Rabat - Protesters and leading activists in Al Hoceima and surrounding areas have loudly and repeatedly rejected allegations linking their movement to a subversive agenda, insisting that their demands are purely social and economic.
Rabat – Protesters and leading activists in Al Hoceima and surrounding areas have loudly and repeatedly rejected allegations linking their movement to a subversive agenda, insisting that their demands are purely social and economic.
Despite their rhetoric, others have seized the opportunity to push a separatist agenda. Said Chaou, a former politician accused of drug trafficking, is one of them.
Chaou is linked to a Rifian separatist movement based in Roosendaal, Holland. He is believed to be the sponsor of an organization that calls itself the “18 September Movement for the Independence of Rif.”
The movement’s Facebook page published on June 1 the Arabic translation of a message addressed to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Rif protests. That message contained dangerous propaganda messages calling Moroccan authorities an “occupying force”, and claiming the separatist movement is a representative of Rifians, and calling for “self-determination” and the issue of Rif to be transferred to the United Nations Decolonization Committee.
Chaou, the owner of several coffee shops in Holland, became a politician in 2007 when he managed to win a parliamentary seat representing Al Hoceima. He was later accused of drug trafficking in 2010 after his alleged partner Najib Zaimi testified against him.
Press reports state that Chaou fled Morocco following’s Zaimi’s testimony. During an interview with Hespress in 2013, he claimed that he had actually left the country two months prior to Zaimi’s testimony. Chaou then became the subject of an international arrest warrant.
In June 2015 he was arrested in Roosendaal in a joint operation between Dutch, French and Spanish security forces. TelQuel online cited Dutch news website Omro Brabant which reported that during the search of his home, police found 140,000 euros in cash, a cash counting machine and water taps made out of gold.
As a politician he was member of the party of Al Ahd, formerly an ally of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM). PAM is led by Chaou’s cousin and the President of Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region, Ilyas El Omari. The relationship between the two has been tense in recent years after Chaou, from Holland, linked the PAM leader to a “plot to kick him out of Rif”.
Today, Chaou’s separatist activities seem like a vengeful reaction to his prosecution in Morocco. To spread its separatist dogma, the 18 September movement sought to take advantage of the Al Hirak (the protests movement in Rif).
Isaac Charia, a member of the defense team of the Al Hirak’s leading activists, including the movement’s icon Nasser Zafzafi, confirmed the suspicions over The 18 September’s attempts to infiltrate Al Hirak.
“Some separatists, including the 18 September movement, tried to push Al Hirak to voice political demands, but Zafzafi and other activists, who are now detained, were against it,’’ Charia told Morocco World News. He added that “Zafzafi is a patriotic man who only defends his supporters’ social demands”.
Despite Zafzafi and the other activists’ opposition to the separatist movement, today they are accused of the opposite. The list of accusations featured heavy charges such as “undermining state security” and “receiving foreign funds to run activities in order to spread propaganda susceptible of undermining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Kingdom.”
The support of the 18 September movement for Al Hirak might weigh down on the protests in Rif. Rachid Oufkir, a member of the 18 September movement in France and president of “Comité de soutien au mouvement de contestation rifain”, a committee for the support of Al Hirak, said that “associating Said Chaou with the protests movement in Rif is an attempt to discredit the latter.”
Still, Oufkir did not deny he would support Al Hirak with money. “If I have 20 euros, I would certainly want to give it to the movement to help with logistics. What would prevent me from doing so, I or any Rifian. This is an honor for me”, he told TelQuel.
But Charia belittled the impact of such posturing on Al Hirak. “What is important is to ask whether Al Hirak voices any separatist demands. The answer is NO.”