Washington DC - It was hard to watch Morocco’s Prime Minister defend police mistreatment of protesters during the recent teacher trainees’ demonstrations that rocked some cities in the North African nation. The most troubling aspect of the PM’s speech was his apathy toward the young men and women who came out to the street asking for a good pay and descent conditions. Mr. Benkirane and his Ministers have savored the “sweetness” of power and they love it.
Washington DC – It was hard to watch Morocco’s Prime Minister defend police mistreatment of protesters during the recent teacher trainees’ demonstrations that rocked some cities in the North African nation. The most troubling aspect of the PM’s speech was his apathy toward the young men and women who came out to the street asking for a good pay and descent conditions. Mr. Benkirane and his Ministers have savored the “sweetness” of power and they love it.
The teachers’ protests which spewed over reduction in pay and change in employment status are slowly turning into multi-faceted marches similar to the February 20th protests movement that erupted in 2011. This time, however, it is the ruling “Islamist” Party of Justice and Development (PJD) government policies and failures to govern that are at the source of social anger.
During a large rally on Sunday in Rabat, Moroccans from all walks of life lashed out at a political system that seems self-serving and uncaring about public grievances. The protests’ scale and duration was noticeably similar to the large rallies of the 2011 social movement.
Furthermore, recent incidents including ministers and parliamentarians’ belittlement of citizens’ demands asking for a reform to the generous retirement system for members of the government and parliament will likely keep this campaign alive.
In fact, the November 2015 protest over high prices for water and electricity were a prelude to the current movement. Moroccans in several cities including Tangiers defied the PJD government’s call to stop the rallies and in turn continued their marches criticizing the government indifference to consumers’ worries over utilities prices.
The PJD ambivalence and apathy to the average citizens’ demands played a role in the ongoing metamorphosis of the teachers’ protest into a more global campaign against the status-quo leading to a potential revival of the February 20 protest group.
With many grievances and no clear and single opposition force in the country to channel the social and political fever, a new February 20 movement could be in the making.
The arrival of the PJD to power in November 2011 has abated social protests in the Kingdom making it a stable oasis in a region full of turmoil. However, in view of the Benkirane government poor performance, as judged by protesters and complaints on social media, and the lack of an effective and performing Parliament, Moroccans are figuring out how to adjust to a new political reality.
For now, the protest is neither violent nor ideologically polarized. Nonetheless, some elements have circulated stories implying that the banned “Islamist” group “Al Adl Wal Ihsan” or the Justice and Spirituality (JSG) is directing some of the marches. This old tactic that dates back to the 2011 campaign is dangerous and could back-fire.
PJD supporters feel abandoned. Some took to Facebook to complain about how a party that claimed to be close to the people and their concerns has been dismissive of “basic labor” demands. Unlike other political parties that Moroccans view as either elitist or pro-Palace, the “Islamist” were supposed to be cleaner, responsive and attuned to the public needs, especially the poorer segments of society.
While it is absolutely important, as the Prime Minister stated, to obey the law and follow the rules and regulations when dissenting, pictures of hundreds of protesters taking to the streets and beaten by police are not acceptable. After all, Mr. Benkiran and some of his Ministers were roughed up by police in the past for marching without a permit.
If some of the demands ae not met, protest will likely persist with unpredictable outcomes. In a country where it is hard to know who makes decisions, it will be even harder to predict the future of the nation.
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