Morocco works to manage popular discontent
By Mawassi Lahcen in Casablanca and Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia – 20/01/12
Determined to hold Morocco's new government accountable for its promises, the youth-led February 20 Movement (M20F) is still staging demonstrations every week-end.
Even though Moroccan Islamist group Al Adl Wal Ihsane (Justice and Charity) severed ties with M20F in late December, and many independents have quit the activist group, its members vow to press on.
"True, there is a significant decline, to a degree we did not expect, in the number of demonstrators because of the withdrawals, but that does not harm the movement at all," Casablanca M20F activist Hamza Mahfouz told Magharebia.
[Mawassi Lahcen] Morocco's February 20 Movement vows to continue nationwide protests.
[AFP/Abdelhak Senna] Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane has promised to open a dialogue with protest movement members.
[Mawassi Lahcen] Thousands turned out in Casablanca on December 25th for the first M20F demonstration held without the Islamist Justice and Charity group.
"All protest movements in the world knew up times and down times," Mahfouz said.
In a statement, Al Adl Wal Ihsane explained their departure: "Some of the youth of the 20 February Movement broadcast ideas and rumours that suffocated the climate within the democratic movement as a whole, putting limits on our demands."
The exiting Islamists charged that some within M20F were using it to "settle accounts with imagined opponents".
Al Adl Wal Ihsane said, however, that it still believed in the legitimacy of the democracy movement's demands.
The departure of the Islamists may indeed have weakened the M20F movement, says Yusuf Bilal, a political analyst at Mohammed V University in Rabat.
"The strength of the 20 February Movement lies in its ability to combine different currents from the left, the far left and the Islamic movement," Bilal said. "Now, after the withdrawal of the Justice and Charity group, M20F has essentially become a left-wing movement. Taking this particular ideological colouring will not be in its favour."
"I think the 20 February Movement must deal intelligently with the Benkirane government and with Benkirane's call for dialogue," Bilal added.
Many of those who stopped participating in the movement's protests are now betting on the government of Abdelilah Benkirane, Casablanca M20F member Mahfouz concedes.
After the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD) won a landslide victory in the November 25th legislative elections, King Mohammed VI charged party leader Benkirane with forming the first government under the new constitution.
The M20F position is that while the monarch responded to the demands of protesters by changing the constitution and holding early elections, the reforms did not go far enough.
"Now they are dragging their heels, and we are telling them that if they don't deal seriously with the demands of the 20 February Movement, Morocco is going to explode," he tells Magharebia.
"The regime must realise that stability can only be achieved within the framework of democracy, freedom, dignity and justice. These are the slogans raised by the movement," he adds.
Since his appointment, Benkirane has maintained that he is aware of citizens' discontent.
On December 3rd – the day the new government was announced – he said there was not a single government in the world which could properly fulfil its obligations without the support of the people, who should in turn commit themselves wholeheartedly to the work of reform.
He explained that change could not be implemented overnight, but vowed to begin a dialogue with unemployed graduates.
"I promise to listen to them very carefully," Benkirane said. "I am open to these young people, like those in the 20 February Movement and the opposition parties, both those who have seats in Parliament and those who boycotted the elections," the new prime minister said.
Many Moroccans wonder if Benkirane will be able to reduce the number of labour strikes in public sectors such as education and health. Since the launch of the 20 February Movement, Morocco has seen an exponential increase in the number of labour actions.
The new government head took the initiative by meeting with union chiefs the day after his appointment to discuss issues of concern to the working class.
After talking with Benkirane, Moroccan General Workers' Union (UGTM) chief Hamid Chabat said that the government must be given time before people pass judgement. Still, he said, prospects were looking good.
But the task facing the government team will not be easy, admits PJD official and new Higher Education Minister Lahcen Daoudi. If any progress is to be made, he says, the government must restore confidence from the public by first fighting corruption.
The unemployed, in particular, have high expectations for Abdelilah Benkirane's government, says Mourad Chaoui, who has been without work since earning a political science degree five years ago. He hopes that the promises made during the election campaign will be kept.
"Young people must continue their demonstrations to put pressure on the executive. The issue of employment must be made a priority," Chaoui says.
The activists have no plans to quit, now that change is in the wind. "People will continue to campaign for the democracy they want," says 20 February Movement member Najib Chaouki.
The loss of support from some quarters, such as the Islamist party, has temporarily weakened the activist movement, researcher Idris Al-Qusouri confirms. But he does not rule out the prospect for even stronger future protests if the government of Abdelilah Benkirane fails to respond to the urgent call for change.
The challenges are considerable, given the variety of demands coming from the Moroccan street, political analyst Magid Ibrahimi tells Magharebia.
"The people want to eat, receive medical care, work and have decent homes. Social pressure could place a heavy burden on the new government," he says.
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