Rabat – As the crisis in Rif reaches a stalemate, partly due to the continuous detention of dozens of activists and the death of two protesters – which some have attributed to aggressive police intervention during protests in the region – questions have been raised about whether state-friendly businessman Nouredine Ayouch’s attempt at mediation could bring an end to the deadlock.
Ayouch reportedly visited the leading members of the Hirak protest movement in the Rif region. The activists are currently under detention in Casablanca, facing charges of “undermining state security,” which is punishable by long jail terms or even execution.
The businessman, advertisement mogul, and civil society actor, known for having high-level connections within the state, acted as an emissary of those high officials.
Ayouch met with prominent members of the Hirak, including Nasser Zafzafi and Nabil Ahemjik, reported Moroccan daily Al Massae.
During the meeting, Ayouch was said to have expressed the state’s suspicion of the real motives behind the Hirak, that it is serving an agenda beyond its economic and social demands.
According to Al Massae, the allegations were totally rejected by Zafzafi, who reiterated that the leading activists made sure that the movement neither deviated from its main demands nor advocated for any political agenda.
POURQUOI NOUREDDINE AYOUCHE ?
Où est passé l’initiative coordonnée par L’OMDH ?
Où est passé le CNDH et sa… https://t.co/TjGjWj9t3Z
— Omar EL KINDI (@elkindiomar) 29 août 2017
Ayouch promised the Hirak members they would meet again. He also had a meeting with their families and said he was for releasing the detainees, something which has been the main demands since arrests started in late May, but gradually.
The choice of Ayouch as mediator has since been criticized, especially as prominent Moroccan public figures had previously issued calls and launched initiatives to promote a solution to the crisis in Rif.
Ayad Ablal, a Moroccan sociologist, wrote on Facebook questioning the move. “It is a sign that the sign is crumbling when Nouredine Ayouch negotiates in the name of the state with the Hirak detainees and their families.”
Political commentator Driss El Guanbouri raised in another Facebook post several questions about the significant of putting Ayouch in charge of the mission while at the same time the former leader of Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), Ilyas El Omari, who is a native of Al Hoceima, the epicenter of protests.
“The state’ subconscious acts on the basis of excluding political bodies from hot topics such as these. This is what we saw in the issue of Salafist jihadists and what we will surely see in the Hirak issue. No politics in political issues,” he wrote.
While the choice of Ayouch and the significance of his “appointment” to lead such a sensitive mediation is subject of heated debate in Morocco, the major question remains whether this initiative will help bringing a mutually-acceptable end to the crisis.