A protester holds the flag of the Rif Republic as protesters shout slogans in the northern city of Al Hoceima on October 30, 2016, following the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri
© AFP
A protester holds the flag of the Rif Republic as protesters shout slogans in the northern city of Al Hoceima on October 30, 2016, following the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri
Last updated: November 8, 2016
A fish vendor’s death almost triggered a Moroccan Spring

"Parties come and go, and nobody will ask them what substantial results their passage in power actually achieved"

Banner Icon Maghreb The political earthquake that hit Morocco on October 30, following the death of the fishmonger Mohcine Fikri in the Amazigh/Berber city of Alhoceima, can have dangerous consequences if the root causes are not seen to, argues Dr. Mohamed Chtatou. The political elite and establishment must, at once, draw the necessary conclusions from this tremor, bearing in mind that the stability of the kingdom is at stake and that the renowned “Moroccan exception” in the Arab world, is in jeopardy.

In today’s Morocco, there are two distinct social classes: the ruling class made up of politicians, bankers, rentiers, big farmers, industrialists, the wealthy, etc. Then we have the ordinary people, made up of state functionaries and the poor, living precariously from day to day. Let’s also remind ourselves that the middle class disappeared from the country’s dashboard in the 1980s as a result of an acute financial crisis. It had served quite well as a useful shock absorber between the rich and the poor.

"Paracetamol" is no longer a pain killer

In 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, the Moroccan monarch proposed to the people a constitution that curtailed his overarching powers. Certainly, he did this to put down the social fires ignited by the street protest movement Mouvement du 20 Février, which called for a genuine “constitutional monarchy” to replace the “executive monarchy.” The 2011 constitution opened the door for the Islamists of the PJD to rule and in the ensuing general elections the PJD came first with 102 seats and its leader Benkirane formed a coalition government.

From 2011 to 2016, the Islamists’ “paracetamol” seemingly calmed public anger but failed to come up with a diagnosis of the social ailments to propose a much-needed long-term therapy. To justify their inability to cure this ailment during their 5-year term, they circulated an excuse called ta7akkum meaning that the big political decisions are made exclusively by the “shadow cabinet” of the monarch, this to avoid naming him in person. There might be some truth to that, but the party deliberately avoided activating the new constitution in order to make a good impression on the monarchy with the purpose of securing another 5-year term.

The Islamists, fearing the backlash of the voters, came up with this lame excuse of ta7akkum to shift the blame onto the “other,” known in cultural anthropology to be a common Arab practice. It is true that there is royal influence on matters relating to foreign affairs and national defense, but the constitution gives the head of government room to make necessary decisions pertaining to other areas.

However, as the majority of observers were expecting the demise of the Islamists in the October 7, 2016 general elections, they came back more powerful than ever thanks to their regimented discipline, religion-based support, and the high voter abstention of 57%.

The national ailment is unemployment and humiliation (7ogra)

It is a well-know fact in Morocco that political parties lack practical and real economic platforms that can create much-needed employment, national wealth and social wellbeing, this for the simple reason that most of the parties are mere political pressure groups.

As elections approach these parties often update their old platforms, which in the end is no more than party literature stating some very general objectives that are not backed by technical programs and activities.

In this regard, the PJD has followed general practice, knowing that unlike in Western democracies, there is no accountability whatsoever in the Moroccan political scene. So parties come and go, and nobody will ask them what substantial results their passage in power actually achieved.

Since ordinary people have no power and no means to make political parties accountable, they take this state of affairs as a humiliating insult to their intelligence (7ogra.)

Back in 2011, the general public believed, with much euphoria, that the Islamists would create jobs, achieve social justice, and improve living standards. None of that happened; on the contrary prices skyrocketed and subsidies on the staple diets are currently in danger of being scrapped to please the World Bank.

AKP – party of experts. PJD – party of preachers

In Turkey, the AKP Islamists have since their arrival to power in 2002 achieved nothing short of an economic miracle, turning their country into a regional power.

The outstanding success of AKP in this regard is due mainly to the fact that this Islamist party opened its doors to all Turkish political currents, secular or other, and attracted hundreds of experts from all walks of life and entrusted them with coming up with practical solutions to national problems.

Consequently, the majority of the Turkish people, from diverse social and political circles, identify whole-heartedly with AKP. Indeed, on the night of July 15, 2016, when the announcement was made that the army had challenged the existing government, thousands of people took to the streets to defend their democratically elected political institutions.

In Morocco, the PJD relies for its political inspiration on its religious mother association known as MUR (Mouvement de l’unicité et la réforme.) The PJD is a mirror image of Arab parties: tribal in philosophy and patriarchal in practice. As such, outsiders are not welcome unless they bring money or political influence. As a result of this tacit policy, the party is owned exclusively by its religious adherents and has not done anything to attract external experts, national talent or good policy makers.

So, in the end it has remained a party of preachers with no economic program and its only capital lies in popular support, which draws on religion as its foundation and the mosque as its medium of influence. In many ways it seems that the PJD considers unflinching support to the party as the sixth principle of Islam.


Photo: PJD leader Abdelilah Benkirane

The revolt of street vendors (Farrasha)

Thousands of young Moroccans, mainly millennials, hold university diplomas but are unable to get a decent job for the simple reason that the economy is not producing enough and nepotism remains wide spread in a country that does not recognize meritocracy in any way.

The Moroccan millennials, rather than peddle drugs or indulge in thieving, enroll in the informal economy taking to the streets to sell cheap Chinese wares at bargain prices. Because they lay their merchandise on plastic mats on the ground in busy streets, they are known as Farrasha.

Despite the fact that they are regularly chased off by police or have to bribe the officers, these vendors manage to make some money to feed their families.

It should be pointed out that the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, molested and humiliated by the police, immolated himself in front of the municipality of his town, an act that triggered the Arab Spring.

The accidental death of Mohcine Fikri, a fishmonger inside a garbage van on October 30, 2016 in the Amazigh/Berber city of Alhoceima almost triggered a national revolution. Things never went that far though, much because the king stepped in to bring the culprits before justice and ultimately put down the fire.

The PJD, rather than trying to find the root causes of this incident, saw this national backlash as directed against them by some external powers and national reactionaries, supposedly seeking to rob them of their democratic electoral win. A sentiment reminiscent of widespread Arab conspiracy theories.

The Alhoceima incident is only a tremor that has spawned much alarm but little damage, nevertheless, the PJD has to draw the necessary conclusions from this event, bearing in mind that their present popularity is fickle and that they have to seek sound solutions to the present national ailment of youth unemployment. Otherwise, we will all face a deadly tsunami next time around.

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