FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Behind the Demonstrations in Morocco

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 media.

The regime is going through the motions of satisfying the call for justice without actually seeking it. 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. The police and fishery officials have in fact been locked up for “forgery” (in fact faulty paperwork in recording the incident). 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, where Mr. Fiki and his friends were presumably visible. 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 cabin and his assistant to pull the lever at the back. Eyewitnesses have been quoted saying they heard someone give the order: “crush him,” yet 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: the Monarchy 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.

Background to this Struggle

The 2011 democratic uprising in Morocco (also known as “Revolution2.0” or “the social media revolution”) was not defeated, 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 movement’s demands by proposing a new, more “liberal” constitution in a snap referendum. This “compromise” proposal gained a hardly credible 98.7% of the votes, and has never been enforced, au contraire. As the democratic spring faded into memory, the makhzen, thirsty for revenge, began tightening the screws on February 20th and Human Rights activists and above all on independent investigative journalists. 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, from 2009 to 2009 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 Monjib and his students). The Center was founded by Professor Monjib (Professor of History at the University of Rabat) and named for the tolerant medieval Arab philosopher Ibn Rochd (Averroes in English).

Repression

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.

Meanwhile, Monjib has long 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.

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@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, 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.

Mohammed VI 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. According to Forbes, the King is the richest man in North Africa and the fifth richest on the continent. 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 V, 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, today His Majesty is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Although the world looks dark these days, the continuing tug of war in Morocco inspires hope… and solidarity.

Please contact: solidaritemonjib@gmail.com

Notes.

[1] https://blogs.mediapart.fr/hicham-mansouri/blog/181016/affaires-monjib-et-yunus-maroc-azerbaidjan-memes-techniques-de-repression

 

More articles by:

Richard Greeman is a Marxist scholar long active in human rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental and labor struggles in the U.S., Latin America, France, and Russia. Greeman is best known for his studies and translations of the Franco-Russian novelist and revolutionary Victor Serge. He splits his time between Montpelier, France and New York City.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail