Archive photo of Moroccan police
© AFP
Archive photo of Moroccan police
Last updated: May 2, 2016
Moroccan authorities on the loose

"They subdue us, humiliate us and take all of our money and wares"

Banner Icon Morocco's Ministry of Interior turns a blind eye when its representatives dehumanize ordinary citizens, which is why we have seen a recent series of self-immolations, argues Idriss Benarafa.

Morocco witnessed a public outcry after an old woman set herself on fire in front of the municipality hall in Kenitra on April 9. A video of the tragic event shows two Moroccan paramilitary officers who apparently had time to record the woman’s death, but, surprisingly, no time at all to prevent the old woman from setting herself on fire – or at the very least, attempting to put out the flames. Instead, a teenager bravely, but helplessly, took on the paramilitaries’ duty.

A Moroccan street vendor, Mi Fatiha (Mother Fatiha), as Moroccans are calling her out of compassion, decided to end her life after going through a case of extreme humiliation. A so-called Qaed, referring to the head of a Moroccan municipality appointed directly by Morocco’s Ministry of Interior, confiscated her money and wares, and then slapped the old woman several times in the face after tearing off her hijab. The Qaed then threatened to end the woman’s life screaming, “If you don’t shut up, I’ll run you over with my car and then I will bring 12 witnesses to falsely attest that you threw yourself under my car when I was driving.” And after all this humiliation, the Qaed heaped more misery on the woman when he forcefully took her, with the help of his subordinates, to the local municipality seat. Only God really knows what happened inside the Qaed’s office, but allegedly he battered the woman’s raison d'être to the point where the first thing Mother Fatiha thought of, when she was off his claws, was to immolate herself, right in front of the municipality hall.

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Mother Fatiha (center) seen waving the Moroccan flag.

Her death triggered a public outcry in Morocco, especially on social media, with the hashtag #mifatiha trending. Hundreds of Moroccans eventually joined from various cities and demonstrated in front of the municipality hall, urging the authorities to probe the case in a bet to lift the lid on the circumstances behind Mother Fatiha’s death. Patriotic photos of the deceased waving the Moroccan flag were shared on social media, some featuring Mother Fatiha taking part in a recent march in the Moroccan capital Rabat, a march in support of Morocco’s territorial integrity in light of Ban Ki-moon using the word “occupation” to describe Morocco recovering its colonized southern provinces from Spain in 1975.

A friend of the deceased, also a street vendor, witnessed the initial humiliation scene, before Mother Fatiha was forcefully taken to the municipality. She told Moroccan media outlet Al Yaoum 24 that the Qaed and his men always humiliate them and confiscate their goods “whenever King Mohammed VI visits the city to preside over the launch of various projects.”

“Whenever the king comes, it is the same story. They start their campaign against us, poor street vendors. They subdue us, humiliate us and take all of our money and wares,” the woman said.

“In Tunisia, a street vendor set himself ablaze and the move sparked the Arab spring. We don’t want things like that to happen in Morocco. We want stability. We want to live in peace, but we also want justice. I am sure the king will be against this. We hope he will intervene to do her justice.”

This is not the first time a Qaed abuses his power. Just a few weeks ago, a young Moroccan man passed away for arguably the very same reasons that prompted Mother Fatiha to immolate herself: injustice and humiliation. The young man, Mahfoud Jimi, set himself on fire inside a municipality hall in Morocco’s industrial hub Casablanca, setting part of the municipality hall on fire too. Before that, a Qaed and his subordinates harassed and humiliated him, and then deliberately refused for days to hand him a residence certificate, which he needed for a job application. And when the Qaed asked Mahfoud to hand him a bribe for the certificate, it was the last straw.

Not long thereafter, the story broke of a Qaed who lured a young couple in Droua, a tiny pocket of land near Settat, into signing a corruption statement, which he then used to blackmail the wife into having sex with him by threatening to jail her husband for 5 years. The couple understood very well, as the wife said in an interview she gave to Moroccan outlet Febrayer, that Morocco’s justice system was listed as one of the most corrupt sectors in the country by the 2013 World Corruption Index. They also perceived, as mainstream Moroccans do, that Morocco’s courts only serve the rich and the powerful. This prompted the couple to devise an irrefutable piece of proof to free themselves from the Qaed’s claws, whereby the wife walked the Qaed into a trap where she tricked him into believing that her husband had traveled out of town and that she finally accepted his sexual solicitations to save her husband from jail. And when Morocco’s Ministry of Interior’s representative sneaked into the couple’s bedroom and took off his pants, the husband and a family friend showed up, recording the whole scene and forcing the Qaed to acknowledge “sextorting” the wife. The video sparked an outcry in the kingdom, with the couple receiving broad support from mainstream Moroccans.

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The Droua Qaed caught, in underwear, inside the couple's bedroom. YouTube screen grab.

And then just two weeks ago, a Qaed’s aide was involved in yet another news story after prioritizing a famous Moroccan comedian, Dounia Boutazout, over citizens who had waited for a long time queuing inside a municipality seat to legalize their documents, which resulted in a nasty fight between the famous comedian and Khaoula, a 21-year-old lady who refused the injustice and threw a series of “You should respect the law” comments at Dounia. In return, the comedian replied arrogantly, “I am not on an equal footing with you,” before slapping the young lady. Khaoula then head-butted the comedian, leaving her on the ground with a broken nose.

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Dounia Boutazout following Khaoula’s head-butt. YouTube screen grab.

All of these events should be worrying enough, but there are also tens of other stories that have occurred just this month, where Qaeds and their aides have revealed the contempt with which representatives of Morocco’s Ministry of Interior hold the Moroccan people. Yet, this is just the tip of a very large iceberg; many cases are never heard of. Most people are afraid of being shamed in public.

One of the explanations why this is allowed to continue has to do with the Qaeds’ role in combatting terrorism. The Qaeds support the authorities when it comes to uncovering sleeping terrorist cells, which includes providing meaty advice on citizens, much thanks to their grassroots interaction with locals. While this interaction is obviously hugely important, as it helps to dismantle terrorist cells (Morocco currently being the only country in North Africa to have successfully thwarted all ISIS threats), it also puts the Qaeds and their aides in Moroccan citizens’ bedrooms, fully aware of their deepest, most personal secrets. As we have seen, some of them take advantage of the situation to blackmail people. And because of the Qaeds’ importance in detecting terrorists, most of the time the Moroccan Ministry of Interior turns a blind eye.

Morocco must realize that the various self-immolation cases that have occurred recently did not emerge out of thin air. There are conditions in Morocco that terrorize and dehumanize people, especially the poor, every single day. And the clock is ticking on decision makers to deliver justice.

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