Morocco rises up against the Makhzen

From the November-December 2016 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

Thousands of Moroccans took to the streets of various cities following the Oct. 28 death of fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri, 31, in Al-Hoceima. Police had confiscated Fikri’s out-of-season swordfish and he was trying to retrieve it from a city garbage truck when he was crushed by the compactor.

Activists say that a police officer on the scene ordered the truck’s driver to kill Fikri.

Protesters gathered in front of the parliament in Rabat to chant slogans against the authorities. King Mohammed VI expressed his regrets to the family and promised an investigation.

These protests are the latest in a series of demonstrations, like those against the harassment of street vendors in Casablanca in 2015. Earlier this year, protests by student teachers against employment cuts in Casablanca, Marrakesh, and other cities were met with violence by authorities. Dozens were injured and the nation was shocked by photos of bloodied young women.

Morocco had its own mass Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011 when thousands took the streets demanding government reforms and a new constitution.

LEGACY OF 2011…?

Peaceful march in Rabat, Morocco on Nov. 7, 2016, in protest of the death of fishmonger Mohsen Fikri.

Peaceful march in Rabat, Morocco, on Nov. 7, 2016, in protest of the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri.

Efforts at repression failed to halt those demonstrations and by 2012 they had spread across the nation, brought students together with the working class and reached into occupied Western Sahara. At that point a new Constitution that gave slightly more authority to parliament was passed—though the King remains the supreme authority. Parliament is dominated by a moderate Islamist party that keeps apart from popular protest.

Frustration at conservatism and corruption remains a continuing cause of unrest. The slogan in the current demonstrations has been “Mouhcine was killed and the Makhzen is guilty!” Makhzen is shorthand for “the State,” and technically means the King, the landowners, military and security men and well-connected civil servants.

LEAST POWER, MOST RESPONSIBILITY

Fikri wasn’t even aware of the rule he was accused of violating. Police could have directed their attention to harbor authorities who allowed for the fish’s possession and transportation. Following the protests, two interior ministry officers, two fisheries officials and the veterinary chief in the city of Al-Hoceima have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Freedom activist Professor Maati Monjib, himself a victim of state persecution, said Oct. 31: “The Makhzen, and I am not making allusion here to the state with its legal and legislative meaning, needs to be dismantled. I am making allusion to the Makhzen as an illegal traditional institution. The Makhzen humiliates people, life, and human rights.”

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