‘Hogra’ protests test Morocco’s Makhzen


Grainy video images and the screams of a young fishmonger who was crushed to death in a garbage truck while trying to stop police destroying his stock have shocked Moroccans and brought thousands on to the streets to protest, Aziz El Yaakoubi writes for Reuters:

Five years after pro-democracy protests shook Morocco, this week’s unrest is a reminder of pent-up frustrations the monarchy has managed to tame in the past with limited constitutional reforms, heavy welfare spending and tough security. With a rallying cry against the Makhzen – a term used to describe the royal establishment – protesters have vowed to stage more demonstrations over Mouhcine Fikri’s death in the northern city of Al-Hoceima, which was captured on video by witnesses and widely shared on social media….

The protests erupted at a sensitive moment as the kingdom prepares to host the 2016 United Nations climate change conference in November (COP22) and the prime minister begins to form a coalition government after elections last month.

“The Moroccan regime knows how to buy peace, especially now that the country is hosting COP22,” said Mohammed Larbi Ben Othmane, a political scientist in Rabat university. “They know how to adapt, you would even see members of the royal cabinet protesting with people if they need to do so, but they will never show weakness.”

morocco-protestsThe protests highlight the limits of reform within what analyst Daniel Brumberg, writing for the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy, called the trap of liberalized autocracy.

The main Moroccan Islamist group, the Justice and Development Party, which leads the government and scored well in recent elections, has urged its supporters not to join the protests, but Morocco’s Islamist Prime Minister said in an interview with DPA yesterday he understands why thousands have protested.

“The protests happened on a natural scale and there was nothing surprising about them. We understand the reasons for them,” Abdel-Ilah Benkiran said by phone from the Moroccan capital Rabat.

Hogra,” a word that means both contempt, abuse of authority and injustice, is being heard a lot these days in Al-Hoceima, according to reports:

But in Al-Hoceima, social hogra merges with another sense of abandonment, that of the Amazigh-populated Rif region, which suffers from high unemployment rates and economic marginalization…Morocco’s National Federation of Amazigh Associations (FNAA), meanwhile, has called on “all components of the Amazigh people” and “Moroccan human rights and democracy bodies” to fight “against Islamist obscurantism and racist Arabism.”

Many February 20 activists were disappointed by the reforms, which they believe did not go far enough to bring democracy, and any suggestion of a resurgence of the movement is sensitive for a monarchic political system that critics describe as a medieval and archaic, Reuters adds.

“What happened shows that all the people who thought the February 20 movement was dead were wrong,” said Ben Othmane. “Moroccans did not lose that capacity to resist.”

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