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Morocco: Massive Protests Against Neoliberalism, Privatization Follow Death of Fish Seller

StoryNovember 01, 2016
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In Morocco, 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 by police. Video circulating online appears to show Mouhcine Fikri jumping into the back of the 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. His death in the northern town of Al Hoceima has elicited widespread anger on social media. The weekend’s rallies were called by activists from the February 20 movement, which organized demonstrations during the Arab unrest of 2011. Fikri’s death drew parallels to that of Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010 whose death sparked the Arab Spring uprisings. For more, we speak with Miriyam Aouragh, a Dutch-Moroccan anthropologist and democracy activist based in Britain. She’s a lecturer at the University of Westminster in London, and she is writing a book on the February 20 movement in Morocco.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to Morocco, where thousands of people have been protesting across Morocco after a fish seller was crushed to death in a garbage truck trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police. Video circulating online appears to show Mouhcine Fikri jumping into the back of the garbage truck to rescue his swordfish, before being crushed to death by its compactor, that may have been turned on at the instruction of authorities. 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.

His death in the northern town of Al Hoceima has elicited widespread anger on social media. The weekend’s rallies were called by activists from the February 20th movement, which organized demonstrations during the Arab Spring of 2011. Fikri’s death drew parallels to that of the Tunisian fruit and vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010. After being harassed by authorities in Tunisia, and they took his scales, he finally set himself on fire, which sparked the Arab Spring uprisings of Tunisia and then Egypt. Morocco’s King Mohammed has ordered officials to visit Fikri’s family. The ministries of interior and justice have pledged to conduct an investigation. Prosecutors say 11 people have already been arrested.

To talk more about what’s happening in Morocco, we’re joined by Miriyam Aouragh, a Dutch-Moroccan anthropologist, democracy activist, based in Britain, lecturer at the University of Westminster in London, writing a book currently on the February 20th movement in Morocco.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us, Miriyam. So, explain what you understand happened.

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: So I think what we see here is partly a continuation of the explosion of anger and protest in 2011, but also, at the same time, a sort of manifestation of police repression, on the one hand, and a very complex reality of the sort of privatization and harsh control of the fishery. And this is a problem, particularly for coastal cities and towns, like Al Hoceima, where a lot of people are dependent on fishing and have been selling fish independently for a long time—it’s part of the social fabric, basically, of these cities and towns—and being confronted now with a sort of harsh policy that prevents them to do that. So I think we see sort of two or three different dynamics happening at the same time: the sort of call for democracy, police repression, and, at the same time, I think what is often missed out in the analysis, a very important political economy that has to do with Morocco’s extreme neoliberal transformations, ongoing at present.

AMY GOODMAN: Al Hoceima, in the north of the country, has a history of unrest—is that right?—of resistance. Can you explain?

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: So, I mean, a lot of people who study or know a bit about Morocco know that the Rif, the northern area, is also the birthplace of Abd el-Krim al-Khattabi, one of the most important anticolonial resistance fighters in the early 1920s. Morocco was occupied, colonized by France and Spain, and Spain was the colonizer in the north. And it was a particularly harsh colonization in the north. So, there is this history of colonial violence.

But interestingly, during independence, which wasn’t really an independence like Algeria or other countries, but a sort of agreed transition with the colonizers, the north wanted to continue their struggle for real independence. And that happened in ’58, ’59, and that was crushed by the then-new kingdom. So that is very fresh in the memory.

But what is not often mentioned is the intifadas, as they were called, of the ’80s. So, in ’81 and in ’84, Al Hoceima had major uprisings, that were actually initiated and led by school students, by young school students, and that spread throughout the north of the country. So those memories are still also fresh for a certain generation of politically involved citizens.

And obviously, all of that culminated in 2011. There has been a very strict censorship of the political history of Morocco until the early 2000s, so a lot of people didn’t know about these histories of anticolonial resistance. So, all of that came back into the present memory in 2011. So I think we should see the current uprisings in the country since last week as a sort of moment where these previous experiences come back and the lessons drawn from 2011 are being manifested now.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was February 20th?

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: So, the February 20th movement was sort of the Moroccan framing of the uprisings in 2011. And interestingly, Al Hoceima, the very city we’re talking about now, has undergone at that time a very gruesome experience, when five demonstrators from Al Hoceima were killed and burned alive during the 20 February protests. And those cases were never resolved or investigated. So, there is a certain unfinished business—feeling of unfinished business also in Al Hoceima and the rest of the country with regards to the events that happened around the 20 February movement in 2011 and ’12.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s happening next week. You know, Democracy Now! is headed to Morocco to cover the 22nd COP, the conference of parties, the U.N. climate summit, in Marrakech. And I’m looking at posters that were held in the protests in Marrakech this weekend, and it says, you know, “Come to COP 22. We will crush you,” referring to what happened to Fikri.

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: Yeah. So, interestingly, I think—I mean, there’s an interesting international development with regards to Morocco’s attempt to become part of the international community. So, Morocco has invested enormously in its PR. And a few years ago, leaks, reports—reports were leaked exposing the Moroccan makhzen, or state, employing or consulting PR advisers that are affiliated with AIPAC and other organizations that are experienced in sort of profiling a certain unacceptable political reality in political terms that are seen as democratic. So, the invitation of big organizations and NGOs to Morocco to organize their conferences is one of the ways that the Moroccan state is trying to sort of improve its stature internationally.

So I think this conference in Marrakech is a continuation of that policy. We’ve seen that with a human rights conference, as well, two years ago, which a lot of protesters were very angry about, because at the same time that these conferences were organized about human rights, human rights in Morocco were crushed. And so I think this level of cynicism and sometimes irony in the hashtags and posters and banners are precisely about exposing that contradiction. Here is a country that is organizing international conferences about climate change or democracy, and at the same time not offering any of those rights to its own citizens. So, what we are hoping, in a way, what people are hoping, is to make use of that momentum. If that momentum is going to mean that there will be more press and, hopefully, people from Democracy Now!, as well, covering the events at the conference, that it will also help shed light on the democratic—or lack of democracy in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. How was what happened in Morocco different from Egypt and Tunisia?

MIRIYAM AOURAGH: I think it’s different in the sense that the experience of Tunisia and Egypt has—is behind us. So, activists have now come to learn the ways the state is manipulating the protests and how infiltrators have already been sent into the different protests across the country. And we have learned from that, and we are trying to prevent them to do the same as they did in 2011.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much, Miriyam Aouragh, anthropologist, democracy activist, currently based in Britain, lecturer at the University of Westminster in London, currently writing a book about the February 20th movement in Morocco, where we are headed the week after Election Day. We will be there for the week covering the U.N. climate summit.

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