Rabat – She said in a letter to her parents:
Remember me with joy. My body might be behind the dreary bars but my strong soul breaks the prison’s walls, its locked gate, my shackles and the executioner’s whip which sacrificed my soul to death. My wounds smile and spread their wings freely with sincere love and as a unique sacrifice that absorbs all kinds of humiliation. Saida Lemnabhi.
In memory of a distinguished woman, Saida Lemnabhi, who revolutionized the concept of freedom of opinion and expression in Morocco.
Like any other emerging country, Morocco has been through different stages of evolution. It experienced mayhem during the 60s and 70s. During that period, the post-independence generation developed a strong sense of political consciousness and manifested an assertive attitude towards the political system.
After independence the system oppressed voices of change, which expressed their disapproval towards its policies. In 1970, the students’ revolution burst out after the declaration of the constitutional reform on the criteria of selection in the Baccalaureate (senior year of high school). The wrath of protests escalated in 1973 when the National Union of Moroccan Students faced serious oppression and was banned from equally and freely practicing its freedoms.
The banning resulted from the attempt of the ‘Ila l Amam’ or “forward” movement to urge students to protest against the system. The Union decided to detach itself from political parties claiming that they were corrupt. They manifested their reactions and organized coalitions inside high schools, universities and academia in general. Many movements emerged to encourage the students into fighting for their demands and very few stood out, namely the ‘Ila l Amam’ movement, the 23rd March movement, the National Union of Moroccan Students (UNEM) and the National Union for Pupils.
The whole academia mobilized to defend the right to equal opportunities in education and political transparency. The system’s reaction took many forms. It started with scattering protestors in the streets of Casablanca, which was the bulk of the students’ revolution. Then the system went far to react violently and use weapons against nonviolent marches. Then a wave of unlawful detentions included the leaders in those coalitions among which three females, Fatima Oukasha, Rabiaa Leftouh, and Saida Lemnabhi, could not escape. The last one marked her passage in a very significant way.
September 16, 1952 was a normal day in the city of Marrakesh, except for Lemnabhi’s family who celebrated the newborn’s arrival. Saida burst her first outcry into the vast space. Nobody knew that echo preserved her cry in the air to offer it back to her when she would grow up to voice her thoughts. She grew up to be a fair activist with strong principles and she grew up from a political upstart to an icon.
She was a successful young female. She majored in English at Mohamed V University in Rabat. She was involved in the Leninist – Marxist left group, which promoted the communist awareness. Her act of joining this movement added a feminist touch to the Moroccan crimson. She eventually became an English teacher during a very critical period in Moroccan history and she joined ‘UMT’ (Moroccan Union for Labor) and continued her militanc from inside.
During her short but heroic struggle for human rights, she promoted awareness of social change and she was an icon for women in politics. At her age, the social intellect she brought to militantism targeted very critical issues. She highlighted the different diseases that plagued society, such as corruption and prostitution. She realized that the system was encouraging these aspects to serve its economic and political purposes. Saida was concerned with the propagation of prostitution in different social classes and the system’s support for this continuous humiliation of women. She was also concerned with female peasants who were denied the right to education and called to improve the youth literacy for women in the fields and factories.
She loved her country and chose to manifest her love openly to the point of sacrificing her blood for its sake. She was captured and condemned with 5 years in Casablanca’s infamous prison, Derb Moulay Chrif, in addition to two extra years of detention for contempt of court.
She was incarcerated without a trial. She revolted against the unfairness by sacrificing her life. She went on a hunger strike that lasted about 40 days after which she was moved to the hospital but she could not survive. She endured the cold, torturing and humiliation along with her fellow detainees to call for a law that guarantees the rights of political prisoners. She was among the very few women who pioneered the concept of a female prisoner of opinion and expression in Morocco. Her acts were eye opening for many who may have been previously blinded and muted by the system’s injustice practices at that time.
She was not a spotlight star and the media did not have its say in what was happening because it was controlled by the system. She earned her opponents respect. She fought for equality and manifested that the systems oppression and torture of these militants made them stronger and eager to uncover their claws and persist in the fight.
She chose to reveal her passion towards freedom through politics. She was persuaded to embrace political stances because she believed in equality with her fellow male activists. The era she lived in was politically active. She sensed that the will of the people and the system’s will were on opposite poles. She was torn between love for her country and the system’s unfairness. She was irritated by seeing children lost in the streets and held herself responsible for providing inspiration for a movement of equality. She decided to take a stand because she was a woman and she could start somewhere. She has the right to be seen and prepare a better world for the coming generations.
If only Saida lived to see Morocco now. The Morocco she fought for and the Morocco she dreamed to prepare for the next generations.
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