I’m a little late or right on time, depending on how you look at things, to talk about what’s been going on in North Africa in the past month or so. Ben Ali resigned on January 14th, Mubarak finally left a month later on February 11th, after 18 days of protests. Algerians have been demonstrating for awhile now, and Qaddafi may have his days numbered.
To paraphrase a question I’ve heard time and again in the Moroccan, American, and French press, not to mention my friends and family back home: so…what about Morocco?
February 20th has been looming for some time now as the day when Moroccans would take to the streets to peacefully demonstrate for reform. I started hearing rumors about a march a few weeks ago, and the date has been all over facebook for some time.
Morocco was ruled for thirty-eight years by Hassan II, the mere mention of whose name still makes some people nervous, but the current king, Mohammed VI, is softer in his approach to security and more progressive. In the past decade M6, as he’s affectionately called, has launched several royal initiatives to promote development. In the past few years Morocco has gone from #124 in the Human Development Index in 2004 to # 114 in 2010.
Like Tunisia and Egypt, though, Morocco has its share of demonstration-provoking issues—unemployment, low wages and high food prices being the big ones. In 1981, protests against the high price of food turned into riots, a memory which apparently fed the mild hysteria leading up to today.
Ostensibly, February 20th was about calling for reform of the parliament, which now acts as a rubber stamp for the king. When I searched “20 Février” on facebook, though, I found mostly anti-February 20th groups. “Stay at home on February 20th if you love our king!” seemed to be the recurrent message of these groups and facebook pages.
Actually, for a couple of weeks now facebook users have been using pictures of the king and his family as their profile picture. It seems that in the current climate, where demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt (and counting) have led to the resignation of national leaders, many people are taking criticism of the government to mean rebellion against the political and spiritual leader of the country and the symbol of Moroccan unity: the king.
The result has been a patriotic, almost reactionary atmosphere, which is sort of counter-intuitive when you consider how excited Moroccans have been over the ousting of Ben Ali and Mubarak.
Al Jazeera English’s coverage of the protests in Rabat hints at the delicate situation in Morocco, which has evolved a lot in the last decade but still struggles with corruption and concentration of power and money.