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In Echo of Arab Spring, 1000s Protest in Morocco After Garbage Truck Fatally Crushes Fish Seller

Web ExclusiveOctober 31, 2016
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In Morocco, thousands of protesters flooded cities across the country after a fish seller was crushed to death in a garbage truck trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police. The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of Al Hoceima on Friday drew widespread anger on social media. Sunday’s rallies were called by activists from the February 20 movement, which organized demonstrations during the Arab unrest of 2011. His death drew parallels to that of a Tunisian fruit seller in 2010 which helped spark the Arab Spring uprisings. We speak to Nadir Bouhmouch, a Moroccan activist and filmmaker. He participated in the protests in Marrakech on Sunday.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Morocco, where thousands of people have been protesting across the country after a fish seller was crushed to death in a garbage truck trying to retrieve fish confiscated and thrown out by police. The video circulating online appears to show Mouhcine Fikri jumping into the back of a dump truck, of a garbage truck, to rescue his swordfish, before being crushed to death by its compactor. According to local reports, Moroccan authorities prohibit the sale of swordfish at this time of year.

Activists have accused police officers of ordering garbage men to crush Fikri in the garbage truck. His death in the northern town of Al Hoceima has elicited widespread anger on social media and in the streets. The weekend’s rallies were called by activists from the February 20th movement, which organized demonstrations during the Arab unrest of 2011. Fikri’s death drew parallels to that of the Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, in December of 2010 which helped spark the Arab Spring uprisings. Morocco’s King Mohammed has ordered officials to visit Fikri’s family. The ministries of interior and justice have pledged to conduct an investigation.

To talk about what’s happening, we’re going to go directly to Morocco, to Marrakech, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by activist and filmmaker Nadir Bouhmouch. He participated in the protests in Marrakech on Sunday.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Nadir.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what has taken place and what you understand happened to this fish seller?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: Essentially, what happened was that the fish seller was leaving the port with swordfish, which, you already said, it’s illegal to fish swordfish at this time of year. And the fish was confiscated by the police, then thrown into the trash. And then he went in after it desperately. And the police officer ordered the garbage truck men to grind him, or, as we say in Darija, طحن_امو, tahan-amu, which is now the hashtag that we’re using for this—in these protests.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened in the community where he was killed first?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: People reacted immediately. Al Hoceima is in the Rif, and the Rif is known to react quite fast to these—to these types of situations. It’s not the first time that it’s happened there. People were out on the streets. There were demonstrations throughout the city, eventually gathering in the center of the city. And then, right after, people started calling for demonstrations elsewhere in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the political climate in northern Morocco, the significance of Al Hoceima.

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: The Rif is known for its history of resistance since—since the Spanish and French colonized Morocco. They held a very strong resistance, led by Abd el-Krim al-Khattabi, and they called for—and actually, at that time, there was a secession from the colonial state called the Rif Republic. And the memory of the Rif Republic, the popular memory of the Rif Republic, is something that is in Riffian minds, and it’s something—it’s definitely an element that kept the region marginalized, because the idea of a Rif Republic went against the ideals of the monarchy that was upheld by the colonial state. And then, when the monarchy came into power, after the French and the Spanish left, the Rif continued to resist. And that’s why we see in 1958 a rebellion that was brutally crushed by the Hassan II regime. So, this is something that happens again and again in the Rif. And so, this is why we don’t—we don’t believe the state, the regime, when they say that they will investigate this death, because they haven’t investigated the 1958 massacres. They haven’t apologized or even recognized them. They haven’t investigated the 2011 death of five February 20th protesters, who were essentially thrown into a bank, and then they had it set on fire, as a way of sabotaging the February 20th movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let me ask you about some of the signs we were following in social media, like one, a woman holding up a sign that says, “Welcome to COP 22. We grind people here.” Democracy Now! will be headed to Morocco for the U.N. climate summit, which is being held in Marrakech this year. Talk about the climate in your city and what these protests mean. Are they continuing? This is the earliest U.N. COP. It’s going to be right after the election here in the United States. We’ll be broadcasting from Marrakech.

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: So, ahead of the COP 22, there has been a growing environmental movement that’s linking climate injustice and environmental injustices to class issues in Morocco. And so, there’s already a sort of discussion about greenwashing, about how the state is using this conference to greenwash its abuses, to greenwash the economic, social and environmental injustices that the people of Morocco face. So, these types of signs are meant to draw attention to this greenwashing that the state conducts at the COP 22.

AMY GOODMAN: The COP begins, actually, next week in Marrakech. Do you expect these protests to continue right through?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: It’s not clear right now. There was discussion last night at the demonstration, afterwards. We were talking about perhaps keeping up the pressure until COP 22, because it is the moment when the international media will be focusing on Marrakech. And so, if we can keep up the pressure until then, then we can definitely expose this greenwashing discourse that we see. But it’s not clear yet.

AMY GOODMAN: Here in the United States, the email controversy is enormous, released by WikiLeaks, and also the whole issue of the presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But among the latest leaks from WikiLeaks that came from the account of John Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s presidential campaign, was a set of emails that revealed that Hillary Clinton had secured a $12 million donation to the Clinton Global Initiative in 2015 from the king of Morocco, on the condition that she speak in Marrakech. It was right before she was announcing for president. People thought that wasn’t a very—the optics of that were not very good. And so, Bill Clinton, the former president, and Chelsea Clinton, their daughter, came to Marrakech to speak. What’s the significance of this, of your king, of the Moroccan king, giving $12 million to the Clinton initiative?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: The significance is basically that he is trying to, and the entire regime is trying to, buy an image, create an image of democracy, using figures, Western figures like Hillary Clinton, who supposedly are politicians in a democratic state—but, of course, we know the United States is not very democratic. So, this is part of creating this image of importance of how Morocco is this great country, where we host great conferences, and that we are an environmentally friendly country, a democratic country. It’s about building this facade, which has been created since the 2011 cosmetic changes after the February 20th movement protests.

AMY GOODMAN: [inaudible] about what happened in 2011, in the time of the Arab Spring? I mean, what has happened to the fish seller in Al Hoceima has been compared to Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in December, so frustrated by authorities harassing him, taking his scales—he was selling fruit and vegetables—the he set himself on fire, which was very much the spark of the Tunisian revolution, which then led, of course, to what happened in Egypt. Can you talk about what happened in Morocco?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: In Morocco, there were the February 20th movement youth. It was largely youth who first called for the protest, and then political groups joined in afterwards. It was a very interesting moment in Moroccan history, because we saw the unification of all sorts of political groups who are opposed to the regime. I mean, we’re talking about from Islamists to communists, anarchists to liberals, etc., etc. So, it was a very important moment. The king reacted by promising a constitution and then eventually appointing a committee to draft the constitution. Of course, we wanted a committee—an independent committee, not one that was appointed by the monarchy. Basically, the king took advantage, the monarchy took advantage, of the Syrian and Libyan uprisings and the war that ensued there to say, “Well, look. Look how violent this situation has become. You don’t want that here, so just take what we give you.” But, once again, these are cosmetic changes. They’re not practiced whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you’d like to add, Nadir, for people to understand what’s taking place right now in Morocco, from the north, from the Rif, to Marrakech, to Rabat, the capital?

NADIR BOUHMOUCH: This is a much bigger issue than just the death of Mouhcine Fikri. I mean, Mouhcine died with an empty stomach, according to the medical examination. This is about a people that is hungry, that is being what we call hogra. The protests are about hogra, which is a sort of trailing oppression, an oppression that comes from the top and goes all the way down to the roots of the regime, which are the daily officers, the bureaucracy, everything that is lined up against the people, who are seeing an increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the rich, and of austerity and privatization, the neoliberal pull that’s destroyed what these people—the needs of the people. So, when we go out and protest about this, about Mouhcine Fikri’s assassination by the police, we are actually out to talk about a lot of issues, because when we see these images, and in recent popular memory, we are seeing this image of Moroccans in a garbage truck, when the floods, and the climate change-induced floods, in the south a couple of years ago, when tourists, white tourists, were taken in helicopters and saved from the floods, while Moroccans were left to die and thrown into garbage trucks, transported. So this is something [inaudible] ask ourselves: Do we, as a people, live in dignity? And that’s what these protests are about. It’s about dignity.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Nadir Bouhmouch is a Moroccan activist and filmmaker, speaking to us from Marrakech, Morocco. And we’ll be broadcasting from Marrakech from November 14th to 18th covering the COP 22. That’s the U.N. global summit on climate change. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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