An “Arabic Spring” Starting in Morocco?

After six years an “Arabic spring” has possibly begun. But this time the epicenter of the revolt is Morocco, which seemed the most stable of all the Arabic countries and was just touched upon by the revolution that in 2011 swept away, one after the other, the Raʾīs (the rulers) of North Africa.

The crisis point  was Al-Hoceima, the chieftown of Rif, the most northern region of Morocco. It is a mountainous region, bordered by the chain that gives it its name and where lives the population of Berbera origins. The manifestations followed the day after, ever more strained, and tear gas lanterns are not enough to disperse protesters marching against the government.

Against the Hogra

The disorders started in Al-Hoceima last October, when the young fishmonger Mohcine Fikri was arrested, picked on by the police, and died pressed in a garbage truck, while he was looking to recover the sword fish that was confiscated from him by some agents, because it was caught out of season. One episode the salesman remembers who was fired in December of 2010 in Tunisia, triggering the “Jasmine Revolution”.

The events in memory of Mohcine Fikri transformed in protest of mass control of “Hogra”, a local word that indicates “abuse of power”, “arrogance of whoever is in charge”. A the head of the revolt are the members of the movement al-Hirak al-Shaabi, who want the end of the “repression” of the government and the abuse from the police.

The government underestimated at first the flow of the protests and now finds it hard to regain control of the situation. The same King Mohammed VI criticized his own ministers, above all for missing investments, even decided and financed, but devoured by corruption. Rif remains the poorest of the Moroccan regions, and the Berberi feel neglected, marginalised by the majority of Arabs who all have power.

“Long live Zefzafi”

But the protests are mobilising the youth of all countries, even Arabic ones. Ali, a political science researcher of al-Hoceima who lives in Canada, declared to Al-Jazeera that he returned to the city to show his support to the Hirak movement. In these days the police arrested around 12 activists, among whom was the head of a website, Hamid El Mahdaoui.

The majority of the shops of the city remained closed during the events, and the internet as well as mobile phones were useless. In the Sidi Abed quarter, in clashes with the police the demonstrators sang “Long live Rif” and “Long live Zefzafi”, in reference to the leader of the event, Hirak Nasser Zefzafi, who was imprisoned because he “attacked state security”. The arrest of Zefzafi, together with 150 of his activist colleagues, brought to the march of solidarity of last June in Rabat, with more than 100,000 demonstrators, and clashes all over the country.

Justice for Mohcine Fikri

Nevertheless the positions of the first minister Saadeddine El-Othmani were conciliatory. And even King Muhammad VI expressed “regrets and concern” for the situation. Despite the riots, the sovereign was still popular among the protesters. In contrast to his father, Hassan II, who crushed a revolt in the ’50s, repressing the Berbera culture and calling his exponents “savages”, Muhammad recognises the Berberi traditions and has a plan for the transformation of Rif and the surrounding zone of Tangeri, opposite the coast of Spain, and Europe, and a center of economic importance for manufacturing and commerce.

The protesters however continue to demand investigations on the death of Mohcine Fikri, the fish vendor, the liberation of the political prisoners, the construction of a university, hospitals and a library in Rif, less corruption and less inefficiency on the part of the government. Even if the poverty in Morocco has lessened, the disoccupation is close to 11%, and even higher in the internal zones.