[Marxism] Behind the Demonstrations in Morocco by Richard Greeman

Fred Murphy fred.r.murphy at gmail.com
Thu Nov 3 11:16:48 MDT 2016

*Received from Richard with a request to post widely.*

*Behind the Demonstrations in Morocco*

By Richard Greeman

On Wednesday Oct. 26, the well-known Moroccan historian and human rights
activist Maâti Monjib and five of his colleagues were hauled into the High
Court at Rabat to answer charges of “attacks on national security” and
“receiving foreign funds.” They are facing up to five years in prison for
their activities as investigative journalists, human rights advocates and
members of the “February 20th Movement” -- the Moroccan version of “Arab
Spring” of 2011.

Two days later, anti-government demonstrations spread across Morocco after
social media spread the story of  Mousine Fikri, a fishmonger crushed to
death inside a garbage truck as he tried to block the destruction of a
truckload of his fish confiscated by police. The February 20th Movement,
long assumed dormant, sprang back to life and took the lead in organizing
the protests, which spread to 40 cities.

These two events – the Monjib trial and the demonstrations sweeping the
country -- are hardly unrelated. Monjib and his co-defendants, journalists,
media activists, and fighters for human rights, were already a thorn in the
side of the regime even before the 2011 rising. Since then they and their
colleagues have courageously struggled for media freedom while building the
on-line infrastructure of information and interaction that makes possible
real-time on-the-ground mobilizations like those taking place this week.
Their efforts have not gone unrewarded, despite years of government
harassment including base defamation campaigns in official media, bogus
arrests on morals charges and the current treason trial. As today’s
headlines illustrate, social media remain a potent tool in the hands of the
oppressed, and the authoritarian regime of King Mohammed VI had “good”
reasons to persecute media activists like Monjib and his friends.

A Long Tug of War

The mastery of social media has apparently leveled the playing field in
Morocco’s  long struggle for democracy and human rights. On the ground, it
helps coordinate mass mobilizations challenging the regime in the streets,
demanding an end to corruption, brutality, and injustice summed up by the
cry (and hash tag) of Hoga! (oppression). His Majesty, out of the country
on an official visit, has not returned to take charge of the emergency. In
any case the authorities dare not attempt to repress the demonstrations and
sit-ins by force on the eve of the upcoming COP conference in the Moroccan
city of Marrakesh, at which the Monarchy’s international reputation as a
progressive island of stability in the Arab world is at stake. The timing
couldn’t be worse for Mohammed VI.

The tug of war on the ground is matched by propaganda war in the air in
which for once both sides are well armed. The regime controls all the
official “vertical” media and can spin the truth in any direction. The
popular movement ripostes with its Internet-based, horizontal social media
and investigative journalist-bloggers. Here’s how the story of Mousine
Fikri’s death plays out in the rival media.

The regime is going through the motions of satisfying the call for justice
without actually seeking justice. The Royal Prosecutor in the town of Al
Hoseima noisily prosecuting eleven officials. This made the N.Y.Times. But
don’t look too closely. To calm the fury, the eleven police and fishery
officials have been locked up, but for “forgery” (in fact faulty paperwork
in recording the incident). They will be released when things calm down.
However the Prosecutor is not investigating the question of who gave the
order to turn on the crushing machine at the back of the empty garbage
truck. (The fish had not yet been loaded). According to the independent
on-line journal Le Desk, this operation requires the cooperation of two
workers: the driver to turn on the electricity in the cab and his assistant
to pull the lever at the back of the truck, where Mr. Fiki and his friends
were presumably visible. Eyewitnesses have been quoted saying they heard
someone give the order: “crush him.”

The authorities are classing Mr. Fiki’s death as an “accident.” In the
social media, it is called a “state-crime.” Few believe the regime will
keep its promises to “investigate” Fiki’s death: after five years the
Interior Ministry still has not found who was responsible for the deaths of
15 protesters on Feb. 20, 2011 -- the date which gave the popular movement
its name. The regime, through its official and allied websites, has also
been flooding the web with disinformation designed to confuse and discredit
what the protestors and the independent media are saying. These wild
stories are not likely to be believed by anyone but dedicated loyalist

Background to this Struggle

The democratic uprising in Morocco (also known as “Revolution2.0” or “the
social media revolution”) was not defeated in the Spring of 2011, only
stalemated in its struggle with the makhzen (or deep state) that rules
supreme behind the façade of a progressive, pro-Western monarchy, based on
well-controlled moderate Islam (the King is also Commander of the
Faithful). In July 2011, Mohammed V succeeded in diverting the broad
democratic movement’s demands into electoral channels by proposing a new,
more “liberal” constitution in a snap referendum.

This “compromise” Constitution gained a hardly credible 98.7% of the votes,
and has never been enforced, au contraire. As the democracy spring faded
into memory, the makhzen, thirsty for revenge, began tightening the screws
on February 20th and Human Rights activists and above all on the
independent investigative journalists, who expose corruption and
oppression. For example my good friend Ali Anouzla, the independent
journalist who in 2011 first brought the news of the uprisings in Tunisia
and Egypt to the Moroccans, was imprisoned in 2013 for “inciting terrorism”
(in fact for exposing the corruption of the Monarchy)

Meanwhile, during 2009-2016 over at the Center for Study and Communication
in Rabat, hundreds of young journalists and human rights activists were
being trained to use the electronic tools of citizen-journalism, in
particular the App known as StoryMaker (mentioned in the indictment against
Maâti Monjib and his students). The Center was founded by Monjib (Professor
of History at the University of Rabat) and named for the tolerant medieval
Arab philosopher Ibn Rochd (Averroes in English).


As repression increased in 2015, the government forced the Center to close.
Monjib, an internationally known scholar who frequently attends
conferences, was stopped at the Casablanca airport and banned from
traveling. Only at the end Monjib’s 20-day public hunger strike did the
government agree to lift the ban. Next came a series of groundless
accusations culminating in the Rabat High Court trial for “attacks on state
security” and “mishandling funds,” a trial that once again was adjourned
last week, perhaps because there is no evidence.

Another reason why the regime is trying to discredit Monjib is that he
edited a book entitled « Islamists versus secularists : Dialogues and
Confrontations » and brought representatives of two independant Islamic
Parties together with Socialist and Secularist leaders on his campus. This
was the first public dialogue between the two sides, which have often
settled their differences in blood, and was covered by Al Jazeera and other
serious media. These meetings continued and resulted in the rapprochement
of the two sides in a common pro-democracy movement, such as has recently
been achieved in Tunisia. The Makhzen, whose policy is “divide and rule,”
rightly considers this rapprochement a threat to its hegemony.
As a result of these activities, Monjib has been the object of a sustained
campaign of calumny aimed at destroying his reputation as a scholar, human
rights activist and man of peace. Pro-government websites continue to spew
filth about Monjib’s impeccable personal and financial life. Monjib himself
analyzed these techniques in an article published before he himself became
a victim: First, activists are attacked in media close to the secret
services so as to discredit them and prepare public opinion for what is
coming next. He distinguished three types of slander: sex for Islamists,
drugs for young activists and money for Left personalities. Next are
publically accused of “high treason,” “espionage,” “drug possession,” “tax
evasion,” “illegal business,” etc., often changing the charges and keeping
them tied up in court.

A defense committee (supported by Noam Chomsky) has been established in
France, and funds and support are very much needed. Please sign up at
solidaritemonjib at gmail.com (dollars and pounds accepted).

Theory and Practice

Among the ibn Rochd Center’s most promising graduates are two of Monjib’s
young co-defendants before the High Court of Rabat: Samad Iach and Hicham
Mansouri. Last year, the scholarly, slight Mansouri was arrested, convicted
and sent to prison a trumped-up charge of living off prostitution. Iach and
Mansouri are now in exile in Paris, where they are working as journalists
and studying communications at the University. Mansouri’s
thesis-in-preparation documents how on-line discussion of democracy and
revolution actually preceded the revolts of 2011 and shows how “people with
a common interest in democracy built solid networks and organized political
actions.” He concludes, “armed with their Smartphones connected to the
Internet, thousands of young activists and citizen-journalists have
succeeded in getting around censorship and providing information in real
time while encouraging sharing, comments and interactions among the
citizen-users.” This is clearly bad news for corrupt despots everywhere,
Morocco not excluded.

According to Forbes, Mohammed VI is the richest man in North Africa and the
fifth richest on the continent. The King has control over and profits from
the national economy in every sphere, for example phosphates, Morocco’s
most profitable export, as well as the fishing industry. His Majesty has
imposed an electoral system which makes it impossible for any party to win
an absolute majority, and the new Constitution, devised by a commission all
of whose members were nominated by the King, leaves all power in his hands.
Unlike his father, Hassan II, who during his long reign (1961-1999) was
infamous for his use of kidnapping, torture, and long-term imprisonment,
Mohammed VI, a progressive, modern autocrat, prefers new methods of
repression, similar to those used by the ‘progressive’ and pro-Western
Aliev dictatorship in post-Communist Azerbaijan, considered one of the
worst human rights violators in the world.[1] Mohammed VI has excellent
reasons to want to take revenge on Professor Monjib and his friends, and
today His Majesty is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Stay tuned.

Although the world looks dark these days, the continuing tug of war in
Morocco inspires hope… and solidarity. Please contact:
solidaritemonjib at gmail.com

Nov. 1, 2016

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