An update on Morocco's protests #fev20

Following up on my previous post on Morocco, here is the video made ahead of the February 20 protests for constitutitional reform (and muche else), but with subtitles this time.
The Moroccan press and most of the political parties are on full-fledged attack mode against the organizers of the 20 February movement, accusing them of either being irresponsible, extremist or actually traitorous. The narrative emerging from the inimitable Minister of Communications, Khaled Naciri (effectively the government spokesman) is that some wayward Moroccan youth are being led astray by a call from Facebook that is probably initiated by an American-Iranian-Algerian-Polisario conspiracy.
Another line the regime has taken is that it's ridiculous to want to imitate Tunisia or Egypt because Morocco has always been considerably freer. This is untrue, some regime figures have had the temerity to claim that people have been free to protest since the 1960s, which is an insult to the memory of the victims of the "years of lead." In any case, a confusion has been deliberately created that the February 20 protests are about overthrowing King Muhammad VI, which they are absolutely not about: they are largely about socio-economic grievances and the need for the reforms that the regime has pretended to undertake to actually be implemented, starting with constitutional reform to make Morocco into a genuine constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute one that disguises what it is by calling itself an "executive monarchy".
For the past two weeks, the regime propaganda machine has created an outpouring of affection from Muhammad VI. Much of it is based on genuine respect for the institution of the monarchy as well as the man himself, but it is dangerous to play with the king's image in this way. One possible backlash is that on February 20 the protestors will get attacked as traitors. Street violence can get pretty savage in Morocco — I dread to think what might happen. And that's on top of official and covert repression organized by the state. And the regime is taking steps like boosting subsidies (which begs the question — if they were not thinking of doing it before, are they only doing it now because of the threat of protests?)
I've been in touch with activists are there are reports of Youtube and other social media accounts being hacked, everyone involved is changing their passwords. Nonetheless, I am seeing organizing committees in about 10 cities thus far, mostly in the north. What's not clear right now is how things might play out in Western Sahara, where protests took place only last November (ending in a riot, partly because of the army's intervention). Since one of the main arguments used against the protestors is that they are putting Morocco's territorial integrity in danger (even though the protests have nothing to do with Western Sahara, but nevermind). This is the line being put out by anti-protest bloggers, whose motivation against the protests are utterly confounding: if these are just normal protests, and Morocco is a free country where one can express oneself, then what's the worry? Take a look for instance at Robin Des Blogs and BigBrother.ma — in the French-language Blogoma, long the most stalwart defenders of the Makhzen. For the other side, see Larbi or Vox Maroc. There are many more of course on either side, but I don't follow that many blogs myself. I am curious what my friend Ibn Kafka will say when he decides to intervene, though.
To summarize, I think these protests hint at the malaise that has taken over Morocco in the last few years in the face of the mounting political and economic micro-management from the palace (and accompanying corruption), the king's unwillingness to move away from a neo-feudal system of governance that relies on his own symbolic power combined with backdoor negotiations led by the Makhzen, as well as disgruntlement with the result of this style of management: high unemployment, inability to carry out educational reform, political disaffection, etc. The 20 February movement has strong elements from the hard left and from Adl wal Ihsan, the largest Islamist movement. These have long been the monarchy's most outspoken critics, but their ideologies often alienate others. From what I've seen so far, I'm not sure that large parts of the apolitical urban middle class youth will join in, either because of fear, brainwashing of simply discomfort with these groups. Even so, these protests could put the question of constitutional reform back on the table, and remind the regime that it cannot continue to claim to be reformists while not carrying out any fundamental reforms in the last five years.   
Update:
Here's a rap video made for the day:
7 Comments

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.