Rabat – For seven months, the Rif region in northern Morocco has seen unceasing protests, awakening the general public to the still-fragile relationship between the region and the central government.
Despite attempts by King Mohammed VI to lead genuine reconciliation with the Rif, which had for decades been marginalized by his father Hassan II, the death of the fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri last October sparked latent resentments in the region which erupted into the now-seven months of demonstrations.
Since then, it has grown in intensity, bringing to mind recent and vivid memories of the massive protests across Morocco and the MENA region during the Arab Spring.
Here is a roundup of the seven months ongoing Rif protests, commonly known as “Al Hirak Ashaabi” (the “Popular Movement”).
October 28-29 – Police officers in Al Hoceima confiscate the swordfish of Mouhcine Fikiri, a local 31-year-old fishmonger, as the protected species had been fished and sold illegally. He is crushed to death while trying to retrieve the merchandise, which the officers had tossed in a garbage truck compactor. His death triggers protests in the city calling for justice.
Al Hoceima’s regional governor and crown prosecutor try to calm the public’s anger, opening an investigation and announcing that the local fishing official had been relieved from his duties.
A video recording Fikri’s death goes viral on social media and sparks a massive wave of outrage throughout Morocco.
October 30 – Fikri’s funeral takes place in Al Hoceima’s neighboring Imzouren. Mourners chant slogans condemning his death. The Minister of Interior Mohamed Hassad and the Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior Charki Draiss visit Fikri’s family to present the King Mohammed VI’s condolences.
Protests spread to other major cities in Morocco, including Rabat, Casablanca and Tangier.
October 31 – Mouhcine’s father says his son was “executed” in a horrendous manner, but warns against using his death to create fitna (civil strife) in Morocco.
November 1 – The Public Prosecution orders 11 suspects, including two enforcement officers, some local fishing sector employees, and a veterinarian, to appear before the investigating judge over the Fikri’s death.
November 6 – Massive protests take place in Rabat, Casablanca and Tetouan. Demonstrations continue in the Rif.
November 21-23 – Fishing sector employees in Morocco hold a general strike in solidarity with their prosecuted counterparts in Al Hoceima, calling for their release and saying they were taken as “scapegoats.”
December 10 – A huge protest takes place in Al Hoceima to mark the 40thday since the death of Fikri.
February 5 – Protesters in Al Hoceima celebrate the death anniversary of Morocco’s legendary Riffian freedom fighter Ben Abdelkrim El Khatabi. Clashes erupt between protesters and security forces.
March 5 – Thousands of protests in Al Hoceima call for an “end of marginalization” of the city.
April 5 – The new government coalition, headed by Saad Eddine El Othmani, is appointed in Rabat by King Mohammed VI.
April 10 – The newly-appointed Minister of Interior Abdelouafi Laftit, a native of Rif, visits Al Hoceima. affirms the state has an “ambitious” and “strategic” approach to region’s development. On the other hand, he accuses some “parties” of propagating a “hatred speech” against state institutions with the aim to foment political and social tension in Rif.
April 26 – Al Hoceima’s Court of Appeal returns verdicts regarding defendants in the case of Fikri’s death. Seven defendants are sentenced to between five and eight months in prison. The family of the deceased is granted compensation.
Fikri’s brother expresses family’s anger at the verdicts. “The state committed injustice against Mouhcine while was alive and after his death,” he says.
May 11 – Representatives of the six parties that make up the government coalition warn demonstrators in Al Hoceima against advocating for “separatism.”
Some coalition members accused protesters of “crossing red lines” and using “social demands as pretexts” for incitement against the state.
May 14 – Nasser Zefzafi, the most prominent activist in Al Hirak, rejects the accusations of the government coalition. “We are not separatists. We have legitimate demands,” he says.
May 18 – Thousands of protesters march in Al Hoceima following a general strike.
May 20 – The Ministry of Interior announces 200 public sector job openings in Al Hoceima.
May 22 – A delegation of seven ministers visits Al Hoceima to speed up development programs in the region and hold dialogue meetings with protesters, local officials, elected representatives, and civil society activists.
The meetings are boycotted by the bulk of the protest movement.
The Wali of Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima Mohamed El Yaakoubi announces that the overall budget for the ongoing projects in Al Hoceima is MAD 10 billion.
May 26-28 – Zefzafi interrupts a Friday prayer sermon warning against “fitna” in Al Hoceima. The city’s crown prosecutor issues an arrest order against the activist for “obstructing the freedom of worship.”Twenty activists are arrested for allegedly receiving foreign money and “undermining state security.”
Clashes erupt between protesters and security forces.
May 29 – Zefzafi is arrested and transferred to the headquarters of the National Brigade of Judicial Police (BNJP) in Casablanca. Clashes between protesters and police continue.
May 30 – Arrest toll of Rif protest activists raises to 71.
June 5 – Detained activists are prosecuted with heavy charges including “undermining state security and the kingdom’s territorial integrity,” “armed protesting,” and “undermining citizens’ loyalty to state institutions.”
The detainees defense says the charges reflect the state’s hard-line approach to the crisis, calling on it to “act with rationality.”