civil disobedience.”
- Read about how the February 20th Movement’s 6th anniversary was marked this year.
Thousands of Moroccans shout slogans during a demonstration in the northern town of Al-Hoceima. May 18, 2017. (REUTERS/Youssef Boudlal)
Hirak al-Hoceima and the Rif Region
During our first weekend in Rabat, Morocco’s capital, I stumbled into the middle of a protest while out exploring. I later learned that the protest had been in solidarity with the Rif detainees. IHP got to spend an afternoon with Maissa, a young activist from Al Hoceima, to learn about the historic, social and economic reasons for the regions uprising (Hirak). Ignited by the fatal (and deliberate) garbage truck crushing of fish monger Mohsen Fikri as he dove in after his confiscated fish last year, the Rif region and the city of Al Hoceima have been in a state of political and social upheaval since.
Maissa explained that the region, predominantly Amazigh (indigenous north Africans, also referred to generally as “Berbers”- though many find this term derogative) has been marginalized really since Spanish colonization. With extremely high cancer rates due to the chemical weapons used on the region by the Spanish, low social and economic opportunity due to national policy and neglect by King Hassan II and now his son, King Mohammed VI, as well as the residual impacts of the 2004 earthquake (read my blog “I Don’t Speak for The Trees” for more on the social side of environmental disasters), the hiraks that followed Fikri’s murder were far from unmediated.
A really important aspect of the hiraks in al-Hoceima has been women leaders. In a larger world context that labels women as victims of Islam (a topic for another time – read this for now), this mass mobilization is important to counter western dominant narratives and to center intersectionality in the discourse. Oct. 28th marks the one-year anniversary of Mohsen Fikri’s death and as imprisonment, repression, and state violence continue to be the norm in the region, the movement carries on.