With Shakira and other top international artists performing in open air venues around Morocco's capital often for free the annual Mawazine world music festival doesn't at first seem like something anyone could dislike.
Rabat – Activists from Morocco’s pro-reform February 20 movement, however, tried to get it canceled, describing it as a symptom of the country’s corruption and cronyism.
In the past, religious conservatives have criticized the eight-day extravaganza for being decadent, and last year they were angered that it featured openly gay performer Elton John. This year, however, the attacks are coming from Facebook-savvy youth who would normally be found in the audience of such celebrations of international music.
“The struggle against the Mawazine is the struggle for democracy,” said Rachid el-Belghiti, a freelance journalist heading the National Campaign to Cancel the Mawazine, a Facebook group with more than 30,000 members.
“I love Shakira, I have no problem with Shakira _ she gave $400,000 for a school in Haiti _ but there are serious education problems here,” he said.
He said the millions of dollars raised for the festival, which come from the public and private sector, should have gone toward education and development or even other festivals outside the capital.
The festival is put on by the nonprofit Maroc-Cultures association and paid for by corporate sponsors.
“We just think it’s a waste of money, it could be invested in more constructive projects,” said young activist Zineb Belmkaddem, a teacher at a local American school. “Presenting Kanye West and Shakira for free is ridiculous in a country with so much poverty.”
According to Abbas Azzouzi, a member of the festival’s organizing committee, the event cost around $7.8 million _ a hefty price tag in a country lacking the oil of its North African neighbors and with at least 30 percent unemployment, especially among urban youth.
Protesters against the festival gathered last week in downtown Rabat before they were dispersed by truncheon-wielding policemen.
The Mawazine festival began 10 years ago as an opportunity to expose people to music from around the world. But under El Majidi’s tutelage it turned into a mega-production featuring international stars at hefty price tags.
Kanye West, Cat Stevens, Earth Wind and Fire, Lionel Ritchie and Quincy Jones starred in this year’s festival.
The eight venues around town also feature the cream of Arab pop stars, including the soulful Iraqi crooner Kadhem al-Saher and Egyptian megastar Amr el-Diab, as well as several big African acts.
“That’s what Morocco is, its roots are Arab with influences of Africa and links to the West,” said festival organizer Azzouzi. “That’s what we want to express through the festival.”
He explained that with artists from 60 different countries, the festival’s creed as always been to promote values of diversity, exchange and cultural tolerance, and this year’s 10th anniversary show is the biggest yet.
In the wake of the April 28 bombing at a Marrakech cafe that killed 17, many of the them foreigners, it was even more important to keep the festival going.
“(The cancellation) is what those people, the terrorists are looking for, this has never been considered,” he said.
Activists say that private and public corporations are pressured into donating to a festival under the king’s patronage. Azzouzi dismissed these allegations, explaining that corporate sponsorship of the arts is mutually beneficial and involves no coercion.