Monday, February 21, 2011

Moroccan Protests - Update

Apart from some reports of vandalism, it appears that the protests in Morocco went off without any violence. The police and security forces did not intervene. In Marrakech the numbers appear to have been quite low with only 5000 people attending. According to some reports, however, vandals besieged a Marrakech McDonald's restaurant and a clothing store in spillover unrest. This was reported in the Huffington Post who said that a security official gave the information on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

And in the northern city of Larache, roaming bands set upon the regional governor's house and set fire to a gasoline station, prompting firefighters to intervene to put out the blaze, the official said.

Rabat was also reasonably quiet and several thousand marched in Casablanca , as Tom Gjelten reported for America's NPR. There was no violence because "the government was well-prepared for these demonstrations. And what they did is, they tried to contain them rather than press them. I mean, they've been saying all along, look, we're accustomed to demonstrations in Morocco. We believe in the right to peaceful dissent. They went out of their way to maintain a very low police presence.

"The other thing is that they waged this very effective information war, kind of a propaganda war. They let it be known that in their view, the separatist group Polisario, in the Western Sahara, was trying to stir up trouble. They created doubt in the minds of some Moroccans. So all in all, they just had, I think, an effective strategy for dealing with these demonstrations. They were large demonstrations, though. We shouldn't be in any doubt about that."

So how was Morocco reported around the world?

Protests have reached another countries in the Arab world as thousands of people took to the streets of Rabat to demand a new constitution while waving Egyptian and Tunisian flags. Organizers said there were more than 5,000 people demonstrating but police said fewer than 3,000 took part in the protests. Although protesters demanded reform there were no direct attacks against the country's king, reports Al Jazeera.

Morocco Board News, Washington: What started as peaceful protests across Morocco turned violent in some cities, especially in the North of the Kingdom. In the cities of Al Hoceima, Larache, Nador, Tetouan and Tangier small groups of protesters attacked banks, police stations and small businesses as rallies were wrapping up. The cities of Fez and Sefrou have witnessed cases of destruction of private properties and looting. Several local Websites have published videos of the damage and the destruction in the aftermath of the pillaging. Some local community organizers are complaining of the lack of a strong security presence to fend off vandals. According to eyewitnesses some of the looters are not locals but rather outsiders who took advantage of the February 20 rallies to commit acts of violence. Early analysis of these acts of pillage lead to believe that the elements behind the damages are not associated with the February 20 movement organizers.

Protests in Fez

There has been a huge gap between the demonstrators estimation of numbers and those quoted by the MAP reporters.

According to MAP, "the February 20 demonstrations in various Moroccan cities to express social and economic demands was marked by low participation, MAP correspondents in different Moroccan regions said.

About 200 people gathered shortly after 10:00 am in the Bab El Had Square in Rabat and almost 150 people in the Mohammed V Square in Casablanca. The number of protesters in Rabat and Casablanca was subsequently increased to 2,000 and 1,000 people respectively at around 11:00 am, according to the organizers.

In Marrakech, 600 people gathered in Bab Doukkala Square, shortly before the start of the march, before the number reacheed 900 individuals, who went to the El Harti Square, while in Oujda the number of people who took to the eastern city’s main street reached 1,300 people.

In Tangier, 450 people gathered before Tareq Beni Makada to move off to Place des Nations.

In Tetouan, only 500 people staged a demonstration in the Moulay Mehdi Saquare, while 150 people gathered around 10am in El Amal Square in Agadir.

About forty people demonstrated in Laayoune (Morocco’s south).

Photo by Omar El Hyani of protest in Rabat

However an Associated Press reporter in Rabat estimated the turnout there at 3,000 to 5,000. Organizers put the turnout outside the parliament building at 20,000. Overall nationwide figures are quoted by organisers as around 300,000 while the government puts the number at 37,000. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

The official government stance is reflected in the press release I received from MAP:

"Sunday protests in Morocco are normal and part of the practice of democracy", Communication Minister and Government Spokesperson Khalid Naciri said on Sunday. Protests in Morocco are “familiar” and the demands are “ordinary”, Naciri said in an interview with Russia Today TV channel. He explained that the rallies took place in conformity with the law and public order preservation in an environment of “stability”. This, he said, is a source of pride for all Moroccans.

“Unlike most Arab countries, rallies and protests are common in Morocco,” Naciri said.

“The government deems that protesters' demands remain at large understandable and legitimate at the social, economic, political and cultural levels,” he said, adding that these demands are on the agenda of the majority of political parties.

He made it clear that Morocco is committed and forging ahead on path of reinforcing democracy."

Part of the crowd in Tangier

At the end of the day, the Moroccan people made a point and the government will certainly have taken notice. Analysts around the globe maintain that because of the advances made here, that "revolution" is not the agenda, but evolution. Many Moroccans would agree.


pema said...

If king Mohammed knows what's good for him and his family he will set about turning himself into an authentic constitutional monarch, rather than a bogus one as at present. Long term, its the only hope for the survival of the Alaoui dynasty.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, one can only hope that the powers to be will see the writing on the wall.
But from past experience, I doubt they will implement any meaningful reforms. They got away with their business as usual with very few concessions for so long that they simply cannot accept a different "reality" from what they got used to in the past.
I hope I am wrong, but I have learned one thing when dealing with the Moroccan government in the past: They will try to get away with as much as possible, unless the Moroccans can force their hands.

Brioboy said...

I'm old enough to remember what reading Pravda, the official organ of the Soviet Union, was like. C'mon guys. I understand that press in Morocco is "not free" but there should be a little more room in an English language blog for a better assessment of what went down rather than a series of quotes from officials. This is where you earn your spurs as trusted correspondents. Don't let us down - there are so many of us out of the country who need to be able to turn to you ( or someone else, maybe?) for reliable information.

helen ranger said...

Thanks for your comment, Brioboy. This was the news available to us on Monday morning, when we posted this article. There have been further developments since then, and we'll be posting again today.

Tunisgirl said...

Thank you for a balanced report. Between hysterical facebook claims and the government's attempts to downplay things, this kind of balance is a rare thing.

richard said...

Time for VFF to post frequent local updates on VN & medina activity. Both residents & locals could benefit from solid information rather than the current rumours from national and international press, taxidrivers, butchers and bakers. Step on it guys!

Anonymous said...

@Richard - Isn't part of what makes TVFF refreshing the fact that it offers ground-level, observational stories - when they arise? It seems a bit unfair to demand up-to-the-minute news reports, that are already being supplied by Reuters, Aljazeera etc.