On Thursday July 20, Moroccan riot police in al-Hoceima fired tear gas and stones onto oncoming protesters who were marching against continued state neglect and police violence. 83 police officers and protesters were injured in the resulting clashes. The protest, which was banned by the government earlier that week, occurred on the anniversary of a historic uprising against Spanish colonizers.
The ‘million-man march’ on Thursday was organized by leaders of the popular movement, “Hirak,” which was created after Mouhcine Fikri, a fishmonger in the north city of al-Hoceima, was crushed to death last October by local security forces. According to reports, the fishmonger was killed when he tried to retrieve swordfish that was confiscated by the police for being caught off season.
Protesters demanded that the government fully investigated the death of Mr. Fikri so perpetrators would be held accountable for their actions. As the protest picked up steam, the Hirak movement begun focusing on social issues such as jobs, development, an end to corruption, and the construction of more universities, hospitals, and libraries in the city. In addition, they have asked the government to release political prisoners, including popular leader Nasser Zefzafi. Zefzafi is accused by the government of “undermining the security of the state and incitement to commit delinquent acts and crimes.” According to bystanders, the protesters were tear gassed while chanting ‘Long Live Zefzafi.”
The protests in al-Hoceima are one of many for Morocco since the beginning of this year. Last month, a solidarity march by the people of al-Hoceima in the capital city of Rabat drew the largest crowd since 2011’s Arab Spring. During the month of Ramadan, Moroccans took to the streets to protest the militarization of the security forces, especially in the northern Rif region. The Rif region is home to one of three major Amazigh ethnolinguistic groups in Morocco.
Meryam Demnati of the Observation of Amazigh Rights and Liberty (OARL) states that the protests in al-Hoceima and the broader Hirak movement “must be understood as part of the broader regional Amazigh movement, as well as the latest iteration of the Arab Spring.” Maati Monjib, president of pro-democracy group Freedom Now, believes that “… while demands in al-Hoceima are often local, there are many others that are general to the whole country.” He continues to say, “it must be done for all Moroccans or no one.”
During the Arab Spring in 2011, the Amazigh people called for the establishment of a new constitution and the recognition of their language as one of the official national languages. They argued that since more than 50% of the population speak a form of the language, it should be recognized.
In light of increased violence from security forces, civil society leaders have accused Morocco’s government of instilling and perpetuating a culture of fear. The mounting tension in the northern city has forced the government to respond accordingly. Ministers sent by the king promised citizens that the government will provide money to fund development projects to boost the local economy. Unfortunately, the government’s promise fell on deaf ears, as Kenza Oumlil, an Assistant Professor at Akhawayn University in Morocco, explains. Oumlil claims that due to the loss of trust in government and central authority, the promise made was met with indifference by the people in Rif region.
With the government only interested in band-aid solutions, protests in Morocco will continue for the foreseeable future.